GROVE CITY, Ohio (BP) — Woman’s Missionary Union elected Linda Cooper of Bowling Green, Ky., to serve as national WMU president during the second day of their Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting, June 14-15, at First Baptist Church of Grove City, Ohio.
Cooper, a member of Forest Park Baptist Church, will replace Debby Akerman, who has served as president for five years. In her final presidential address, Akerman thanked those present at the meeting for the opportunity to serve WMU.
“Contrary to what some might think, you are not sitting in circles with your hair of blue simply reading missions articles,” she said. “You are praying for our missionaries as the day begins; going out in active community missions to the many places where the hurting are found. You are going out through relationship building and steady witnessing to the up-and-out as well as the down-and-out. And you are leading missions teams to go across North America and to the nations of the world.”
Surrender and service in missions
Between the two days of the meeting, some 500 people attended to hear how missionaries and ministry workers live out the year’s theme, “All for You,” through wholehearted surrender, sacrifice and service.
Capt. Michael Coleman, a U.S. Army chaplain who also serves with the North American Mission Board, challenged the audience to educate themselves about post-traumatic stress disorder, pray for those who are hurting and be a friend to those who come to their churches.
Coleman served on WMU’s initial task force to begin the organization’s Project HELP: PTSD. He said it was important for churches to be prepared for those who are returning to the U.S. from battlefields, but he warned it was not a strategy for building church membership.
“This is not an outreach opportunity for your church,” he said. “This is ‘inreach.’ You can be that back row Baptist who grabs that person by the hand and says no matter what you look like, no matter who you are, I’m going to walk with you along the way.”
Christian workers David and Alicia shared about their ministry work in Southeast Asia where their family of four has served for three years in a city of 3 million people, finding ways to share the Gospel with unreached people groups.
David said serving God may make some think of moving to a mud hut Africa or working in a soup kitchen, but God gifts people in different ways to serve Him. For David, this means being a travel agent. Running a tour and travel business is a vehicle to share the Gospel with hard-to-reach groups that otherwise would not welcome foreigners.
Many skills and giftings from the Lord — from travel agents to businesspeople — can be an asset to the Kingdom of God, David said. Seek the Lord’s direction on how God is calling you to serve and then “be obedient immediately.”
Marion G. “Bud” Fray, a retired IMB missionary who served in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and Kim Davis, former missionary, are the authors of this year’s WMU emphasis book, “Both Feet In: A Journey to Surrender, Sacrifice, and Service.”
But Fray said the book was not quite finished — in fact, far from it. He hoped attendees would take it home and “help write the next chapters” in their own stories of surrender to the Lord.
“Heaven happens when both the almighty Father from heaven and a usable vessel on earth come together,” Fray said. “You can be God’s instrument for heaven to happen back in your churches.”
Passing the gavel
As remembrance of her service, Akerman presented national WMU a new gavel made of Cocobolo wood with a woven handle, artfully crafted by master wood turner James Silva of Wareham, Mass., and Akerman’s brother, Nantucket basket crafter Robert E. MacNevin, Jr.
The gavel represented Akerman’s enjoyment of organizational work and respect for order in conducting WMU business, as well as her family’s New England heritage and their support during her time as president.
She also passed on three items to newly elected Cooper to be safeguarded by the current WMU president: a book on historic WMU leader Fannie E.S. Heck and two bejeweled rings from past WMU presidents.
“Finally, with this newest gavel, I pass the leadership of WMU to you,” Akerman said through tears. The audience gave a standing ovation as the outgoing and new presidents embraced.
Cooper said she had “big shoes to fill” in following Akerman, who led with “such grace and such a godly spirit.”
“Please pray for me, for national WMU and for those lives who are being eternally changed through you as you lead missions education each week through WMU,” Cooper said in closing. “With God’s help, I will live wholeheartedly for the Lord, moment by moment, as I serve WMU because I, too, am ‘both feet in.'”
In other news:
— Tana Hartsell of Charlotte, N.C., was elected as recording secretary.
— Three of the six 2015 National Acteens Panelists shared short testimonies: Kiara Curry of Charlotte, N.C.; Victoria Hernandez of Garland, Texas; and Grace-Ann Combs of Amarillo, Texas. Each panelist received a $1,000 scholarship from the WMU Foundation.
The next WMU Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting will be June 12-13, 2016, in St. Louis, Mo.