Revised 2 p.m. Jan. 4, 2007.
INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–Through drama and inspiring testimonies, Woman’s Missionary Union launched the 2004-06 emphasis of “Christ Followers” during its Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting June 13-14 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.
Building on the new emphasis, this year’s national event encouraged, equipped and motivated the more than 850 participants who registered for the annual meeting to take a closer look at key attributes of a true follower of Christ.
“For 116 years, WMU has been engaged in discipling people of all ages in missions awareness and personal involvement,” Wanda S. Lee, executive director-treasurer of national WMU, told participants. “We have a two-pronged approach to capturing the attention of today’s generation for missions involvement: church-based learning experiences and personal opportunities to serve in hands-on missions experiences.”
Lee said WMU is beginning a new initiative called “Project HELP: Poverty” as it closes out its emphasis on restorative justice. Project HELP was introduced in 1994 as a way for WMU to strategically address issues she said were “facing the world that were calling out for Christians to get involved, to do something that would change the lives of people for good.
“[Project HELP] was not meant to be a ‘one shot’ deal. It was meant to be the impetus to begin ministries in our communities that would lead to a response where God would become known and seen and draw people to saving faith in Him.”
Project HELP: Poverty will use the recently published book “Breaking the Cycle: Issues Affecting Poverty” by Cathy Butler as its primary resource. In addition to addressing the issue of poverty, the book pulls together information from previous WMU Project HELP topics, such as hunger, AIDS, cultural diversity, literacy and restorative justice, into one resource.
“And do you know what the foundation of all those [previous Project HELP] issues really is?” Lee asked. “Poverty. When we selected this social issue two years ago, we realized that it’s the root cause of so many of those things that plague us in our society today. God is bringing together all the ministries we have been focusing on over the last 10 years.”
In addition to Lee, other leaders of WMU’s Missions Celebration included Amy Moody, a musician from Palm Beach Garden, Fla.; Janet Hoffman, WMU national president from Farmerville, La.; 2004 Acteens panelists; and several field personnel representing the North American and International Mission Boards who shared inspirational testimonies about their ministries.
Laurita Miller, a nationally known Christian dramatist from Pelham, Ala., brought biblical followers of Christ to life through dramatic monologues she wrote and performed. Miller’s dramatic interpretations were based on the 2004-05 emphasis book “She Walked with Jesus: Stories of Christ Followers in the Bible” by Brenda Poinsett.
Portraying Mary, the mother of Jesus, Miller said, “God requires from each of us just that we trust Him and follow Him, and we become … His instruments of love: His hands and His heart.” In addition, Miller portrayed Mary Magdalene, Priscilla, Dorcas and Lydia.
In the president’s address, Hoffman told participants, “Mostly what God does is love you. A love like that … how is it possible to imitate Christ?” Hoffman answered the question, “First, know Christ. Then walk in love. To imitate Christ, one must be intimate with Christ. The true follower of Christ tries to become like Christ in direct proportion to how much time he spends getting to know Christ.”
Hoffman noted that since its inception in 1888, women in WMU have worked to meet people’s needs, saying, “Following Christ is really love in action. It is in loving that we are most like Him. The most important lesson He wants us to learn is to love one another. It is the most difficult lesson because it means forgetting ourselves.”
In greetings from leaders of the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board, the IMB’s Clyde Meador said during the last year, for the first time, Baptists overseas surpassed half a million baptisms. He also thanked WMU for its support and leadership in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which he said reached an all time high of $136.2 million this year.
“Praise the Lord for what He’s doing and the opportunity He gives us to send out more missionaries around the world,” said Meador, IMB executive vice president. “I am thankful for the missionaries here you will meet and pray for this afternoon who are living and working on the cutting edge of lostness all over the world.”
Bob Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, thanked “God for your partnership with us and us with you for the work of the ministry all the way back to the point where Annie Armstrong was requested to come and raise an offering to bring Lottie Moon home just for a year of rest that became the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
“And then, Annie Armstrong had the privilege of being elected as your first leader and then bears the name of the North American Mission Board Offering, which last Friday [June 11] was 15.3 percent ahead of a year ago.”
Milton and Mary Jane Allred, IMB missionaries to Mexico for more than 26 years, told participants they were assigned to work with Mixteco Indians, the fourth largest Indian group in Mexico and the least reached.
“In 20 years we had never heard of them,” Mary Jane Allred said. She said they found their best friends among the Mixtecos, but “we went under a cloud of spiritual oppression that we had never experienced before. Where Satan is worshiped, he is strong. When we left in January, the sun was breaking through. There were more churches, more believers. We were in on the watering and the planting of seeds. We believe we’ll see the harvest.”
Allred said the couple will retire at the end of June and locate where Mixtecos have migrated to the United States. He said they plan to speak to churches and encourage Southern Baptists to reach out and pray for Mixtecos, which he said are easier to reach with the Gospel in the United States than they are in Mexico.
Following their presentation, Reccord told the Allreds, “When you come home and you are here in the North American continent and your heart is with reaching the Mixtecos here, I want to do everything [NAMB] can to help you and continue your mission even in retirement.”
Beth Ann Williams of Salt Lake City, Utah, said she is an “Olympics junkie” and encouraged women to get involved in Olympics ministry, specifically reminding them of opportunities for Christian ministry at the summer games in Athens this August.
“We’re going to start seeing those [Olympic] rings more and more on commercials and products and I just challenge you to breathe a prayer for our volunteers every time you see those rings come up,” said Williams, WMU executive director and women’s consultant for the Utah-Idaho Baptist Convention. “They need to be covered in God’s protection and strength in these unsettled days. Pray that they will have divine appointments.”
In Peru, IMB missionary Dena McAnally has served four years ministering to the Asheninka people.
The Asheninka live in remote communities and in the jungles, scattered along rivers and tributaries. They live a very simple life, have no medicine and little food. They have little Christian witness and are superstitious. They have no electricity, no running water, no stove, no bathrooms.
“We train men and women to share the Gospel in their own language,” said McAnally, who is Laotian and came to the United States 24 years ago. “We have Bibles in three of the dialects now. If someone can read a pamphlet we give them, we will give them a Bible. But most of them cannot read it. We are making disciples to follow Jesus Christ and to plant churches.
“I have learned a lot by serving Christ in the jungle. God has taught me it is not about my comfort, it’s about obeying His call. It’s not about me, it’s all about Jesus Christ and how He can be glorified. My heart aches for the Asheninka people. These people can’t even read, but they can listen. They don’t have anyone to preach to them. I pray for those we are training to take the message to them.”
Alpha Goombi was 27 years old when she became a Christian. It would not have happened, she said, if a missionary had not been sent to her area with Annie Armstrong and Cooperative Program funds to lead her to Christ.
Goombi, a NAMB missionary working in Nebraska, said as a Native American she repeatedly was told she would not amount to anything.
“When I was a girl growing up in southwest Oklahoma in a dusty little farming community, I was not allowed to be a member of First Baptist Church because of the color of my skin,” she said. “As I grew up it was really hard because I was told I was nothing but a dumb Indian.”
When Goombi was in the first grade, she heard her teacher say, “I don’t want any dumb Indians in my class.” In the second and third grades, her teachers told her she didn’t have the ability to learn and she would not amount to anything.
However, she told the WMU participants she really believed what her mother and father told her: She could do anything if she would set her heart to it. And, she reminded Southern Baptists of the importance of continuing to send missionaries.
“When you give and when you pray and when you send missionaries, it gives life to somebody like me,” she said. “In my life, when others saw a dumb little Indian girl that wouldn’t amount to anything, God saw a princess.”
Randy Pool, who spent 15 years as an IMB missionary in Honduras and Nicaragua and now is a NAMB missionary in West Tennessee, said people in America go out of their way to stay out of the way of the poor. The Mississippi River Ministry has been challenged to try to connect churches to people in need.
“It’s hard for me to imagine; it’s hard for you to imagine. And we will never understand it until we open our eyes,” Pool said of poverty. “And it’s not just seeing it, we’re going to have to ask the Lord to open our eyes to see it the way He sees it. When Jesus looked upon the multitudes he was moved to compassion. Where the disciples saw nuisance, Jesus saw need.”
One out of eight Americans live in poverty, but in West Tennessee poverty hits one out of five.
Pool said, “It was in southern Honduras that I learned one of the most important lessons about compassion: Just because you can’t help everybody is no excuse not to help anybody. Open your eyes. Open your heart. Open your spirit. Open your hand, and then open your door. Because it’s out there.”
A literacy missions video shown at the national WMU annual meeting in 1992 had such a life-changing affect on Rebecca Carnell that she returned to Eubank, Ky., determined to do whatever it took to personally get involved in that ministry.
During this year’s meeting, Carnell was named the 2004 recipient of the Dellanna West O’Brien Award for Women’s Leadership Development. This award is given to women who exemplify what it means to be a Christ-follower through service to others.
Carnell is a part-time literacy consultant with Kentucky Baptists trained as an adult reading workshop leader. She trains others to become tutors and serves as a Missions Service Corps volunteer.
After seeing the video, Carnell said, “I said to the Lord, ‘Whatever you want me to do with the skill you have given me, I will do it.'”
She thought she would go home and continue to teach people to read one person at a time for the rest of her life.
“And I still do that today. But I did not know what else God would have for me to do,” she said. “To see someone read — especially to read the Bible –for the first time in their life is such a joy. It changes their life.”
NAMB missionary Margaret Johnson, Baptist Student Union director at Langston (Okla.) University, said, “My saving grace was my mom. She always said that God would bless us. I thought that meant having a mansion. I barely finished high school. I had no goals, no ambitions.”
A friend told Johnson she was going to college and she said she thought that if that friend could do it, so could she. Johnson applied and was accepted. She got involved in BSU and went on a mission trip. When they made an appeal for missionaries, she volunteered. Later, the BSU director reminded her that she had volunteered but by then she didn’t want to go.
“I told God something He didn’t know. I said, ‘But God, I’m black,” Johnson said. “Missions is finding a need and fulfilling it. He created you with a specific mission in mind. The Lord wants you, too. He wants whatever you have.”
Hannah and Pete Livermore*, IMB missionaries for 19 years in the Gaza Strip who now work in Israel’s West Bank said, “The only thing that prepared us for life among the Palestinians was that we were following Christ. And He has been with us one day at a time. We love the Lord too much not to follow Him.”
Barbara and Harry Bush teach 1,600 church leaders in nine countries in South Asia. Bush told participants, “We’re grateful to you for making it possible for us to partner with them so that they can partner with us.”
During one of her presentations, Lee discussed the 90th celebration year of Girls in Action, saying, “Wherever I’ve gone this year, they were either having a celebration, had already had a celebration or were about to have one to celebrate this 90th year. Who knows if that child that you are teaching will turn out to be a Martha Myers or a Lottie Moon?”
In honor of all the GAs for the past 90 years, Lee said WMU has established the Dr. Martha Myers GA Alumnae of Distinction Award. Myers was involved in medical missions and was killed by a Muslim extremist in Yemen in December 2002.
The award’s recipient this year is Sara Ross Clayton of Douglas, Ga., a member of Northside Baptist Church there. Clayton has been involved in WMU all her adult life and has brought up her children to be involved too. She was not able to be present because she suffered a catastrophic stroke and is confined to a wheelchair. Clayton’s daughter accepted the award for her saying, “My mother does not understand she has been extraordinary because she thinks it’s ordinary to be involved.”
Concerning WMU special ministries, Lee told meeting participants the national organization is currently engaged in three, three-year partnerships through the Olympics in Greece, a ministry with Muslim women in Paris, France, and a variety of projects in Croatia. This fall after the Olympics emphasis, WMU will begin a new three-year partnership with Moldova, building opportunities for volunteers strategically to meet the needs of people in that country.
In addition, Lee called WMU’s efforts in MissionsFEST and FamilyFEST “important and exciting ways volunteers are discovering how to do missions for the very first time. We are pleased to be a part of helping you by equipping you and then letting you loose on the rest of the world as you discover how to be involved in missions.”
Besides the five plenary sessions, the gathering also provided opportunities for leadership training during three break-out sessions. Along with WMU age-level and language tracks focusing on the latest resources and research, a track on “missional living” was offered.
The track encouraged participants to explore issues that are foundational to missions involvement, including worldview, spirituality, relationships, leadership, communicating the Gospel and one’s unique calling to ministry. It was designed to help women who desire to grow in their commitment and understanding of God’s mission.
During the meeting, $6,950 was raised for the Vision Fund Offering, which provides funding for all WMU ministries.
In the business session, Hoffman was re-elected to a fifth term as national WMU president. Kathy Hillman, president of Texas WMU, was elected national recording secretary, as participants acknowledged the service of Yolanda Calderon of Modesto, Calif., who served four years as national recording secretary.
In other business, the executive board:
— Set the 2006 goal for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering at $56 million.
— Set the 2005 goal for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering at $150 million.
— Approved Andrea Mullins as the new Product Development Center Director for WMU, SBC.
— Voted to begin production of a subscription-based newsletter for adult women to premier January 2005. The purpose is to inform and inspire a woman to influence her world for Christ. Content will focus on issues that touch women, activities which connect women with other women, and stories of entities through which women might find significant missions involvement. The cost will be $14.99 annually for six issues.
The 2005 national WMU annual meeting is scheduled for June 19-20 at First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. Fisher H. Humphreys, professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., will lead the Bible study for the meeting.
*Names changed for security concerns.