By Shannon Baker and Laura Fielding
HOUSTON (BP) — Missions stories from Africa, Asia and the Americas highlighted the 125th anniversary celebration of the national Woman’s Missionary Union during their 2013 Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting, June 9-10 at the Hilton Americas in Houston.
In addition, 2013-14 marks the 100th anniversary of missions education for girls (Girls’ Auxiliary, Girls in Action and Acteens) as well as the 25th anniversary of WMU’s Second Century Fund, which was birthed at WMU’s centennial to fund leadership training for women worldwide.
With the theme “The story lives on,” the meeting featured testimonies of missionaries from both the International and North American Mission Boards, birthday gifts from WMU friends and video greetings from WMU partners throughout the world.
Gregg Fort, an IMB missionary in Zimbabwe, told WMU women, “With over 200 years of missionary experience in our immediate family, [the Forts] owe a tremendous amount to WMU.”
Fort’s parents are Wana Ann Fort and the late Milton Giles Fort Jr., who served as medical missionaries in Zimbabwe for nearly 36 years.
Gregg Fort and his wife Donna recounted stories of God’s work in a spiritually dark area of Zimbabwe, where until recently no evangelical churches existed. There are now 14 churches in the region.
WMU Executive Director/Treasurer Wanda Lee presented Wana Ann Fort and writer Kim Davis with an author’s copy of their new book “A Thousand Times Yes,” which tells about the faithfulness of three generations of the Fort family.
Randy and Debbie M., IMB missionaries in South Asia, told how they distribute audio devices with recordings of the Bible in the country’s native languages and follow up with discipleship training. As a result, they have seen “over 600 people come into the Kingdom and 60 people become pastors,” Randy said.
“So even in the darkest places among the unengaged where it is very difficult to work, we feel we are in paradise because God is doing a work that is bigger and so far beyond us,” he added.
IMB missionary Jackie Bursmeyer, who has served in Chile for 35 years, attended the 50th anniversary of GAs (Girls in Action) when she was 13. Now celebrating the 100th anniversary of the group, she said, “I don’t think I’d be on the field today if not for your prayers and missions education.”
Bursmeyer connects with Chileans through children’s and women’s ministries and through a birthday cake ministry in which she makes celebratory cakes for people who have never had birthday cakes in their honor.
Patrick Coats, a NAMB church planting missionary in Homestead, Fla., said, “God tackled [him] into the ministry.” He started a community Bible study at a local theater that eventually turned into a church as more and more people began attending. Over time, he baptized 30 people.
Each missionary, as well as others, expressed thanks for the ways WMU touched their lives through GAs, RAs (Royal Ambassadors program for boys) and Acteens and through the prayers and encouragement of WMU members.
In honor of the anniversaries, several denominational leaders offered birthday greetings and presented gifts to WMU.
Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, thanked WMU for its partnership in Gospel work.
“We count you as a valued, valued partner in the work of the Gospel and thank God for what you’re doing to promote the work of the Lord through Southern Baptist missions and ministries across the world,” Page said.
IMB President Tom Elliff and NAMB President Kevin Ezell presented WMU with two frames, each containing four pages from the 1888 SBC Annual — the year WMU was organized in Richmond, Va.
NAMB’s gift featured a joint report of the then-Home and Foreign Mission Boards. According to the report, both boards encouraged the “formation of Woman’s Missionary Circles and Children’s Bands in all our churches and Sunday Schools for the double purpose of exciting interest in mission work and raising funds for the spread of the Gospel.”
Noting a similar spirit of cooperation today, Elliff said NAMB and IMB “are determined to push the boundaries so close together that you won’t know when you step out of our boundary and into the other.”
IMB’s gift was the Foreign Mission Board report from the 1888 SBC annual meeting, which affirmed the work of Baptist women.
Five leaders from Korea Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union extended birthday greetings from themselves and the Asian Baptist Women’s Union. Sook Jae Lee, co-executive director of KBWMU, said that since its founding in 1954 the organization has appreciated the help of Southern Baptist missionaries and partnerships with the national and state WMUs.
“We can never pay you back for what you have done for us, but we believe God will reward you greatly,” Lee said through tears. “We hope to pass on this blessing that you have given us to Korea, Asia and the rest of the world for God’s Kingdom enlargement.”
Soon Shil Beck, executive director of KBWMU, presented Wanda Lee with a plaque of appreciation and a gift of $3,000 to the Second Century Fund and the WMU Foundation. Sook Jae Lee presented another plaque of appreciation to the Alabama WMU for their sisterhood and partnership with KBWMU from 1992-97 and a gift of $2,000 to national WMU in honor of Alabama WMU.
Rachel Contreras, women’s minister for the Baptist World Alliance, also presented a plaque to WMU, recognizing the entities’ partnership and “the chain of influence for 125 years that WMU has had in the world as it changes lives and gives new meaning.”
In other business:
— Sook Jae Lee received this year’s Dellanna West O’Brien Award for Women’s Leadership, named in honor of the past WMU executive director.
— Johnny Rumbough, outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions (renamed Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders), said he was “very pleased” to announce a new partnership between the group and WMU.
Rumbough said the directors of missions organization was expected to adopt not only a new name, but also a new leadership structure including associational leaders and representatives from four SBC entities and WMU. The WMU representative will be Jean Roberson, adult resource team leader for national WMU. Associations will now also be a part of WMU’s week of prayer emphasis.
— Jay Dennis, pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla., introduced an anti-pornography initiative named Join One Million Men, which asks men in churches of all denominations to make a commitment to live pornography-free lives.
Dennis and his wife Angie also are challenging one million Christian women to pray for one million Christian men to fight pornography.
“I believe that we are finally learning that the dark places are not just ‘over there,’ but here,” Wanda Lee said. “I believe God is calling WMU to raise the level of conversation with our families and our churches by calling women to pray.”
— WMU representatives reelected Debby Akerman of South Carolina as WMU president and Rosalie Hunt of Alabama as WMU recording secretary for 2013-14.
In her address, Akerman said WMU celebrates 125 years because it has “stayed true to those missional core values given by God and fleshed out by [its] foremothers.”
Influenced by more than 30 years as a GA leader, Akerman led participants to recite pledges, special songs and other mission education components before sharing written testimonies of the impact WMU has had on women and girls.
“Let us commit anew to radically challenge Christian believers to understand and be radically involved in the mission of God as we look forward to what God will do through WMU in the next 125 years,” Akerman said.
Next year’s WMU annual meeting is set for June 8-9 in Baltimore.
Shannon Baker is national correspondent of BaptistLIFE, the newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. Laura Fielding is a writer for the International Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).