WMU opening sessions honor Lee, highlight missions

Women registering at WMU missions celebration

ST. LOUIS (BP) -- About 500 Southern Baptists gathered June 12 for the opening sessions of WMU's 2016 Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting in St. Louis, Mo.

With a theme of "By All Means," the two Sunday programs recognized current and retired missionaries, as well as International Mission Board staff, and celebrated Wanda Lee's service as she retires as executive director of WMU.

"I believe just as strongly today as I did 16 years ago that WMU is important to the Kingdom," she said. "We have the opportunity to make a difference. Our charge first and foremost is to be a light to the nations. There is strength in our union. There is strength in our collective purpose of missions. May our song truly be a song for the nations."

Lee said she was working as a nurse when God called her to missions. When she returned home to serve in the U.S., her call to missions did not end.

"My calling was to go wherever God leads," she said. "My call has not changed, only the place. No other ministry in Baptist life devotes itself exclusively to missions. What we do matters because we are shining a light."

Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, reminded participants in his keynote address that God expects all Christians to share the Gospel.

"We are all responsible to share the Gospel with other people," Iorg said. "When you accepted the gift of salvation, in that moment you accepted the responsibility to share the Gospel."

He said he always asks students at the seminary what they plan to do after graduation.

"Sometimes they tell me they want to serve overseas. I remind them that we have a large ethnic population right in our area and I tell them 'you have the capacity to plug yourself into the people you think God has led you to serve right here.'"

Iorg said sharing the Gospel is not about changing locations, it's about reaching people.

"If you will not go across town to minister to Chinese who need the Gospel, you have no business getting on a plane and traveling to a country to serve," he said. "When we share the Gospel, we involve our lives in God's eternal purpose. When you involve yourself in sharing the Gospel with another person, you connect to God's eternal purpose for the universe."

Iorg said life sometimes becomes routine, but he is always happy when he feels he can touch eternity.

For example, he maintains a close relationship to the professional baseball community. Recently, one of the players who was involved in New Age religion asked to meet with him.

"When I arrived, he was there by his locker, and his first question was 'what does it mean to be born again and is that anything like having your sins forgiven?'"

After 40 minutes of questions and dialogue, Iorg said the player poured out his heart to God and committed his life to Jesus as Lord.

"Afterward he said to me: 'Jeff, all my life people have told me I could find God within, but he was never there until right now.' In that moment, I knew that man would be in heaven one day, and in that moment, I was touching eternity."

Southern Baptist missionaries present at the meeting introduced themselves and remained in the aisles for participants to pray over them.

Goldie Frances, a Southern Baptist missionary serving in South Asia, told attendees that she was working as a journalist when she felt called to missions. Now she works with about 20 girls in an educational center.

"Three years ago, these girls could not read or write," she said. "Now they study the Bible. Time is short, and I learn it every day from a different level."

Frances said her ministry is located in a city with a population of nearly 2 million, which sometimes can feel overwhelming.

"People ask me 'how do you do it?'" she said. "I tell them 'By His strength and one person at a time.' We rejoice in what God is doing. I thank you all for teaching missions, for being an example for missions. Time is short; life is short."

The Native Praise choir performed songs in Native American languages and presented a gift of appreciation to Wanda Lee. The choir, which includes 54 members representing 17 Native American tribes, surrounded Lee and sang the Creek Dismissal Hymn, asking God to be with Lee as she continues in His service.


Written by Kathie Chute, director of communications for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, for Baptist Press.

Photo caption: (Left to right) Patricia Bardell of Cedar Tree Baptist Church in Tahlequah, Okla.; Christine Breeden of Victory Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Okla.; and Norma Lee of First Indian Baptist Church in McAlester, Okla., help one another register for the Woman's Missionary Union (WMU) missions celebration and annual meeting Sunday, June 12 in St. Louis. Photo by Chris Carter for Baptist Press

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