BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) – Approximately 170 missions leaders – from Hawaii to Maine and everywhere in between – gathered online this year for WMU’s board meeting, Jan. 8-9.
Linda Cooper, president, and Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director, acknowledged 2020 could be characterized as a year of “overwhelming, catastrophic loss,” yet went on to speak of God’s faithfulness.
In response to the economic downturn that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic, members of WMU’s executive board approved the exploration of selling the WMU building and/or property.
“The emotions and exhaustion of 2020 have taken a tremendous toll leaving us all feeling unsettled,” Wisdom-Martin said. “It could almost be tempting to forsake our call and pack it in, but God was with us every moment.”
Mission matters most
Despite the COVID pandemic that sharply impacted sales as many churches suspended in-person gatherings, WMU affirmed that the “mission matters most” and quickly adapted in 2020, making mid-course corrections to ensure the organization ended the year in the black, including a voluntary retirement offer elected by 12 staff members. With fewer staff members and present personnel effectively working remotely since March due to the pandemic, WMU leaders said it has become a more agile organization.
“In the midst of the noise and chaos of 2020, it was beautiful to hear the national WMU board speak with compelling clarity,” Wisdom-Martin said. “In one unified voice, they proclaimed the missions mandate of WMU matters most. We make disciples of Jesus who live on mission.
“They backed their words with a decision to explore selling the current national WMU building in Birmingham. WMU has always sought to steward well the resources entrusted in our care, and we are leveraging our resources to make the largest impact possible for the Kingdom. Together, we are committed to making a difference through missions discipleship, leadership development and compassion ministries.”
WMU’s first headquarters was in Baltimore, Md., in 1888. The organization relocated to Birmingham in 1921 and operated from two different locations downtown. The current headquarters, which is more than 137,000 square feet on 22 acres, was constructed in 1984.
In addition to financial adjustments, WMU developed new ways to engage all ages in missions even amid a pandemic. New initiatives included:
- reaching out to SBC seminary presidents to offer help to international students stranded on campuses. WMU members quickly “adopted” students.
- engaging WMU leaders across the country to handwrite more than 18,000 letters asking churches to support the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
- sending daily prompts encouraging prayer for pastors and missionaries.
- working with International Mission Board and state WMUs to offer assistance with a surge in requests for missionary housing.
- partnering with state WMUs to provide PTSD resources. Melissa Lamb, president of New Mexico WMU, held online Bible studies that engaged 436 women from various states using one of these free resources.
- offering GA and RA lessons on Facebook Live over the summer. The first lessons had more than 11,000 views.
- providing weekly preschool stories online to Missions Friends. The first one had 8,000 views.
- ministering to senior adults sheltering in place or living in assisted care facilities by delivering books to them in partnership with the WMU Foundation and Iron Stream Media. This initiative is Honor 6:2, based on Ephesians 6:2.
- launching a new podcast with 31 episodes in 2020. On the Journey Conversations, hosted by Wisdom-Martin, features inspiring and encouraging interviews. New episodes will be available bi-weekly in 2021.
Candace McIntosh, executive director of Alabama WMU, said she is “encouraged for our future and in awe of how God has moved powerfully through the ministry and mission of WMU in the year 2020. As in our history, WMU rose to the challenge of a difficult year.”
Cathy Meyer, executive director of New York WMU, agreed.
“God is on the move!” she said. “In a year when ministry has changed for us all, I am so encouraged with the future ministry, resources and platforms national WMU is implementing. Missions discipleship is as relevant today as it will be tomorrow in making future missions disciples.”
In other business, the finance committee approved:
- $167,230 in Pure Water, Pure Love grants to provide much-needed wells and water filtration in Rwanda, Burundi, Haiti, Guatemala, and Liberia.
- $115,345 to be disbursed to state WMUs from the Second Century Fund managed by the WMU Foundation.
The executive board approved:
- $185 million as the goal for the 2021 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
- $65 million as the goal for the 2022 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.
Holding the Ropes
Via recorded video, IMB President Paul Chitwood stated that throughout their 175-year history, Southern Baptists have maintained an uninterrupted witness among the nations in spite of famine, wars, civil unrest, and in 2020, a global pandemic.
“We give gratitude to God for all that Southern Baptists are doing to reach the world for Christ and certainly for our WMU partners and advocates,” Chitwood said. “We have seen His faithfulness time and time again in this past year as He has maintained our collective missions efforts despite COVID-19 and many other challenges that affect international work.
“We also – for the past 132 years – have been able to rely on the steadfast support of the Woman’s Missionary Union. And without fail, since the auxiliary was founded in 1888, Southern Baptist women and men have held the lifeline of international missions through WMU-led prayers, WMU-led financial support, and WMU-led opportunities to go to the lost, both at home and abroad. Because your authentic, heartfelt efforts are truly undergirding us, I want to say thank you, to each one of you for steadfastly holding this lifeline.”
Chitwood said that today, more than 3,500 missionaries continue to journey into difficult and spiritually impoverished places across the world to sow seeds of love and truth and to enable the lost to know the saving grace of Jesus.
“As a result of your financial gifts and your unwavering prayer support … and because you advocated for your fellow Southern Baptists to do the same,” Chitwood asserted, “it’s my honor to report that our latest reports from the field show that more than 535,000 people heard a Gospel witness as IMB missionaries and their close indigenous partners shared the Gospel boldly this past year. More than 89,000 people came to faith, committing to follow Jesus Christ with their lives. Nearly 48,000 of those followed through with believer’s baptism and over 12,000 new churches were planted.”
Also addressing the group via recorded video, North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell said, “You make such a huge difference in the lives of our missionaries through your prayers, your encouragement and the tangible gifts you provide for them, literally all year long.”
Ezell acknowledged the pandemic hit in the spring, causing many churches to close their doors about the same time they typically would have been receiving gifts to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. The 2020 offering total dropped from $61.6 million in 2019 to $49.3 million, representing a 20 percent decline, but Ezell said there is still great reason to celebrate.
“God’s faithfulness and the generosity of Southern Baptists is remarkable and we are deeply grateful,” Ezell said. “It’s a great testimony to your work and your commitment. Your missionaries have continued to make an impact for the Gospel and meet needs during the most exceptional year. What you are doing is making an eternal difference and we are blessed to be your partner in reaching North America for Christ.”
Ongoing work in WMU’s three key areas of missions discipleship, leadership development and compassion ministries continues to make an impact across the world in 37 countries.
“We tell the stories of Southern Baptist missions,” Wisdom-Martin stated. “We did a little experiment this year and counted the touchpoints for Southern Baptist missions through our printed resources, email blasts and social media. IMB and NAMB missionaries were named 11,465 times.
“When you think just one of those touchpoints may have been printed in a magazine with a readership of 60,000 or sent in an email database of 44,000, the numbers grow in ways I can’t begin to calculate. Missionaries – called by name – 11,465 times.”
Leadership development opportunities continued through WMU’s Christian Women’s Leadership Center as it migrated to a new online learning platform. Self-paced courses are offered each month on ChristianLeaderLearning.com. Additionally, seven courses related to WMU’s compassion ministries made their debut on this website. A wealth of content related to leadership development and missions discipleship is also available on a newly redesigned wmu.com.
In conjunction with the board meeting, 24 workshops were offered on three different tracks: information, inspiration and innovation. Topics included innovative ways to engage different generations in missions, biblical stewardship, leadership development and more. Affinity group meetings for age-level leaders and others will take place all month long.
One of the benefits of hosting these meetings online is more people are able to participate. For example, most of Montana WMU’s leadership team joined.
Sharon Ellington, executive director of Montana WMU, said, “This virtual January Board Meeting was amazing for Montana! My team learned things and we left with a renewed passion for missions and ways to help our churches to encourage missions and raise up a generation of those making disciples who live on mission.”
WMU is a nonprofit missions organization that serves as an auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention with the purpose of making disciples of Jesus who live on mission. National WMU is not a part of the Cooperative Program allocation budget and receives no funds from the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering or Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. National WMU is supported through the sale of magazines and products, and from investments and charitable contributions.