Executive Director Blog

A Shared Love for North American Missions

I love the WMU building! When you walk in the front door, you know immediately who we are and why we exist. You are greeted with a beautifully crafted bronze replica of the world, and farther down the hallway you see a mural with the faces of the peoples of the world. All around you are artifacts emulating the culture and diversity of our world.

Many of our artifacts are gifts from missionaries and friends of missions who served as partners with WMU. One of those is the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Begun in 1845 as the Board of Domestic Missions and later the Home Mission Board, NAMB shared with WMU a love for missionaries serving in our nation and its surrounding territories.

We recently received some very special gifts from NAMB. One is the armoire belonging to Annie Armstrong, a welcomed addition to our Annie Armstrong collection. The other item is the desk of former secretary of the Home Mission Board Isaac Tichenor. Receiving this gift prompted me to dig a little deeper into the life of this great Southern Baptist leader.

Start Something New

I love wandering through bookstores when I have free time. While I have a Kindle and a tablet for reading when I fly on airplanes, I really prefer a real book. I love the feel and smell of a new book and the comfort it brings as my mind is transported wherever the book takes me.

I especially love missionary biographies like Both Feet In by Bud Fray and A Thousand Times Yes by Wana Ann Fort. Books like these provide deeper insight into the life and calling of missionaries and inspire us to lead and participate in missions with passion as well as knowledge. Their stories challenge us to commit our very best to the calling God has given us to live a missional life.

No Turning Back

Both Feet In Book Cover

In his book Both Feet In, retired missionary Dr. Bud Fray references an old African proverb that says: “Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet.” It’s like testing the temperature of the pool water before you jump in; we stick our toe in first and if it’s too cold we have the option of pulling back. Once we jump in with both feet we are committed . . . and we better know how to swim!

After serving 28 years among the people of Zimbabwe and South Africa, Bud and his wife, Jane, know firsthand what the African people mean by this proverb. The African peoples’ life experiences taught them to tread cautiously before committing to something. They worshipped many different gods and held many beliefs that were contrary to the gospel. So when confronted with the truths of the Bible, they hesitated to commit to the one true God of Scripture. Carefully and wisely, missionaries like Bud taught them to weigh all the consequences and then, when they were ready and totally committed to Jesus’ teaching, put both feet in, knowing there is no turning back.

Our Proactive Response Matters

The first week in December is a special time with the International Mission Study, prayer experiences during the Week of Prayer for International Missions, and giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering as highlights of the Christmas season for many of us.

This year, however, comes with a note of sadness. For the first time in many years, missionaries over the age of 50 with five years’ experience are being asked to consider voluntary retirement due to a financial shortage at the International Mission Board. This situation did not happen overnight. I’ve read many explanations and possible solutions such as a special offering or increased Cooperative Program giving so we can avoid bringing missionaries home. While both suggestions are good, it’s too late; retirement offers have been made and missionaries are making their decisions. The problem has existed for too long to find a quick solution. Ironically, the conclusion of the missionaries’ service will happen during December, the time we are all praying in earnest for them and the people they serve. It certainly adds a new dimension to our praying this year.

An Opportunity to Develop

Develop WMU online training

Author John Maxwell wrote, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I believe this is so true. In recent months, I have written From Missionary Ridge articles about 2015 being a year to focus on equipping missions leaders in the church. Through events in the Midwest and western regions and during the WMU® Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting this past June in Ohio, much attention was given through conferences to help missions leaders feel confident in their role of leading small groups of children, youth, or adults. The success of any program or event rises and falls on the quality of leadership that guides the effort. WMU has been blessed throughout our history with wonderful, enthusiastic leaders who make missions and missionaries come alive in the hearts and minds of those they lead, thus keeping the missions passion alive from generation to generation.

Little Becomes Much

WorldCrafts Blessed Hope Artisan Group

“It’s the little things that count!” This familiar saying is one we have all heard many times. We often think only the big gifts, the great acts of kindness, are what count in life, when in reality it’s the little things that give us the most joy. I love a large bouquet of flowers, for instance, but the single bloom presented by a grandchild grinning from ear to ear as he delivers it? Well, that means so much more.

At national WMU®, we spend many hours creating missions education resources, editing New Hope® books, and supporting artisan groups through WorldCraftsSM. There are so many details required for each magazine, book, or craft to become a reality and arrive at your home. If we are not careful, we can get lost in the magnitude of the project and miss the joy of the little ways God uses it to bless someone else.

Laying a Foundation

The WMU® Executive Board had gathered in the Kentucky Room at the national office for a regularly scheduled meeting. The day had been filled with committee reports, awards for scholarships and grants for a variety of individuals, and the usual business of WMU. As a second-year state president, I had come to love the comradery and fellowship with this group and looked forward to the two board meetings each year.

Financial concerns for the ongoing work of national WMU had been discussed on numerous occasions. A development office was in place to discover potential funding for the work of WMU. A new proposal came to the floor; one that would move the development office to a full-fledged foundation. The idea was to create a separate entity for the sole purpose of securing the financial support for WMU. The reaction among the board members covered a wide spectrum of thought, from “What a great idea!” to “We absolutely cannot do that.” After much debate, a motion to table the idea was received with a challenge to think and pray.

Hope for the Hurting

Project HELP PTSD

During the 2014–2015 church year, we launched a four-year emphasis under the umbrella of Project HELPSM related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is not only a personal issue for many families but also becoming a significant issue for the church. From the effects of war on our soldiers to persecution of our missionaries to school shootings and natural disasters, post-traumatic reactions are often serious but seldom discussed by those involved for fear of being labeled or misunderstood.

Thank you, Debby

During my 15 years as executive director of national WMU®, I have been blessed to work with wonderful women who serve on our executive board. Each person has brought her unique gifts and skills as a leader to the work we do together on behalf of national WMU and in our states. Likewise, each national WMU president I have served with has demonstrated incredible leadership skills and a strong commitment to our missions purpose. Debby Akerman, who has served as our national president since 2010, is one of those dynamic leaders.

Rethink Influence

If you were invited to be the leader of a small group at church or a task force at work, how would you respond? For some, the immediate response would be, “Oh no, I can’t do that; I’m not a leader!” Others might say, “Let me think [or pray] about it” and then come back with a similar response. Only on a rare occasion might someone respond immediately with “Wow! Really? I’d love to do that! Thanks for asking.”

Taylor Field reminds us in his book Upside Down Leadership: Rethinking Influence and Success that leadership is the ability to influence others. Regardless of how we respond to leadership opportunities, the truth is we all have the power to influence others. Think about the places we influence everyday: the decisions made in our families, our influence over policies when we go to the polls and vote, and the impact of our words each time we praise or tear down a friend or family member. All of these actions influence others and often reveal our ability—or lack of ability—to lead as we influence the world around us.

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