BLUEFIELD – The youngest person ever named to the board of trustees of Woman’s Missionary Union of Virginia says the appointment takes her a step closer to one of her goals – to “grow up to be Miss Alma Hunt.”
For most of her life, Lesley Gray, 23, has admired the famed Virginia Baptist missions leader, who died last year at 98. Hunt, a Roanoke native, became executive director of the national Woman’s Missionary Union in 1948 and was an influential missions advocate until her death. Virginia Baptists named their statewide offering for her in 1998.
In her new role as WMUV trustee, Gray hopes to imitate Hunt’s transformational leadership skills as a visionary for the organization, whose goals include meeting women's needs, eliminating poverty, promoting social justice, advocating for at-risk children, increasing literacy, equipping the aging, mentoring future leaders and enhancing ethnic relationships.
“A lot of times the WMUV gets an unfair reputation for being old-fashioned and not very forward thinking,” Gray said, “but my nomination to the board is a great example of the move toward new ideas and a fresh look on the future. I mean, I’m a 23-year-old woman serving on the board of trustees of WMUV! How cool is that?”
Gray said she’s thankful for how accepting and excited WMUV staff and trustees have been since she accepted the post. She added that she hopes to bring a point of view to the group that will benefit ministries for youth and young adults.
“Our job as trustees is not to run WMUV. We have staff to do that,” said Gray. “We are there to set goals for the organization — as executive director Laura McDaniel stated, ‘big, hairy, audacious goals.’ My responsibility is to help think outside of the box and to find goals for the staff to work toward.”
A native of Fieldale, near Martinsville, Gray said her leadership skills were developed at Bluefield College, which she entered to study behavioral science and psychology. An admitted “introvert,” she aspired not to be a leader, and was in fact content with remaining “behind the scenes.”
“Before coming to Bluefield College, I had never led anything in my school, because I believed that was an extrovert’s job, and I was more of a behind-the-scenes person,” said Gray, who graduated in May 2008. “But BC gave me the opportunity to be a leader in many different ways and helped me realize that leaders come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, introverted or extroverted. The college was very instrumental in transforming me into a leader and preparing me for this [WMUV trustee] position.”
While a student, Gray was an active leader of Alpha Delta sorority, Greek Council, the Bonner Leaders Program, BC Impact Teams, and Baptist Collegiate Ministries. In fact, this once “behind-the-scenes” person served as vice president of BCM in her senior year, as a resident advisor for three years and in the Student Government Association for two years.
“I never would have been given all the opportunities to serve and to learn how to become a leader if I had attended any other school,” said Gray. “Bluefield College allowed me to try out my leadership talents in many different organizations.”
One person who is confident Gray is qualified to serve on WMUV’s board is BC campus minister David Taylor, who said Gray’s past experiences with church, missions and WMU will serve her well as a leader.
“Lesley brings excitement and freshness to her new role as a trustee for WMU of Virginia,” said Taylor. “She had the unique experience of attending a church with a strong commitment to missions and mission programming. Her involvement in those activities will only strengthen her leadership and passion as it relates to missions in the Commonwealth.”
Gray said her passion for missions and sharing her faith came from participating in Girls in Action and Acteens while growing up in Fieldale Baptist Church. Through those organizations, she learned about WMU and one of its ministries, CrossRoads Camp and Conference Center, near Lowesville, Va. Gray attended CrossRoads as a child and later staffed camp activities as a teen. Now, as a trustee for WMUV, she’ll make improving the camp one of her passions — after all, it’s where she made a profession of faith at 10 and six years later felt a call from God to a lifetime of missions.
“ WMUV has been the foundation for my faith and growing,” said Gray, who served five years on staff at CrossRoads, “and now it’s my turn to help other young girls and even boys learn what God has planned for their lives.”
In addition to her WMUV responsibilities, Gray is pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling at Liberty University in Lynchburg, while working full time for a credit union.
“Lesley is mature well beyond her years and has had some great life experiences that make her a person of influence,” Taylor said. “She’s one of those students you know is going to be a transformational leader and make a difference in the world.”
Just like Miss Alma Hunt.
Chris Shoemaker is communications director at Bluefield College.