BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — From Alaska and Hawaii to Maine and Florida, Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) board members and state leaders from across the U.S. gathered at national WMU in Birmingham for their biannual board meeting, Jan. 11–13.
More than 200 were in attendance, including representatives from the International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) to share inspiring stories and hear updates of God at work around the world.
Gordon Fort, senior ambassador for the IMB president, thanked WMU for their support and partnership for the cause of missions before introducing his daughter, Lizzy, who served as a journeyman in Central Asia.
Lizzy shared the story of meeting Mary who told her she had dreamed about Jesus. The two became friends and began studying the book of Luke in Kurdish. However, Lizzy said Mary began to worry she would be persecuted if she accepted Christ and decided it was too risky, so she quit coming.
“I prayed for her,” Lizzy said, “and Mary came back one day and said she felt so lost. We began studying the Bible again. When we read Romans 10:9 about confessing with your mouth that you believe in Jesus, she prayed to receive Christ…. The lost need to be found.”
Andrew Kelley, who serves with his family through IMB, shared about their efforts among Rohingya refugees in South Asia. NAMB church planters JD and Andreina Fasolino shared about their Hispanic church plant in Toronto.
NAMB president Kevin Ezell thanked WMU for their partnership in helping raise a record $61.4 million in 2019 through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions and shared updates related to NAMB’s Send Relief ministry centers and outreach efforts.
Ministry highlights in 2019
WMU President Linda Cooper said 2019 was a banner year for international missions efforts in WMU.
“We are a national company with a global reach,” Cooper said. “Through Pure Water, Pure Love, we provide all IMB missionaries with water filters and funded water projects in 12 different countries including Cuba, India and Liberia — providing clean drinking water for people in need and the opportunity to experience the Living Water.
“More than 1,800 impoverished artisans in 22 countries earned a sustainable wage and find real hope through WorldCrafts,” Cooper continued. “In addition to nearly 200 Christian Women’s and Men’s Job Corps sites in the United States, there are Christian Women’s Job Corps sites in Mexico, West Africa, South Africa and soon to be Thailand with IMB personnel.”
Shifting to WMU’s online leadership development opportunities, Cooper said, “Women from around the world — including Afghanistan, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Ukraine — take WMU’s Christian Women’s Leadership Center classes, and a second international student just finished all nine courses representing 150 hours of coursework.”
Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director of national WMU, said, “In 2019, WMU’s ministries touched countries from A-Z — from Afghanistan to Zambia — 39 different countries! When you include ministry partners here at 100 Missionary Ridge [the address of WMU’s building], the number of countries touched moves from 39 to 65. And then factor in what each of you are doing in your states — it’s astonishing. The breadth and scope of global Kingdom impact is stunning and beautiful and humbling.”
Cooper and Wisdom-Martin continued to recap some the year’s highlights, including:
— Milestones marking decades of changed lives: Mexico WMU and Nigeria WMU both celebrated 100 years. Taiwan WMU celebrated 60 years, and Brazil celebrated 70 years of Royal Ambassadors.
— Following an 18-month collaborative process that included three national WMU staff members traveling to South Korea, WMU signed an historic agreement with Korean nationals on the campus of IMB’s International Learning Center. Koreans will have the rights to WMU’s chronological Bible storying resource, Tell the Story: Bible Storying for Kids, to sell in Korea. In exchange, Korea Baptists will translate Tell the Story into Korean and gift the translation to WMU.
— After leading Korean WMU for 30 years, Angela Kim passed the mantle of leadership to Joy Lee.
— WorldCrafts welcomed four new U.S.-based artisan groups: Refugee Sewing Society in Clarkston, Ga.; Baptist Friendship House in New Orleans; Christian Women’s Job Corps of Monroe, La.; and Christian Women’s Job Corps of Madison County, Ala.
— National WMU staff members participated in numerous podcasts, panel discussions and task force meetings with various Southern Baptist agencies and entities to discuss strategies to address the needs of refugees and displaced people.
— In addition to encouraging ongoing support of Southern Baptist missionaries through prayer and giving to the missions offerings, WMU maintains a database of approximately 650 available housing options for international missions personnel while on stateside assignment, partners with IMB to host an annual MK [missionary kid] Re-Entry retreat and awards a host of scholarships. WMU also partners each year with NAMB to promote Christmas in August in which WMU missions groups gather, pack and send needed supplies to North American missionaries.
Wisdom-Martin recognized that while ministry is not always easy, it is evident God is at work.
“We need to all commit daily to serve humbly and lead courageously,” she encouraged. “As long as we surrender wholeheartedly to the cause of Christ, we will have a future in Kingdom work. It’s not about me or you. It’s not about WMU. It is about taking the Gospel to those who have never heard. I just happen to believe engaging Christ followers in missions discipleship is critical to the Great Commission. And we are Great Commission people.”
“It can get complicated when you try to explain all that WMU does,” Cooper acknowledged, “but when you think about it, we only do three things: compassion ministries, leadership development, and missions discipleship. Everything we do fits under one of those three areas … all with the purpose of making disciples of Jesus who live on mission.”
Cooper shared an example of missions discipleship from a Girls in Action (GA) leader in California who told about an outreach event that draws thousands to their church each October. The leader said a small group of girls from her previous GA class approached her and asked if they could practice sharing the story of salvation with her.
Cooper said, “This leader goes on to write, ‘This was simply a few girls who chose to approach the evening with a desire to share the Gospel with anyone who would listen. They did just that. Because of the size of our event, we are required to have several paramedics on stand-by. My favorite image of that night was definitely the sight of those GA girls sharing the Gospel with the paramedics assigned to our church event. Those things happen through ministries like GA and RA. They happen when we share with our children the importance of the Gospel and then model a lifestyle of faith … living it and sharing it.'”
Cooper said one of her dreams is for every church to offer missions discipleship through WMU.
“I believe with everything in me that it is life-changing,” she said. “It sure has changed mine!
“My biggest dream,” she continued, “is for everyone on the planet to have a chance to hear and respond to the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, and I believe WMU can play a big role in seeing that come to fruition. We must raise up a generation that will continue to tell the wonderful story of Jesus so they can tell others, who tell others, and on and on until His return … making disciples of Jesus who live on mission. To God be the glory and honor for the things He has done and will continue to do through WMU.”
Executive session and bonus opportunities
Meeting in executive session on Saturday evening, the executive board heard reports from standing committees and an assessment from a consulting company that outlined a plan and expenses for replacing the 36-year-old heating, ventilation and air conditioning system with original controls in the WMU building.
In other business, the executive board approved the 2020 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal be set at $175,000,000 and the 2021 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering goal be set at $70,000,000.
On Saturday, 26 different conferences covered a variety of topics such as developing leaders, missions discipleship by age level, Hispanic and Korean WMU, WorldCrafts, Christian Women’s and Men’s Job Corps, and a panel discussion with church planters and pastors.
On Saturday and Sunday evenings, participants had an opportunity to go through a U.S.-based refugee simulation and provide feedback on this new resource that will be available for online purchase at wmustore.com this spring. Displaced: Seeking Home is a one-hour simulation designed for students and adults that provides a glimpse into some of the difficult decisions and struggles refugees and displaced people in the United States experience as they go through the resettlement process. Participants live out real-life scenarios such as school registration, finding a job and working with a resettlement agency.
Other optional activities over the weekend included audio tours of the WMU building and historical artifacts, an interactive prayer experience, and screen printing bags or T-shirts in honor of the 50th birthday of Acteens and to promote Blume. Acteens is WMU’s missions education program for teen girls. Blume is a missional event for girls sponsored by WMU that will take place this summer at Germantown Baptist Church near Memphis July 8–11.