ORLANDO, Fla.—Participants at the 122nd annual meeting of national Woman’s Missionary Union elected a new president, listened to Sudan’s ambassador, honored Kaye Miller’s five years as WMU president, and heard missions challenges June 13-14 in Orlando.
Debby Akerman of Ocean View Baptist Church of Myrtle Beach, S.C., unanimously was elected WMU president to succeed Miller. A native of Massachusetts, she has led Girls in Action organizations in her church since 1982 and served as WMU director many years.
Akerman served as WMU president for the Baptist Convention of New England from 1993-97. In 2007, she received the Dellanna West O’Brien Award for Women’s Leadership Development.
Akerman, a nurse for 30 years, and her husband, Brad, share a ministry leading Bible studies at Street Reach, a mission in Myrtle Beach that ministers to the homeless and people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.
Civil war in Sudan
Akec Khoc, Sudan’s ambassador to the United States, requested prayer for an African nation torn apart by civil war.
“Those in the north and south are trying to bring results through the barrel of a gun,” Khoc said. “But healing can come only through prayer to God. … We are appealing to you to pray to our Heavenly Father for the people of Sudan. Only through him can we find peace. … Pray that north and south can agree on peace and unity and partnership.”
Ken Welborn, North American Mission Board missionary to the United Nations, noted Sudan’s civil war has resulted in genocide. The fight is over oil, he said, but Christians in Sudan are fighting for their homeland. A fragile peace accord had been reached, but current tensions threaten to break it, he reported. Welborn urged the women to join Sudanese Christians in 40 days of prayer, Dec. 1-Jan. 9, for peace in Sudan.
WMU president offers reflections
In her last address as WMU president, Miller followed the program theme, “Unhindered,” based on Hebrews 12:1, speaking of facing challenges in God’s strength despite hindrances.
Miller, a member of Immanuel Baptist Church of Little Rock, Ark., said while growing up as a missionary kid in Thailand, she learned many things try to hinder the work of missionaries on the field.
She recalled how her childhood Thai friend, Sombon, suddenly quit attending school. “She just vanished,” Miller said. Years later, Miller saw her in Bangkok.
“Because there was no money in her family, she had been sold into prostitution … Her father, an opiate addict, sold her services from the time she was about 11 years old,” Miller explained. “My heart broke, partly because I felt guilty for not being able to find her earlier, and for all that she had been through. She looked old and used. She was just a shell of who she used to be. … I never saw her again.”
In November, Miller received a letter from Sombon.
“After I saw her, something had stirred in her soul and she knew she had to get out of the life she was living. A Southern Baptist missionary woman who felt called to minister to these trapped women often came by her club to talk with her, … to share about Jesus,” Miller said, noting that missionary felt called to missions as a GA.
“Sombon escaped from the life of prostitution to a life in Jesus Christ and was able to make a life for herself and her family. She was redeemed in Christ. … Sombon is now teaching young girls that they too can be all they can be through Jesus Christ.”
Human exploitation “is not just happening on the other side of the world,” Miller said. “Right where you live, young girls are being trafficked for prostitution or some form of exploitation.”
She encouraged the WMU annual meeting participants to open their eyes and hearts, learn about the issues and seek out ways to help.
Reflecting on her term as WMU president, Miller said: “These have been five incredible years of serving the Lord through Woman’s Missionary Union. There have been many hindrances along the way, but the Lord continues to have his hand upon WMU and continues to guide and greatly bless us as we continue to be radically involved in his mission to reach the world.
“I pray the fire for missions never goes out, never dims as you serve our risen Lord.”
Noting Wanda Lee has completed 10 years as WMU executive director, Miller told the assembly WMU is renaming its Joy Fund—which meets pressing current needs and secures the organization’s financial future through the WMU Foundation—as the Wanda Lee Joy Fund.
New Executive Committee chief speaks
In his first public address after being elected president of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, Frank Page challenged participants at the WMU annual meeting to guard against complacency. Citing Luke 13:1-9, he shared the parable of the fig tree and said the sin of uselessness is paralyzing Southern Baptist churches.
While God has a plan, Satan also has a plan—to move Christians from their initial excitement over salvation to becoming useless, like the fig tree that did not bear fruit, to being a negative influence in the church, he said.
“It is a satanic strategy to destroy the Great Commission work in the church,” Page asserted. “But the reality of grace is that Jesus is interceding on our behalf … to give us another chance, another opportunity to do what he called us to do in the first place.”
Chaplain describes challenges
Major General Doug Carver, Army chief of chaplains, addressed how he remains unhindered as he carries the Great Commission “in a somewhat restricted environment.”
Carver said he feels total freedom in Christ, “unhindered, uninhibited and unrestrained.”
Noting 300,000 soldiers are deployed, many in harms way, he said everywhere troops are “there are chaplains bringing the presence of God.” Soldiers “are stretched and stressed” in a “destructive environment” that sometimes results in suicide, divorce, and alcohol and drug abuse, he said.
Chaplains play a unique pastoral position, Carver said, supporting the U.S. Constitution with “close attention” to the First Amendment, allowing exercise of total freedom of worship for all religions, while they “look for ways to share the hope we have in Christ.”
Missionaries, author address theme
A missionary couple who serves in South Asia and cannot be identified for security reasons, told of the billion and a half spiritually lost people in South Asia. They shared stories of movements of God among Hindu and Muslim people groups, and they asked WMU to pray that Muslims “will have a holy curiosity about the Bible and about Jesus.”
Author Jennifer Kennedy Dean challenged her audience to put aside any hindrances to Christian service, just like elite athletes do what is necessary to give themselves an advantage in a race.
“They shave themselves from head to foot and diet so they don’t have any lumps causing drag, and they will wear clothing that pokes in anything that might stick out and create wind resistance. That’s how it is with us,” she said. “Let us do the same thing they do. Lay aside anything that hinders.”
Monica Allen, a missionary in Swaziland, described her call and of the needs of that African nation. “Over 40 percent of our adult population has AIDS,” she said. “We may become the first nation to wipe itself out through the AIDS epidemic.”
Sharon Fields-McCormick, a NAMB missionary, addressed the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the United States. Painting descriptive word pictures of the tragedies each girl endures, she challenged WMU to do more to bring justice to these children.
Texas Baptist from Amarillo honored
Mary Lou Serratt of Amarillo received the 2010 Dellanna West O’Brien Award for Women’s Leadership Development. Serratt has served in church, associational and state WMU leadership, including serving as vice president of Texas WMU and a volunteer multiethnic consultant.
She has been involved with Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Sudanese, Burundian, Iranian, Iraqi, Korean, Liberian, Burmese Chin and Karen people through First Baptist Church in Amarillo.
Joy Cranford, a member of First Baptist Church of Fort Mill, S.C., received the Martha Myers GA Alumna of Distinction Award, given annually to recognize a GA alumna who influences the lives of others for Christ and serves as a positive role model for girls.
Cranford has served as GA leader and director in her church, GA director for the York Baptist Association and GA consultant for South Carolina WMU. She served on the first advisory council for the Christian Women’s Job Corps of York County, S.C., during the pilot year and was one of the first to serve as a mentor. She remained an active volunteer in the CWJC ministry all 13 years of its existence in the association.
Angela Kim of Houston and Lee reported growth in missions education among Korean Baptist churches in the United States. In 2007, national WMU and Texas WMU partnered for a special, three-year project to provide Korean-English bilingual missions curriculum for preschoolers and children. With these materials, the Korean leadership team, comprised of Korean pastors’ wives across the United States and led by Kim, began missions education in more than 10 percent of Korean churches in the first year of publishing.
“WMU has long embraced the importance of equipping and involving every church of every language and ethnic group in the Great Commission,” Lee said.