ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Holding up gold pen lights, participants in the Woman’s Missionary Union annual meeting embraced the Great Commission challenge to shine the light of Christ into areas of spiritual darkness.
Marking a historic point in the mission organization’s 112-year history, the WMU installed Wanda Lee as its seventh executive director during its June 11-12 annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.
The meeting focused on encouraging attendees to keep “Dispelling the Darkness” in a lost and hurting world.
During a spotlight on international and North American missions, Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, encouraged the participants to pray for missionaries “who are sharing the gospel in places still shrouded in darkness.”
Record giving to the 1999 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering — $105,443,786.95 — has “allowed us to penetrate the darkness in those restricted places where Christ is just now being heard,” Rankin said.
“Jesus didn’t qualify the Great Commission to only send missionaries where they are welcome and can go without risk,” he continued. “God is going before us, opening the door.”
Rankin introduced a “Last Frontier” missionary from a country where the gospel is restricted. He said the WMU women would never see the missionary’s name on a prayer calendar because of safety concerns, but he encouraged them to give crucial prayer support to this behind-the-scenes ministry.
Robert E. Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, interviewed three NAMB missionaries, including Steve Hoekstra, a resort missionary in Colorado. Hoekstra told the women that resort missions isn’t all fun and games, saying people often come to resorts to escape serious problems.
One woman had come to a Colorado campground to commit suicide, he recounted, but instead made a profession of faith because of the outreach of resort ministry.
Wanda Lee, newly installed WMU executive director, cast a vision for the organization’s future during the executive board report.
“There are those who ask if WMU is still viable for the future needs of this generation,” Lee said. “There are some who are asking if missions education is even relevant for today’s church.”
But the Great Commission compels WMU to continue to challenge the next generation to become involved in missions, she said. WMU has a mandate to “seek new and different ways to challenge the church to make missions a high priority.”
In other business, the women elected Janet Hoffman of Farmerville, La., as president of the national organization and Yolanda Calderon of Modesto, Calif., as recording secretary. Calderon is the first ethnic leader to be elected as a national WMU officer. Both will be eligible for annual re-election for up to five years.
One of the secrets of successfully starting a church is starting it with a WMU organization, said keynote speaker Emmanuel McCall, former director of black church extension for the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board). He currently serves as pastor of Christian Fellowship Church in College Park, Ga.
“If you really want to grow a strong, healthy, missions-minded church, you’ve got to have a WMU to do it,” McCall said.
During a testimony time, eight women lined the front of the auditorium holding enlarged copies of their most recent police mug shots. As former streetwalkers and convicted felons, their years of drug abuse and prostitution were outlined for the audience. Each gave a one-sentence testimony of how Jesus Christ has transformed her life.
Almost immediately, the more than 300 members attending the WMU’s annual meeting jumped to their feet to give the women a standing ovation.
The eight women are present and former residents of Orlando’s Restoration House, a ministry designed as an after-prison care ministry. Lynn Latham, director of church/community ministries for Greater Orlando Baptist Association, leads the residents through the Christian Women Job Corps materials, a WMU resource created to teach women basic job skills.
Latham also shared her experiences of the previous weekend as she led 25 “courteous, courageous Christian women,” ages 29-75, down Orlando’s “infamous” Orange Blossom Trail, 22 miles of strip clubs, topless bars, liquor stores, tattoo parlors and adult video stores.
“In the 22 years I have served as one of your missionaries,” Latham told the WMU audience, “I have never seen such a moving of God’s spirit.”
Gayle Leininger, a NAMB-appointed national missionary for literacy missions, started an “English as a Second Language” class at First Baptist Church, Orlando, in the 1960s that grew to 700 students and spawned the first Hispanic Baptist church in the city. A similar ministry she started in Jacksonville, Fla., resulted in Korean and Japanese congregations.
But Leininger credited Cuban refugee Calixto Romay, whose job was to construct the Cinderella Castle for Disney World, with reminding her of the true rewards in teaching people from other nationalities to speak English.
One day Romay came to the conversational English class at First Baptist, asking to learn “carpentry English.” He explained that he was behind schedule on completing the castle. He was constantly leaving the massive scaffolding structure to retrieve tools because he didn’t know their names to ask others to bring them to him. Another teacher whose husband had taken up carpentry as a hobby stepped in to teach the refugee English carpentry terms. After six months, his working knowledge of the English language enabled him to complete the project ahead of schedule.
Soon afterward, Romay and his family began attending the Hispanic congregation and made professions of faith.
The two-day WMU meeting spotlighted the ministry efforts of Southern Baptist missionaries in the United States and around the world.
David and Milvian Lema serve as NAMB missionaries in Miami, a city of 156 ethno-linguistic groups. He serves as catalyst for starting ethnically diverse congregations. “God is starting new works, bringing new workers,” Lema said.
Janie, who could not reveal her last name for fear of reprisal in the Central and Southeast Asia country she serves, told how she had prayerwalked around Buddhist temples where, today, monks are studying the Bible.
Joy Oglesby is serving as a “light” to English-speaking persons in Germany. She requested prayer for the former East Germany, where “an entire generation has been told there is no God.”
John Ramirez, who serves as a missionary with his wife, Anna, in Massachusetts, encouraged the WMU women to “run, not walk, to the darkness” where there are so many desperate needs.
Miss Alabama, Julie Smith, a former Mission Friend, GA and Acteen, told participants that “WMU is one of the most important parts of my testimony. I don’t have the kind of testimony that says, ‘Look what God took me out of.’ I can say, ‘Look what God kept me out of.’
“Because of what I learned through WMU, I’ve felt empowered to do God’s work,” Smith said.
The annual meeting also included training sessions to equip women for their organizational leadership positions.
In a conference on “Women, the Web and WMU,” Lisa Rowell, WMU web specialist, told participants that by December 2000 an estimated 191 million persons are expected to be using the Internet, a number almost evenly divided between male and female users. While men use the Internet as a toy, women surf the net as a tool to assist in their responsibilities of family, work, church and friends, Rowell said.
Because women are non-linear thinkers, the Internet is a perfect tool for women, said Rowell, because there is no starting or ending point. It is the perfect resource for praying for and learning about missionaries and developing spiritually.
The WMU website, www.wmu.com, is updated monthly to provide current prayer requests, missions education resources and links to SBC mission board sites and offering information. Web pages targeting children, Acteens and other mission age groups are available.
A group of women discussed their financial concerns during a conference led by Mary Helen Dixon, WMU national staff, titled, “Before you pull your hair out over money.”
During the conference, Dixon encouraged the women to take control of their pocketbooks by providing them with “do’s and don’ts” when handling finances.
Dixon advised limiting how much money is spent on eating in restaurants or buying name-brand clothes. Instead, she suggested, make meals from scratch and buy more affordable clothing.
Conference leader Cindy Goodwin of the Florida Baptist Convention shared hints on how to minister to families as they “tackle tough issues” with their children.
Goodwin discussed problems children face today, such as violence, abuse, neglect and lack of spiritual development.
She encouraged the women to “find ways to prevent these things from occurring, rather than trying to take care of the problem after it happens.”
Among the many steps to be taken when dealing with a distressed child, she said, “the spiritual foundation must be the starting point because they need the Lord above all else.”