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National WMU leaders dream, set 21st-century strategies

TALLADEGA, Ala. (BP)–Embracing the 21st century with excitement and enthusiasm, Woman’s Missionary Union leaders are ready for an “epic” missions organization under the leadership of Executive Director Wanda Lee.

In her first executive director’s address to a WMU executive board meeting, Lee, who was elected at last year’s January meeting, expressed the dreams of the national staff.

Lee, speaking during the board’s Jan. 13-16 sessions at Talladega, Ala., talked about adopting Leonard Sweet’s rendition of the emerging church of the 21st century — becoming an epic church — in his latest book, “Postmodern Pilgrims.”

Webster defines epic as “extending beyond the usual or ordinary … heroic.” According to Lee, Sweet describes an epic church with four adjectives.

— E for experiential.

— P for participatory.

— I for image driven.

— C for connected.

“Leonard Sweet’s challenge to those of us in leadership in the church of the 21st century is to … move from just doing church to being the church in new ways,” Lee said, adding, “Not just any kind of church, but an epic church because it speaks to today’s member and potential member.”

Lee said she believes WMU has realized the importance of this truth. “We have invested a great deal of time and energy into learning all that we can about the church member and the potential church member of the 21st-century church,” she said. “We have redesigned [magazines] and created new models for engaging the church in the missions lifestyle. But research alone does not have all the answers,” she noted.

“Leonard Sweet would add … to really reach this audience, the bottom line is that each one of us, the family of faith, will have to develop the kind of passion for Christ felt by the first-century Christians,” Lee told the WMU leaders from across the United States.

“We need a renewed passion for Christ and his mission and allow that passion to drive the way we minister and witness in the 21st-century world,” Lee said. But Lee said WMU leaders also realize that “if the people in the pew do not realize they are personally responsible for the Great Commission, then the best organization and the most advanced missions awareness is a wasted effort on our part.”

“We must become a passionate epic organization at heart if we want to communicate the missions message effectively,” Lee said. “We are the leaders of the greatest missionary organization for the support and spread of the gospel that there is.”

And the way WMU is becoming that epic organization began with the long-range plan that was adopted in 1999 for the years 2000-2005, Lee said. Those goals include:

— A comprehensive marketing strategy, which is in the development stage.

— An intentional interim service for states without a WMU director, which is in place.

— A way to address issues facing women and children around the world through international partnerships, which is under way.

“There is a concerted effort for ongoing education in magazines and we have begun the process to work on the Web,” Lee said. “Project HELP has been our most intentional way to connect to international missionaries and do strategic missions work overseas in partnership with the International Mission Board.”

— A plan for research and development and communication of information, which is in the beginning stages. “We are working on a way to communicate electronically everything we are learning,” Lee noted.

— Accelerating ethnic leadership development and the creation of resources. One example is the establishment of a Hispanic language advisory group. The Hispanic audience previously was included in the work of the National Language Advisory Group, in place since 1995.

— A new dated design process, which is in the first cycle.

— A center for Christian women’s leadership development, which has been established at Samford University in Birmingham. “It is extremely thrilling to see [Carol Ann Vaughn] bring life to this dream,” Lee said.

Vaughn, who could not be present at the meeting due to illness, sent word of her excitement about directing the new center. Vaughn became director Aug. 1, 2000.

“It has been a productive first five months of focus groups, research and orientation meetings for the Christian Women’s Leadership Center,” Vaughn stated in a letter read by June Whitlow, WMU’s senior associate executive director.

Vaughn noted that the center would soon be assembling its board, developing its mission statement and forming work groups. It will also be seeking approval for an accredited undergraduate, interdisciplinary minor of 24 hours in Christian women’s leadership studies.

“The most important needs at this time involve further financial development for student scholarships, an expanded library collection and technology,” Vaughn said.

“We are on the right track to use the principles of Jesus Christ to assist women in developing their God-called vision, voice and vocation,” she stated.

Lee said that to continue making these goals and future goals a reality “we must go back to the basics.”

“If we want to get the passion for missions back, we need to follow three basic objectives,” she said.

1) Capture the attention of the local church for missions.

2) Establish WMU as the premier missions resource for the local church.

3) Ensure the continuity of WMU’s mission.

Reporting from a board executive session, Lee said WMU’s leadership decided to establish a state WMU assistance endowment fund to help with emergencies. There has always been a budget line item for this, but now there will be an actual fund, Lee said, noting an anonymous donation established the fund. Twenty percent of the annual Vision Fund receipts will go to this fund as well as 5 percent of WMU’s investment earnings, Lee noted.

Along with adopting the 2000 annual report and hearing that the organization had a clean financial audit, Lee said $81,500 was given in Second Century Fund grants. Awards were given to 22 U.S. and five international projects that will benefit women. Additionally, $7,706 was awarded in scholarships to young women in U.S. colleges and women’s theological education programs overseas.

In other business sessions, the WMU governing body:

— approved the guidelines for holding regional training events during 2003 and beyond and approved the dates for Training Effective Leadership (TEL), held annually by national WMU. In 2003, two TEL events will be held, Jan. 17-19 in Birmingham and Feb. 21-23 in a western U.S. city yet to be determined.

— approved the scriptural basis, purpose statement and definition for Project HELP: Restorative Justice. The definition says “restorative justice involves God’s people in applying biblical principles of restoration to meet the needs of victims, offenders, communities and law enforcement and criminal justice professionals.

— established the Evelyn Tully Endowment Fund with a gift from WMU members in Illinois. Held by the WMU Foundation, earnings from the fund will assist international Baptist women’s organizations in holding regional or national meetings. Tully is the recently retired WMU executive director of Illinois WMU.
(BP) file photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: WANDA LEE.

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  • Jennifer Davis Rash