BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WMU) – During the COVID-19 pandemic, National WMU adapted its ministry strategies, managed finances, supported missionaries, affirmed its mission and raised millions of dollars to support Southern Baptist missionaries and their work. Approximately 170 missions leaders, from Hawaii to Maine and everywhere between, gathered online for WMU’s board meeting, Jan. 8-9. The meeting also included training for attendees.
Despite the COVID pandemic that sharply impacted WMU’s product sales, the Southern Baptist auxiliary affirmed that the “mission matters most.” It quickly adapted with new initiatives to engage all ages in missions. What did that look like?
WMU reached out to Southern Baptist seminary presidents, offering help to international students stranded on campuses; WMU members quickly “adopted” students. WMU leaders across the country handwrote over 18,000 letters asking churches to support the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. WMU sent daily prompts encouraging prayer for pastors and missionaries. WMU worked with IMB and state WMUs to offer assistance with a surge in requests for missionary housing. WMU partnered with state WMUs to provide PTSD resources. For example, Melissa Lamb, president of New Mexico WMU, held online Bible studies that engaged 436 women from various states using one of these free resources.
WMU also offered GA and RA lessons via Facebook Live; the first lessons had more than 11,000 views. It provided weekly preschool stories online to Missions Friends. The first one attracted 8,000 views. WMU ministered to senior adults sheltering-in-place or living in assisted care facilities by delivering books to them in partnership with the WMU Foundation and Iron Stream Media, the Honor 6:2 initiative, based on Ephesians 6:2. And, WMU launched a new podcast with 31 episodes in 2020: “On the Journey Conversations,” hosted by Wisdom-Martin. It featured inspiring interviews with nuggets of encouragement and wisdom for leaders on their faith journey. More episodes will release bi-weekly in 2021.
WMU made mid-course financial adjustments during 2020 to ensure it ended the year in the black. Adjustments included a voluntary retirement offer accepted by 12 staff members. With fewer staff members and present personnel effectively working remotely since March due to the pandemic, WMU has become a more agile organization. As such, the executive board approved the exploration of potentially selling the WMU national headquarters building or property. The current headquarters facility in Birmingham, Alabama, includes over 137,000 square feet on 22 acres.
“In the midst of the noise and chaos of 2020, it was beautiful to hear the national WMU board speak with compelling clarity,” Wisdom-Martin reflected. “In one unified voice, they proclaimed [that] the missions mandate of WMU matters most. We make disciples of Jesus who live on mission.” “They backed their words with a decision to explore selling the current national WMU building in Birmingham,” she said.
Leadership development opportunities continued through WMU’s Christian Women’s Leadership Center as it migrated to a new online learning platform, ChristianLeaderLearning.com. Also, seven courses related to WMU’s compassion ministries made their debut on the site. Additionally, the newly redesigned WMU.com offers a wealth of content related to leadership development and operating age-level missions organizations.
Along with the board meeting, WMU offered 24 workshops across three different tracks: information, inspiration, and innovation. Hosting the meeting online enabled more people to participate. For example, most of the WMU leadership team in Montana joined in. Sharon Ellington, executive director of Montana WMU, said, “This virtual January Board Meeting was amazing for Montana! My team learned things and we left with a renewed passion for missions and ways to help our churches to encourage missions and raise up a generation of those making disciples who live on mission.”
In other business, WMU’s finance committee approved $167,230 in Pure Water, Pure Love grants to provide much-needed wells and water filtration in Rwanda, Burundi, Haiti, Guatemala and Liberia. It approved $115,345 to be disbursed to state WMUs from the Second Century Fund managed by the WMU Foundation. The full executive board established $185 million as the goal for the 2021 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. It also set $65 million as the goal for the 2022 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.
Via recorded video, IMB President Paul Chitwood addresses WMU board members. “We give gratitude to God for all that Southern Baptists are doing to reach the world for Christ and certainly for our WMU partners and advocates,” Chitwood said. “We have seen His faithfulness time and time again in this past year as He has maintained our collective missions efforts despite COVID-19 and many other challenges that affect international work.” He thanked board members for their “steadfast support” of missions by their words and their activities.
Chitwood described recent results of Southern Baptists’ international missions work. More than 3,500 missionaries continue to journey into difficult and spiritually impoverished places across the world. They sow seeds of love and truth and tell people about Jesus’ saving grace, he said. He reported that “more than 535,000 people heard a Gospel witness as IMB missionaries and their close indigenous partners shared the Gospel boldly this past year. Over 89,000 people came to faith... Nearly 48,000 of those followed through with believer’s baptism. And, over 12,000 new churches were planted.”
NAMB President Kevin Ezell spoke via recorded video, too. “You make such a huge difference in the lives of our missionaries through your prayers, your encouragement and the tangible gifts you provide for them,” he said. He acknowledged the pandemic caused many churches to close their doors when they typically would have been receiving Annie Armstrong Easter Offering gifts. The 2020 offering total dropped from $61.6 million in 2019 to $49.3 million, representing a 20% decline. However, Ezell said there is still much reason to celebrate.
“God’s faithfulness and the generosity of Southern Baptists is remarkable and we are deeply grateful,” Ezell told WMU leaders. “It’s a great testimony to your work and your commitment. Your missionaries have continued to make an impact for the Gospel and meet needs during the most exceptional year. What you are doing is making an eternal difference, and we are blessed to be your partner in reaching North America for Christ.”
WMU is a nonprofit missions organization that serves as an auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention. Its purpose is making disciples of Jesus who live on mission. National WMU is not a part of the Cooperative Program allocation budget. And, it receives no funds from the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering or Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Instead, it receives support from magazines and product sales, investments and charitable contributions.