NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Cindy Walker has led Girls in Action and Acteens mission groups at First Baptist Church of Minden, Louisiana, for a combined total of more than half a century. One of her encouragers over the years was Dellanna West O’Brien, a former national Woman’s Missionary Union executive director, who retired in 1999 and passed away in 2008.
O’Brien was honored in 1998 with the establishment of the Dellanna West O’Brien Award for Women’s Leadership Development. The prestigious leadership award recognizes Baptist women who demonstrate the ability to foster leadership in women, display the potential to be leaders in their community and world and excel in missions education.
Coming full circle in terms of honoring a longtime missions leader in whom O’Brien personally invested, Walker has been named the recipient of this year’s O’Brien Leadership Award.
“Being honored with the Dellanna O’Brien Leadership Award is an unbelievable distinction,” Walker reflected. “Dellanna played an important role in my life as an encourager and someone whom I greatly admired. To be recognized as a recipient of this award is an amazing tribute that I will cherish always.
“Working with Acteens for the past 26 years (and 25 years with GAs before that) has always created within me a feeling of ‘passing on the passion’ to others!” Walker added. “There is not a doubt in my mind that missions education is what God called me to as a teenager many years ago.
“Watching girls transform before my eyes as they participate in mission trips or projects has brought unbelievable peace and joy in my heart as I realize that my obedience to God’s call has brought forth a passion in others who will continue to help reach the world for Christ!”
Investing in the next generation
“I so value Cindy’s commitment to Acteens – that of pouring her life into the next generation of young women leaders,” said Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director of national WMU. “As a grown-up Acteen, I know the power of a caring adult used by God to influence students for Kingdom work. Helping to develop disciples who live on mission – that’s what the O’Brien Award is about.”
In addition to her work with GAs and Acteens, Walker has served as her church’s WMU director for 16 years, been involved in promoting WMU’s WorldCrafts ministry, served as vice chair of the WMU Foundation on the national level and participated in several international mission trips.
“When it comes to missions, Cindy Walker is the real deal,” affirmed Leland Crawford, Walker’s pastor at First Baptist, Minden. “When you mention her name to anyone in our church, they automatically think of missions. Cindy has a big heart and it beats to share the good news of Jesus around the world.
“Cindy is a great leader, inspiring a love of missions in the hearts of children, youth and adults,” her pastor added. “She is continuously serving and serves with great joy, always leading with a willing and gentle spirit.”
Janie Wise, women’s missions and ministry strategist for Louisiana Baptists, has worked closely with Walker in WMU-related ministry for more than 30 years.
“Cindy’s love for WMU and all things missions is unmistakable any time I have a conversation with her,” Wise said. “It has been a joy to serve with her in so many ways throughout the years.
“It was not only the ways she was involved in WMU and missions that impressed me,” Wise noted. “It is her heart and her dedication to God’s work through missions and WMU and her church. That has never changed.”
From Sunbeams to missions leader
Walker’s love for missions was first nurtured in Sunbeams (now Mission Friends), WMU’s missions discipleship group for preschoolers, and Girls Auxiliary (now Girls in Action), the missions discipleship group for elementary school-age girls.
“When I was born, my dad was in the Navy and so our family traveled a lot,” Walker recalled. “As a youngster, I was on the West Coast where my dad was chairman of the missions committee; my mom was involved in WMU in many different ways.
“During the time that I was moving from Sunbeams into the GA era, my parents actually were called out from our church to help begin a church plant in the San Diego area. And so as a little girl, I was probably about 6 at the time, I can remember our car being packed on Saturday nights with hymnbooks and a portable pump organ,” she explained. “My daddy was the lay preacher, my mom played the pump organ and I was in charge of the children that were too young to come into the worship time. So even as a little one, I was involved in missions.”
During her teenage years, “I had several opportunities to go on mission trips with my church youth group, including Brazil my junior year, and that really taught me a lot about international missions,” Walker noted. She said that experience “helped my heart be more prepared for a call to that later on in life in a different way than what I imagined as a teenager.”
As a student at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, she and a friend responded to a call to serve as GA leaders at First Baptist Church of Arkadelphia. Her friend grew up as a missionary kid in Brazil “and I had been involved in GAs and intermediate GAs and that just really spoke to both of us so we both started teaching GAs as college freshmen,” Walker said.
“During the first 25 years I was involved in GAs, I did everything from writing GA curriculum to leading GA camps in our associational camp to teaching and then directing GA work both in our church and association. So my heart just kind of bled GAs for a long time.”
When her daughter moved up from GAs to Acteens, “I decided to make that move with her,” Walker said. “Now it’s been 26 years that I’ve taught Acteens and it’s been a wonderful journey. I’ve been able to lead girls on mission trips and mission projects and feel like I was really helping to pass on that passion of missions education.”
Walker’s faithful leadership in missions education “has been a very important part of my journey as a Christian and part of fulfilling that call that I felt from the Lord at an early age,” she emphasized. “I really didn’t know if He was calling me to do international missions overseas. But I began quickly to understand that teaching others to have a passion for missions was a very important part of what I felt like God was calling me to do.”
The gift of getting people involved
Judy Hathorn, WorldCrafts director at First Baptist, Minden, said she and Walker “go back a long way.”
Noting that her longtime friend “has the gift of getting people involved,” she added, “Cindy has influenced my life in just about every aspect.”
Walker “promotes missions wherever she goes. She is ‘Miss Missions’ and she loves the Lord deeply. She loves teenagers and young adults,” Hathorn shared. “Because of her love for missions and missions education, many have come out and been missionaries themselves or have gone on mission trips and they have grown spiritually and are very mission-minded.”
Reflecting on the past five decades, “my motivation for staying involved in missions education has been lives that I’ve seen changed,” Walker affirmed.
“Working with little girls and then later on teenage girls, I’ve had many opportunities to see their faces light up when they make some sort of a heart connection to something they’ve heard or something they’ve been a part of,” she concluded. “Knowing that they’re making that connection is a very important part of what keeps me going.”
By Trennis Henderson, WMU National Correspondent