The Story of WMU

I have been asked to serve on the next national WMU Missionscast Committee. This group will meet in November to set the theme and emphasis for 2012-14. This includes the sesquicentennial celebration of WMU in 2013.  We have been asked to read The Story of WMU,  a history of WMU written by Rosalie Hunt. Let me encourage you to read it. Even though I read A Century to Celebrate in 1988, which is a more detailed history of WMU, I still have found this read to be informative and it takes us to the present in WMU history.

Several key things that I have been reminded of:
– Box work has always been vital to WMU.  In the early years, WMUers sent boxes of supplies to Home Missionaries who were struggling financially. In fact, the value of the boxes raised the average missionary salary by 25%.  We do it now through Christmas in August and ministries such as Operation Christmas Child.
– Before WMU was organized, the issue of the appropriate roles for women in the SBC has always been polarizing.  When Joshua Levering, Annie Armstrong’s cousin, pressed for HMB to hire a woman to help organize women’s groups, opponents objected.  The women did not press the issue but rather prayed. The tension affected giving.  Finally, the women agreed to organize in such a way that they would not interfere with the work of the mission boards. Annie’s sister, Alice, flooded Baptist papers with articles on the history and vision for women’s work for missions. She laid down the bottom line:  the mission boards need money and women’s missions organizations make money. (Let’s never let this fact be lost in the shuffle!)
– WMU leaders opposed denominational debt.  They had no voice in the decisions that were made but felt responsible for resolving the debt problems.
– Fannie E.S. Heck, president from 1892-94 and 1906-15, kept the ideal of sacrificial giving before WMU.  She said: “To have the privilege of giving is much; to have the privilege of giving up is more.”    (A worthy quote as we consider “More for Christ,” a recommendation of the Kentucky Great Commission  Task Force.)
– In 1909, WMU designed a plan for personal missions and social action which was named “personal service.”  Instead of sending out a few dozen women missionaries, WMU decided to “convert itself into a vast company of women who, by their leadership in it, feel called and appointed each in her own community to do such work.”  They acknowledged a spiritual duty to the “poor, neglected, and outcast of their own neighborhood.”
– WMU started community surveys in 1914 to learn about local needs, languages spokes, employment, etc.
– WMU started what we would call Baptist Centers today.  All WMU training school students were required to practice their witness and ministry skills in a “settlement house,” later called a “good will center.”
– WMU started Vacation Bible School in 1914.  The first VBS under Southern Baptist auspices enrolled 102 children, taught by students at the WMU Training School.  VBS became a component of WMU personal service and within five years, 73 WMUs had conducted VBS. Later the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay) appointed its first VBS staff member and the rest is history.  Now VBS is one of our largest Southern Baptist outreach efforts.
– In 1930 WMU leaders proposed a Church School of Missions, which would include men in mission study.  In 1937 WMU began encouraging associations to hold simultaneous Schools of Missions, bringing in missionaries to speak in the churches.  This continues today as On Mission Celebrations.
– WMU does not just support missionaries – we develop them!  In 1922, FMB secretary J.F. Love estimated that twice as many women as men were volunteering for missions.  (This is still true today.)
– WMU began promoting soul winning as a component of personal service in the 1920’s. Personal Service was renamed Community Missions in 1942 to emphasize soul winning. Later this element of WMU work became known as Mission Action.
– It has been noted that the Cooperative Program reflects the logic of Baptists and our missions offerings the heart.  Supporting the Great Commission requires both! WMU has always supported both CP and missions offerings, even though national WMU does not receive any CP funds or funds from the Lottie Moon or Annie Armstrong offerings.  National WMU is self-supporting through the sale of missions magazines, books, and other products.

Last week I led a conference in Maryland called “Women Touching the World.”  The conference subtitle was “taking your women’s group to the next level.”  My conferences were packed with women sitting on the floor.  The presentation was built around four things we want to happen in every women’s group, that women learn, pray, give, and go.  (Sound familiar?!)  I showed Missions Mosaic  and other Women on Mission resources and talked about helping women have great group learning experiences that propel them out into the community, inspiring them to pray and give for missions.  Since this was a joint Women’s Ministry, Pastor’s Wives, and WMU event, many of the participants in the conference were not WMUers, yet they wanted everything I had.  I gave out catalogs and copies of Missions Mosaic.  They were challenged by Project HELP: Human Exploitation and what we need to be doing about this world wide problem.

As I go to participate in Missionscast, I go with the reminders of the tenacity and determination of WMU women for over a hundred years to fulfill the Great Commission.  And I go with the image of women in Maryland who wanted more for themselves and their groups. In reading The Story of WMU, one of the heroes of WMU work that has emerged for me is Kathleen Mallory who was called a “Christian world citizen.”  Her motto was “Fidelity to the Finish.”  She wrote for and edited WMU’s Royal Service magazine.  She traveled widely and spoke often to guide women in their missions commitment.  Kathleen wrote the first full-length Manual of WMU Methods.  And quite frequently, she knelt on the platform where she was speaking to pray. Hundreds of women followed her example and would kneel in prayer together.

Do we have the tenacity and determination of the women who have gone before us? Your answer will determine the future of WMU. Right where you are, would you take a moment to kneel in prayer for WMU, for the spread of the Gospel, for the women around the world who are being exploited at this very moment, and for your own commitment to Christ and His mission.

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