PHOENIX – Missions leaders from
across the nation “proclaimed” the freedom and Good News of Jesus Christ during
the first two sessions of the 2011 National Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU)
Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting in Phoenix.
“Proclaim!” was the theme for this year’s June 12-13 celebration based on Luke
4:18–19: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to
proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the
prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to
proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (NIV).
Tom Elliff, the International Mission Board’s (IMB) new president, and Kevin Ezell,
president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), brought greetings during the
sessions at the Wyndham Phoenix Hotel.
Elliff used nine words to express his sentiments to WMU: “Thank you,” “We need
you” and “Can I help you?”
He urged the 350 WMU attendees to encourage their church leaders to join the
IMB in launching an initiative at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)
annual meeting to reach the 3,800 presently unengaged people groups in the
Ezell presented Wanda Lee, WMU executive director/treasurer, with an oversized
Royal Ambassador race car to commemorate the transfer of responsibility for RAs
back to WMU.
“We love RAs. They were born out of our hearts and … now is the perfect time
to welcome them back home,” Lee said.
symbolizing the transfer of the missionary programs from NAMB to the
WMU. The transfer took place June 13 during the 2011 National WMU
Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting at the Wyndham Hotel in Phoenix,
Representing NAMB, missionaries Louis Spears and Jan Lows shared about
“proclaiming freedom in Arizona.”
Spears, a church planting strategist missionary with the Valley Rim Baptist
Association in Mesa, shared about his focus on starting “tactical” churches,
one of which he launched in Seyenna Vistas Mobile Home Park. This setting is one
of 37 local properties where Spears hopes to start new works.
“If multi-housing communities were villages, we would be sending missionaries
to them,” Spears noted, adding that 1.5 million Phoenix-area residents live in
multi-housing units. He presently has two interns who have moved into one such
Lows, a MSC (Mission Service Corps)
missionary serving as director of Life Among the Nations, the international
student ministry at Arizona State
University, interviewed a Chinese
student who became a Christian while studying at ASU. A double Ph.D. candidate,
the student now seeks a career that will enable him to share the Gospel in his
“God is interested in the migration patterns of His people,” Lows said,
explaining her intentional effort to “train the scholars and students with the
Gospel and send them back,” where they can make a difference.
Representing the IMB, Don and Diane Combs, missionaries to European peoples,
shared about outreach in Sochi, Russia,
during the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics and Para-Olympics
(www.engagesochi.org). Ministry partners Mark and Kellye Hook joined them in
urging participants to pray and bring teams and resources to the strategic
In her first presidential address, national WMU President Debby Ackerman of
Myrtle Beach., S.C., interpreted this year’s theme, “Proclaim!” noting that
“from Genesis to Revelation one hears the distinct sounds of holy proclamation
emanating from God’s Word.”
Ackerman noted, “From beginning to end, God’s eternal purpose runs through the
Scriptures … proclaiming the name of our Lord and His eternal Gospel to all
peoples of the earth.”
Likewise, “God has purposed WMU to equip our churches to be on mission, to
educate… and to be intentional supporters for our more than 10,000
missionaries. Our missions purpose has not changed in our 125 years,” Ackerman
said, adding nonetheless, “We need to lessen entertainment venues and increase
involvement in God’s Great Commission! And WMU does this so well!”
Jean Roberson, WMU adult resources team leader/ministry consultant, addressed
“Proclaiming Freedom in Our Communities through Christian Women’s Job
Corps/Christian Men’s Job Corps.”
“To be known is to be loved, and to be loved is to be known. What a perfect
picture of CWJC/CMJC,” she said, emphasizing that though job and life skills
are important, the ministry’s greatest influence is Bible study and
relationships – “being known and knowing.”
Roberson introduced Ginger Smith, executive director of the Mission Centers of
Houston, who recounted how God is setting people free in Houston through three
questions that she has asked every day for the past year: 1) What if we
believed God? 2) What if we really loved people? 3) What if we served others –
even if we didn’t want to or wanted instead to teach them a lesson?
Sharing that she often felt “more freedom on the streets than in church,” the
inner-city minister acknowledged that answering these questions has changed her
practice of doing things “for” people to doing things “with” them, empowering
them and teaching them ownership.
Exploring human exploitation, the current focus of WMU’s Project HELP, Smith
noted examples about the human exploitation prevalent in the Houston
area: cantinas offer “beer with a girl” for $13; a homeless man sells girls for
Rather than rescuing victims, Smith focuses on prevention programs that educate
children how to protect themselves, how to communicate when things don’t feel
right around them, and how to respect one another.
“These children are seen as disposable. We have to do something,” Smith said.
In a missions focus segment, Gordon Fort, vice president of the IMB’s office
of global strategy, facilitated a discussion of current mission issues as the
two SBC mission boards cooperate to reach
all peoples of the world. Fort, a missionary kid born in Zimbabwe
to missionary parents and a former missionary in Botswana,
countered rumors that the two boards were merging, but did stress that they are
working together in unprecedented ways to reach people throughout the world.
“When we failed to take the Gospel to the people groups, God brought them to
us,” Fort said, explaining that IMB and NAMB missionaries work stateside and
internationally to reach the same people groups.
Participating with him were Lows; the Combses, who partner with a pastor whose
work is among Russians in Boston, Mass.;
Jason Williams* from California,
and Jeremy and Kimberly*, who serve as missionaries to Middle Eastern peoples.
Also during the meeting, WMU:
- reelected Ackerman to a second term as president, and Rosalie Hunt of
Guntersville, Ala., to a third term as national WMU recording secretary.
- introduced “Live Sent: You Are a Letter,” the 2011–12 WMU Emphasis Book
published by WMU’s New Hope Publishers, written by Jason Dukes, pastor of
Westpoint Church in Windermere, Fla., and New Hope’s new Web-based resource,
(EDITOR’S NOTE – *Names changed due to the sensitive nature of their work.
Shannon Baker is the national correspondent for Baptist Life, newsjournal of
the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.)