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WMU’s Missions Innovators head into the 21st century

TALLADEGA, Ala. (BP)–Woman’s Missionary Union is using
1998 to pilot Missions Innovators, a new initiative that WMU
national President Wanda Lee believes could launch the
organization into the 21st century.
The new ministry has been on the drawing table for more
than a year. The WMU executive board approved the pilot
project in June 1997 and commissioned the organization’s
first Missions Innovators during their Jan. 10-14 meeting in
Talladega, Ala.
WMU is piloting Missions Innovators through formal
agreements with Baptist state conventions in Alabama, Texas
and Virginia. The strategy for each state was developed by
state convention leadership, with the overarching goal of
working one-on-one with churches and associations to develop
and expand their missions involvement.
The three innovators and their assigned states are
Kathy Burns, Alabama; Sheryl Churchill, Virginia; and Sylvia
DeLoach, Texas. Each has served WMU, SBC, as an age-level
consultant and will serve for one year in their respective
“There are many things that Missions Innovators can and
will be, but we don’t know what they are yet,” Lee
acknowledged during the WMU executive board meeting.
“My hope is that they will discover not only new models
for how all our churches can catch a new vision for
missions, but identify new resources that WMU can produce to
help them meet their needs,” she said. “I also hope they
will be able to come back with a training module that will
enable us to say to any director of missions, pastor or
other minister who wants to do new and creative things in
missions, ‘We have a training plan for you.’
“This may very well be the next step that launches us
into the 21st century in ways we cannot even imagine at this
time,” Lee said.
While waiting for a clear-cut picture of what Missions
Innovators to develop, WMU is sure it will not be
traditional. In fact, the innovators went through two weeks
of intensive training to insure they are not thinking
“The goal of the training was to help all of us think
outside the box,” said Bobbie Patterson, WMU associate
executive director who will serve as the supervisor for the
innovators. “We selected trainers who are known for their
‘future’ thinking to propel us into the 21st century.”
Missions Innovator trainers included such personalities
as Lyle E. Schaller, author of “The InverVentionist;” George
Bullard, national consultant for denominational
transformation with the South Carolina Baptist Convention;
Bob Sjogren, author and conference leader with Advancing
Churches in Missions Commitment (ACMC); and John L.
Anderson, advanced concepts executive in the Office of Space
Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
The training included seminars on creative thinking for
the future, biblical basis of missions, missiology,
cross-cultural sensitivity, consulting/interventionist
training, educational trends, conflict management, missions
mobilizers, social work networking and missions involvement
Along with the innovators, others participating in the
training were national WMU staff and executive board
members, and WMU and other state convention staff from
Alabama, Alaska, the Dakotas, Virginia, Texas, Tennessee,
North Carolina, South Carolina and Minnesota-Wisconsin.
For each of the innovators, 1998 does represent a year
of unknowns, but each say they see the experience as a
spiritual pilgrimage.
Burns, a native of Alabama, said she learned as a child
she needed “to be willing to do whatever it takes to bring
people into God’s kingdom.” And a summer missions assignment
in Gadsden, Ala., showed her missions starts at home.
“That was the beginning of my eyes being opened to the
needs right here in my own state,” said Burns, who has spent
all but two years of her 28 years in childhood ministry in
Alabama. “Wherever we are, we need to see a worldwide vision
right at home as well as all around the world. People
everywhere need to know Jesus.”
As for her new assignment, she said, “Hopefully as we
listen, learn, link and coach congregations to launch their
unique missions potential, we will discover innovative ways
that will help all of us in building God’s kingdom.”
Burns has worked with WMU’s preschool organizations
since 1992. Earlier, she served on the staff of Alabama
churches in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Gadsden, and served
for nine years in the Sunday school and church
administration departments of the Alabama Baptist State
Board of Missions. She holds degrees from Samford
University, Birmingham, Ala., and Southwestern Baptist
Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.
Like Burns, DeLoach’s new assignment also takes her
home. A native Texan, she has spent her life in Texas except
for the past five years with WMU, SBC, as Girls in Action
specialist and children’s consultant. Previously, she served
12 years as children’s minister at First Baptist Church,
Richardson, Texas.
Although DeLoach is returning “home,” she acknowledged
her new assignment is in unfamiliar territory. “I hope to
build relationships, discover and develop new ideas, and
help carve something that may become the future of Woman’s
Missionary Union,” she said.
Recalling a commitment she made as a fifth-grader,
DeLoach said, “Officially and formally I’m going to Texas as
an innovator, but actually I’m going there to ‘do something
special for God with my life.'”
Unlike her colleagues, Churchill is not a native
Virginian. Her only ties to Virginia, she jested, is one of
her ancestors once owned property in the state. So, she
truly is moving into uncharted waters.
A native Texan, Churchill has served on the national
WMU staff for 20 years, most recently as WMU consultant. She
is a graduate of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor,
Belton, Texas, and Southwestern Baptist Theological
Seminary, where her late father Ralph Churchill was a
Churchill said her commitment to Missions Innovators
came out of obedience to what she believed God was calling
her to do. “God changes us internally and externally. He is
constantly in motion, but he does not change.
“God will use the Missions Innovators plan for his
purposes,” she said. “I want to take advantage of the
unfamiliar and make it work for growth in God’s kingdom.”
Recalling an experience of watching ducks walk on a
frozen lake looking for a weak spot to get to the water,
Churchill said, “I want to be able to see those broken
places in the ice as opportunities for breakthroughs to help
churches and individuals discover that they too can walk on
*Name changed for security concerns.

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  • Tanya Dawson*