BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Favorite quotes from Dellanna O’Brien abound.
For future-lookers, it might be “God is not finished with us yet,” a hopeful defense against discouraging thoughts.
For current-events watchers, it might be the question, “Where are the peacemakers?” asked as WMU launched its anti-violence emphasis.
For the ministry-minded, it might be “Some places are so dangerous, only a woman can go there,” a quote borrowed from inner-city pastor Ray Bakke.
O’Brien’s words — and the life they represent — have been a source of encouragement and challenge to her friends and co-workers and spurred many others to join her in devoting their lives to God’s mission.
On Sept. 1, O’Brien will retire after 10 years as executive director of Woman’s Missionary Union. She and her husband, Bill, will continue to live in Birmingham, Ala., where WMU is headquartered.
O’Brien has served at the helm of WMU in interesting times. The Southern Baptist Convention has undergone a sweeping restructuring, with almost every SBC entity being significantly reorganized, and relationships between them newly designed. In local churches, patterns of attendance have shifted, with Christian education becoming more diversified.
Yet buoyed by O’Brien’s spirit of leadership, WMU has remained the voice for missions education in the local church. A series of new initiatives have been added to WMU’s missions education lineup to involve the whole church in missions.
WMU’s relationships with the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board remain solid. Gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering continue to reach record levels.
WMU’s governing board, drawn from its state-level organizations, is vibrant and strong. And WMU’s 111-year-old commitment to missions is still being quietly carried out by legions of praying, giving, teaching and ministering women in the church, women who make up the fabric of WMU. O’Brien’s strong mettle has undoubtedly made a difference in the missions world.
Wanda Lee has been national WMU president since 1996. Lee remembers the first time she met O’Brien. “She stood for hours at a reception in her honor, and never tired of hugs, handshakes and repeated introductions. I was impressed by her warmth, sense of humor and genuine love for people. Women from across the country connected instantly with her.”
O’Brien’s predecessor, Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler, believes O’Brien’s perspective as a missionary, an educator and devoted mother and grandmother made her ideal to lead WMU.
“In a unique way she has used WMU as a vital force in missions education for the sake of missions, rather than for the sake of WMU,” Crumpler said. First and foremost, O’Brien’s decisions have been for the sake of lost souls around the world — souls that await the telling of the good news, Crumpler added.
Carolyn Miller served from as national WMU president from 1991-96, facing with O’Brien a number of key challenges.
“I have heard Dellanna say many times that we spent more time with each other than with our husbands!” Miller jokes. “Because of this togetherness, I came to see that she is the same committed Christian no matter what the circumstances. Even though undesirable things came her way, her Christlike spirit never wavered. Her strength came from the fact that she knew she was in the will of God and that he would always guide her steps.”
O’Brien has kept WMU moving forward with determination. She has traveled across the country and around the world, encouraging the work of missionaries and, in particular, women involved in missions. She has challenged WMU leaders to study the needs of a changing world and develop ministries to help Christians meet those needs.
One example happened in 1993, when O’Brien and several WMU leaders took an “urban plunge” in Chicago, learning of ministry needs in the city. Then they visited Appalachia to identify causes and effects of hunger in the United States. In these two very different environments, the urgent situation of women in poverty — primarily single parents and welfare recipients — raised the same haunting question: Isn’t there something we can do?
Christian Women’s Job Corps was born out of that heartfelt question. A ministry of WMU, CWJC not only provides job and life skills for women in need, but also a caring mentor, Bible study and a chance to know Jesus Christ.
Praised by Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George Bush, CWJC has raised enthusiasm among Christian women who find it an exciting place to share their gifts. Growing from five pilot sites to some 100 ministry sites in 21 states and one international site, CWJC has helped hundreds of women move from dependency to self-sufficiency.
CWJC is only one of the new initiatives begun under O’Brien’s leadership. Others include:
— WorldCrafts: a WMU ministry that gives missionaries a way to market and distribute unique items handcrafted by economically deprived people on the missions field, with sales directly benefiting the crafters. WMU currently works with missionaries in more than a dozen countries.
— Volunteer Connection: a network which identifies missions needs and resources, both national and international, and matches them with volunteers willing to serve. Two major projects coordinated through Volunteer Connection are WMU’s recent partnership with Habitat for Humanity International and an ongoing partnership with IMB personnel in Bosnia. More than 1,400 volunteers have been placed through the program this year.
— New Hope Publishers: now a separate department, focusing on producing books for the larger Christian audience.
— www.wmu.com: WMU’s Internet website which includes missions education materials, age-appropriate areas and an on-line bookstore.
— Missions Innovators: trained, certified, experienced consultants who work with churches, associations and states looking for hands-on help in planning their missions involvement.
— Expanded language materials: WMU has increased its involvement with language/ethnic groups and provides materials and services for more groups than ever before.
— WMU Foundation: Founded in 1995, it receives gifts to provide for the future of WMU and its ministries. The foundation’s assets stand at more than $5.5 million.
In her final address to members attending the June WMU annual meeting in Atlanta, O’Brien once again encouraged her listeners to move forward.
“We are part of a seamless history in which we connect the stories of the past to write of our own chapters in preparation for those who come after us,” she said. “May God keep you in his grace, love, joy and wisdom.”
England is assistant editor of WMU’s magazine for women, Missions Mosaic. (BP) photo posted in BP Photos section of the Baptist Press photo area of www.sbc.net. The file name is O’Brien.jpg.