"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 new president, and Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, 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 SBC annual meeting to reach the 3,800 presently unengaged people groups in the world.
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.
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 community.
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 atheist-heavy homeland.
"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 effort.
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 $10.
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, newhopedigital.com.
*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.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net