BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–The lives of two former leaders of Woman’s Missionary Union, Alma Hunt and Dellanna O’Brien, were celebrated Jan. 10-13 at Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Talladega, Ala., as WMU board members gathered for their January meeting. The trustees also heard reports from Southern Baptist mission board leaders and looked toward initiatives for 2009.
The board’s Saturday evening session opened with a special tribute to Hunt and O’Brien, two former leaders of the national missions organization, who both died in 2008. Alma Hunt served as Woman’s Missionary Union executive secretary for 26 years, from 1948-74. Dellanna West O’Brien, the first international missionary to serve as WMU executive director/treasurer, led the organization for 10 years, 1989-99.
In her address on Jan. 13, national WMU President Kaye Miller of Little Rock, Ark., called Hunt and O’Brien “heroes of the faith” who were faithful and courageous to do what they knew the Lord had called them to do, despite their circumstances and trials. “Shame on us, if standing on the shoulders of these giants, we do not see further,” Miller declared.
“I believe in WMU as a force for fulfilling the Great Commission and it is worth the investment of my life,” Miller said. “WMU continues today because God is not through with us yet. It continues today because of courageous and faithful women and men who believe with all their hearts the Great Commission call is for them to embrace personally.”
Miller challenged attendees to remember that courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to do the right thing despite one’s fear.
“Tomorrow’s dreams require today’s courage,” she said. “We have a source of power that will enable us to continue to dream with courage and be faithful as we go forward. His name is Jesus.”
In her report, Executive Director/Treasurer Wanda S. Lee reviewed highlights of 2008 before citing some challenges the organization will face in 2009, including the nation’s ongoing economic downturn, a world facing numerous wars, churches in transition and people seeking something that will make a difference in their lives.
“The task before us is great with new challenges,” Lee said, “but we are just as committed today as those who came before us 120 years ago to press on, engaging people with the message of hope that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ. It’s our responsibility to find creative ways to share that message.
“None of us knows what the year holds and yet, as leaders with a mandate from God to be about His mission, we aren’t slacking off,” Lee declared. “We must press forward.”
Lee identified three actions WMU leadership must take to advance the organization as it seeks to further the mission of God.
First, Lee said a new financial reality must be embraced. “[National] WMU leadership embraced the financial reality of our current economic climate and developed a plan to help us care for our staff and move forward with our missions task,” she said. “In the meantime, WMU staff will learn some new lessons that will make us stronger and help us focus on the most important things for the cause of missions. We have embraced our reality for now and have committed ourselves to move forward in faith.”
WMU announced Dec. 10 that it was enacting measures to reduce its 2009 budget by $1.4 million. Some of those steps included implementing four weeks unpaid furlough for each staff member between January and August 2009; reducing team expense budgets in areas such as travel, projects and activities; a hiring freeze on vacant positions; reducing employer contributions to retirement plans; freezing merit pay increases; and eliminating incentive bonuses in 2009.
Second, Lee said WMU leaders must confront the culture in many Baptist churches whose members believe “someone over there will care about the people of the world and we can remain safe and comfortable right here within the protected walls of our church. … If we truly understand that missions education is a holistic approach to discipling missional people,” Lee said, “then we must be bold in confronting the culture of our churches with this challenge and do everything possible to help them focus on the essential elements of learning, praying, giving and going.”
Third, Lee challenged attendees to reaffirm their personal missions calling. “Jesus walked into a world of turmoil, uncertainty and instability not so different from what we face today,” Lee said. “He touched the lives of one person after another, changing them and changing their world forever. When He told the disciples to ‘go into all the world,’ He didn’t say ‘if you want to’ or ‘if you feel like it.’ He said, ‘As you go,’ assuming they would take up the missions mandate if they were committed to following Him.
“His calling is the same for us today,” she continued. “What we do matters for the Kingdom, and we must be bold as we embrace his missions calling on our lives. With the strength and determination that only comes from Him, we can rest assured that no matter what happens, that which He began in us He will see through to completion.”
A ‘MIRACLE’ MISSIONS OFFERING
Geoff Hammond, president of the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga., shared the unaudited results of the 2008 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering with the group Jan. 12. Despite last year’s economic downturn, Southern Baptists still contributed more than $58 million to the annual offering to support North American missionaries.
“To raise $58 million in a recession was a miracle and we praise God for that,” Hammond said. “While Annie was down about 2.2 percent over last year, the fundraising of many charitable organizations was down 10 percent or more. We praise God for the faithfulness of His people in giving to cooperative missions and to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering in 2008.”
Presenting a large “thank you” card signed by NAMB staff, trustees and missionaries, Hammond expressed special appreciation for Woman’s Missionary Union. “We don’t do it on our own and we can’t do it without you,” Hammond said. “Thank you for what you have done.”
Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board in Richmond, Va., also addressed the group Jan. 12, sharing information about recent organizational changes and expressing gratitude for WMU’s ministry. “We are so grateful for all you do to encourage giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and for your faithfulness as you partner with us,” Rankin said. “We are confident that because of WMU, we will meet our goal as God continues to call out missionaries in phenomenal ways.”
Throughout the meeting, attendees were encouraged by testimonies from numerous missionaries who serve through NAMB or IMB, each of whom voiced deep appreciation for WMU leadership and WMU missions organizations.
AWARDS AND GRANTS
WMU’s executive committee awarded nearly $85,000 from the Second Century Fund, which financially supports women’s leadership development in the United States and around the world. Of the $85,000 awarded, nearly $51,000 is to be divided equally among 39 state WMU organizations, about $17,000 will support international women’s leadership projects, with the remaining $17,000 provided to national WMU.
Melanie Fleming, a graduate of WMU’s Christian Women’s Job Corps in New Orleans, was presented with the Sybil Bentley Dove Award, which is given annually to a CWJC participant who advances herself through life skills, academic development and faith in God.
Fleming said Christian Women’s Job Corps helped her reclaim her life, including overcoming drug and alcohol addiction.
“Being in CWJC was such an amazing opportunity for me,” said Fleming, the mother of 12-year-old twin girls and 2-year-old twin girls. “It allowed me to gain confidence in myself, my abilities, my decision-making, and to learn to live the way God actually intended me to.”
Christian Women’s Job Corps and Christian Men’s Job Corps were started in 1997 and 2004, respectively, to help women and men change their lives for the better by empowering them with biblical nourishment, a mentor for encouragement and accountability and training opportunities to help them obtain education, gainful employment and self-sufficiency.
Two Christian Women’s Job Corps sites — Merea Ministry in Batesville, Miss., and Mosaic Center, Inc., in Lufkin, Texas — received the 2008 CWJC site awards. Each site received $1,042 from an endowment managed by the WMU Foundation to help with specific projects that will enhance and expand their ministries.
Merea Ministry plans to renovate their existing space and expand into the rest of their building, a former warehouse. “With the exception of my small office and a smaller computer room doubling as a sewing room, we have just one open space,” said Doris Knight, Merea Ministry’s site coordinator.
Knight said the renovations will allow for multiple classes to be taught at the same time and will be more conducive for individual tutoring sessions. They also plan to add a kitchen for a space where participants can enjoy lunch and breaks together and to teach cooking classes.
The Mosaic Center plans to use their award to provide free child-care services during sessions for their participants. Kitty Bounds, the center’s executive director, said this is critical since many women cannot afford child care and are therefore unable to participate in the program.
Both Knight and Bounds said they have witnessed God’s faithfulness in their respective ministries time and again.
“We pray for volunteers,” Knight recounted, “and before we say ‘amen,’ they are knocking on the door … not lined up in great numbers as we would like but always [to meet] the present need.
“When I tend to get discouraged, [God] always sends someone to the door to say ‘thank you for being there’ or to share what the ministry has meant to them or to ask for help they could not get anywhere else,” Knight continued. “This award is another expression of God’s faithfulness.”
Bounds said that in addition to changing the lives of CWJC participants, she has also seen God work in the lives of the volunteers as they witness “miracles happening in the lives of the women we serve.”
“He continues to surprise us with His blessing flowing down,” Bounds said. “He reaffirms our ministry through prayers answered and affirmation that what we are doing is honorable to Him. There is no greater reward and life than a life dedicated to loving hurting people and showing them God loves them.”
In other business, the executive board approved:
— a goal of $175 million for the 2009 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
— a revised 2009-10 budget of $9.6 million, representing a reduction of $1.4 million.
— a name change for the Women on Mission leader’s guide to Women on Mission Planner, beginning with the fall 2009 issue.
— a recommendation from WMU’s Missionscast committee for overarching plans for WMU work in local churches for 2010-12.
In late December, WMU announced that its trade publishing arm, New Hope Publishers, had retained new sales representatives who will take New Hope titles to an expanded market. JMS Marketing and Sales of Greensburg, Pa., will represent New Hope publications to Christian Booksellers Association, American Bookseller Association, key accounts, general trade bookstores, wholesalers and independent and church bookstores. ABridge International of Ventura, Calif., will focus on international markets. Walk-Off Sales of Gresham, Ore., will represent New Hope to Amazon.com and mass markets such as Costco, Target and Wal-Mart. Previously, B&H Publishing Group of Nashville, Tenn., had represented New Hope titles in the U.S. and international marketplace.
Julie Walters is Woman’s Missionary Union’s communications specialist. Mickey Noah of the North American Mission Board contributed to this article.