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Missions education has lifelong impact

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Dixie Thornton spent more than 20 years as an Army wife, often remembering the encouragement of her Girls in Action leader to “look out the window and see the world.”

The words Thornton heard as a youth, coupled with opportunities and activities through GA to learn about missionaries and other people and their cultures, helped her adjust wherever she lived in her husband’s various military assignments.

“As life unfolded, I wanted to be in a Baptist church that was involved in missions education,” said Thornton, who now is a Mission Friends leader at First Baptist Church in Maysville, Mo.

Girls in Action is the missions organization for first- through sixth-grade girls that can play a vital role in nurturing a church’s heart for the Great Commission. Mission Friends is the missions education organization that focuses on preschoolers. Both are sponsored by Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), an auxiliary of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Judy Phillips of Madison, Fla., who came from a broken home with a mother who had to work, began attending GA in the fourth grade. While such circumstances are common now, back in 1959 Phillips felt alone and dejected. But each Monday after school, she walked to West Highland Baptist Church with girls her own age. There she was accepted despite her family background.

“Those leaders took me under their wings. I could feel good about myself,” Phillips said. Three years after becoming a GA, she asked Jesus into her life.

Through GA missions activities, Phillips began a life of service that continues more than 50 years later. Among many other things, she’s taught GA and Royal Ambassadors (the missions organization for first- through sixth-grade boys) and served as a Missions Service Corps volunteer through the North American Mission Board.

Her ministry, she said, is the heart of what she learned in GA — tell the Good News.

Ann Cushing of Pikes Road, Ala., recalls that it was in GA where she “learned that there are many lost people in the world, people who need Jesus.” Cushing, a former member of NAMB’s board of trustees, credits GA for helping her have a greater understanding of the work of NAMB as well as the International Mission Board.

One of her most precious memories, Cushing said, is when her daughter Charlotte came home one summer day from GA camp in Florida and greeted her by saying, “I’m going to be a missionary!”

And so she was. Charlotte and her husband Tim Cearley served in Africa for more than 25 years.

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Carol Causey, director of WMU’s missions resource center, said Girls in Action is “a fun environment for girls to be with other girls.” Causey continued, “GA is also hands-on. In the classroom, girls engage in active learning through games, crafts, ministry projects and more. In their communities, they share the active compassion of Christ through mission action and witnessing.”

Steve Patton, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Greer, S.C., underscores the value of missions education, citing two main reasons it is important in the local church.

“First, it [missions education] gives a biblical and theological underpinning the children really need to live a missional life,” Patton said. “Second, missions education gives children practical insight in how missions is done both at home and abroad. They learn about missionaries, the people they serve and the many strategies they employ to get the Good News out.

“Children will not learn these lessons elsewhere. Neither Sunday School nor any discipleship courses are intended to teach these lessons week in and week out.”
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Claudean Boatman is a former GA and current GA leader at Hillside Baptist Church in Greeley, Colo.