BALTIMORE (BP) — Echoes of history with a continued challenge to “Go Forward” permeated the Woman’s Missionary Union Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting, June 8-9 at the Baltimore Harbor Hotel. The meeting culminated a yearlong celebration of WMU’s 125th anniversary.
This year’s theme, “Go Forward,” was based on the personal motto of Annie Armstrong, WMU’s first corresponding secretary, from Exodus 14:15.
“Go Forward,” national WMU President Debby Akerman said, “is our legacy. These words represent our legacy of missions education, mission action and missions passion through the work of WMU.”
Attendees enjoyed a tour of five areas in Baltimore related to “Miss Annie,” WMU’s first executive director; heard re-enacted monologues of two other former WMU executive directors; and heard challenges to surrender, sacrifice and serve.
The tour included the first WMU headquarters, Armstrong’s home church and its new location, her gravesite and a stop at Federal Hill Park, where participants could view where her original home once was located.
Rosalie Hunt, author of “We’ve a Story to Tell, 125 Years of WMU,” and outgoing recording secretary, depicted two former Baltimoreans who served as WMU executive directors, Ann Baker Graves and Kathleen Moore Mallory.
Graves (1804-1878), known as the “Mother of Woman’s Missionary Union,” inspired and motivated Baptist women in post-Civil War America to organize, give, pray and go so that the Gospel could be taken into all the world and, in particular, China.
Mallory (1879-1954) was editor of “Our Mission Fields” magazine, which later became “Royal Service.” Mallory was the first woman to speak before the Southern Baptist Convention.
Akerman, in her address, introduced the WMU Watchword emphasis for 2014-16: “All For You: Surrender, Sacrifice, Serve” based is Mark 8:34, “Then He called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'”
“When we think about the growing lostness and encroaching post-Christian culture across North America, it is time to talk seriously” about surrender to God’s empowering, Akerman said.
Continuing ministry in the dark world of human exploitation, this year WMU will address a new social issue through Project HELP: Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD).
“PTSD is not just a military issue,” said Akerman, noting PTSD potentially can be the result of any kind of sudden or long-term trauma, including battles of wars, school and mall shootings, terrorist attacks, hurricanes and tsunamis, fires and car wrecks, home invasions and abductions.
“We cannot cure it but we can ‘go forward’ to light the way with for understanding PTSD and bringing the Christ comfort to those whose lives have been short-circuited by trauma,” Akerman said.
Two missionary couples shared about their ministry during the WMU sessions.
Taylor and Susan Field have served as missionaries on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for 28 years, “and WMU has been with us the whole time,” Taylor Field said.
He spoke on “upside-down living,” the theme of books written by the couple. They started their ministry at East 7th Street Baptist Church, later called Graffiti and have helped it grow into a community-wide ministry and center for church planting.
Field said someone asked him recently, “When are you gonna get things right side up?”
“With all due respect, I believe we serve an upside down Savior,” Field said, setting forth the counter-cultural principles they’ve put into action at Graffiti: embracing simplicity in ministry, and looking for big changes rather than big numbers.
“Jesus blessed the many, but He invested in the few,” Field said. When Graffiti started in a storefront, there were six people and a variety of rough backgrounds. But over the years, the Fields have seen change in their community and in their city.
“There are three times as many evangelicals in Manhattan as there were 20 years ago,” Field said, and 40 percent of the evangelical churches in Manhattan are new churches.
He used an analogy to describe the spiritual climate in New York: “You know what I think is happening? Wood gets drier and drier and drier, and then it catches on fire. And, you know, when we get so far away from God, something happens, and it is happening right now.”
Field also encouraged WMU to reach out to future Christian leaders. “There’s a whole generation rising up now that wants that Gospel, the whole Gospel … so that the evangelical church won’t be known just for what they say, or what they’re against, but for what they do.
“Just like Annie Armstrong was. The things she did, reaching out to those who were friendless, destitute children, all those things. That’s rising up right now.”
J. and K. (names are not disclosed for security reasons) are IMB missionaries serving in a country with difficult access to the Gospel. There, they primarily seek to reach people through relationship building, especially by welcoming their neighbors into their home. They also have been recipients of such hospitality.
Yet, a single question has haunted J.: “How will the masses ever hear? For years the vast majority have little access to the Gospel.”
Just a few months ago, he heard his answer. God “drew back the curtain to reveal how technological advance is expanding the Gospel,” he said. The couple’s work will now revolve around these methods.
“The reason we all ‘go forward’ is because Jesus is worthy. He is worthy to be worshipped by all people in every language all over the world,” J. said.
Beatrice Zoma, president of WMU’s sister organization in Burkina Faso, Africa, and Kathy Shafto, missionary in Burkina Faso, brought greetings.
“Just like Annie Armstrong, the Burkina Faso co-laborers with Christ want to minister to those who are among ‘the least of these,'” Zoma said, sharing about the Esther Center for young girls who did not have the opportunity to go to school, and Route 412, a six-year children’s program based on 1 Timothy 4:12.
In other business:
— Ginger Smith, director for the three Baptist Centers of Houston, received this year’s Dellanna West O’Brien Leadership Award.
— Debby Akerman was reelected as president, and Linda Cooper from Kentucky WMU was elected recording secretary, replacing outgoing Rosalie Hunt.
— Wanda Lee presented two gifts to Hunt in appreciation for her service: an archived original copy of the 1914 WMU prayer calendar written during Kathleen Mallory’s years of service in Baltimore as well as a small gold pin with WMU’s emblem.
Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist.