Joy Bolton began her tenure as Kentucky WMU director in 1999 and started leading missions teams in response to requests from missionary partners. During her 19 years as director, she traveled all over the world assisting missionaries and working with women to share the gospel.
After a missionary in Malawi reached out to Joy, teams traveled to Malawi in 2012 and 2015 to conduct training for the wives of seminary students and pastors from around the country.
On the first trip, the team noticed copies of a Baptist Women of Malawi guide and were pleased to realize Malawi women had a WMU connection. In 2015, Kentucky WMU paid the Malawi Baptist Publishing House to print several hundred copies of the guide. Susan Bryant, then Kentucky WMU president and current WMU director for the North Central Network of churches, taught this guide to the 180 women who attended the training.
Meanwhile, International Mission Board missionaries Wayne and Barbara Myers retired from full-time missions work in Eswatini, then known as Swaziland. They returned to Kentucky, but the couple continued to travel to Eswatini twice a year to work with the Swazi people.
Wayne contacted Joy in 2017 and requested a WMU team to conduct training for Eswatini women, and Joy described to him what the teams had accomplished in Malawi. She asked whether the Malawi guide could be translated into siSwati to use in Eswatini.
Training Baptist Women
The Myerses translated the guide, and then Joy, Susan, and other Kentucky WMU volunteers traveled with Wayne and Barbara to Eswatini with several hundred copies.
They trained seven members of the Baptist Women’s Organization executive committee about WMU missions and how to be Christian women in their cultural context. Each woman seemed hungry for everything she said, Susan remembered, and they took copious notes so they could teach those concepts to other women.
Susan also shared with the women about praying for their children. One woman approached Susan after the training and said, “I have a 15-year-old daughter, and I have never prayed for her. I didn’t know I was supposed to. Is it too late for me to pray for her?”
The conversation reminded Susan how “you can never take for granted . . . that [women] understand and know what you’re teaching or what they should be doing as Christian[s].”
Susan answered the woman, “Oh no, it’s never too late to pray for her or anyone.”
Learning from Each Other
Cheryl Hatfield, then Kentucky WMU executive board member and now WMU director for the Central Association of Kentucky Baptists, and her husband, Jay, returned to Eswatini in October 2018. The couple and other Kentucky Baptist volunteers assisted Wayne and Barbara with women’s training at two locations.
To start, Mgamudze Baptist Church hosted a training, and nearly 25 women traveled on foot to attend the three-day event.
At the end of the week, WMU volunteers helped with training during the Women’s National Conference hosted by Mancini Baptist Church. More than 75 women attended.
“This group came prepared and eager to learn, and they wanted to know about how women in America ‘do’ WMU or a Baptist Women’s Organization,” Cheryl said. “We found that we share many of the same prayer concerns: that husbands would be the spiritual leader of the family, attending [church] with [their] wives and children.”
A Work in Progress
Eswatini leaders who attended the trainings were appointed to train women in their regions. The group elected Thuli Vilane as president and Simphiwe Mavuso as training leader. So far, 23 churches are involved in WMU with an ongoing women’s ministry.
Thuli said regional leaders were encouraged to start local groups, but since then, the global pandemic has hampered progress.
“As leaders, it’s very difficult to follow up if the lessons are continuing as intended because we don’t have funds to travel to all the churches,” Simphiwe explained.
As international WMU coordinator, Joy keeps in touch with Thuli and Simphiwe through text messages. She also hosts quarterly Zoom calls to encourage and pray with international WMU group leaders. Unfortunately, most Eswatini women don’t often have money to buy the data needed to access these connections.
Coveting Your Prayers
Simphiwe said the women of Eswatini covet the prayers of other believers as they grapple with the impacts of COVID-19 and their nation’s unrest.
“People are afraid to attend any meetings, especially church meetings,” she explained. “Unfortunately, we can’t continue with our WMU lessons because most women do not have smartphones. Just pray for the Lord to provide.”
“I would like you to pray for us,” Thuli requested. “Most of our ladies are the ones [who] have the burden of taking care of their families. They are the ones [who] need to support the church since there are few men in churches. Pray [also] for peace in our country, Eswatini.”
by Lanell Downs Smith