On April 13, 1960, at exactly 8:45 a.m., a group of women founded La Unión Femenil Bautista Misionera Helen Stuart (Panama WMU), named after the beloved missionary who faithfully served Panama in the 1900s.
More than 60 years later, the organization continues its purpose of helping churches promote and sustain missions. Current president Rosa Martinez Shaw first experienced WMU as a child, when she watched her mother faithfully participate with great joy.
“At first, I didn’t understand what the women were doing or why it was so important, but I was fascinated by their passion for this work,” said Rosa. “As I grew older, I understood that their joy came from sharing the gospel. That joy was contagious for me, and I’m still taking it in.”
Now Rosa leads Panama WMU, which includes ten associations and more than 800 participants of all ages and continues to grow. “We recently held a WMU retreat, and we nearly ran out of room with well over 100 women!” Rosa said.
New Method, Same Message
The younger generation is not only learning about missions, but these women are also creating new ways to reach people with the gospel. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Panama WMU — like the rest of the world — wanted to stay connected and further the organization.
Neila Joao, a woman in her early 20s, had been praying about how God could use her in ministry. Neila, along with Saby Gutierrez, the young ladies’ representative, and María Ramos, the continental representative, desired to create a new project that would appeal to younger women. After meeting with a local WMU group and presenting the project to the Latin American Baptist Women’s Union, Neila and other Panamanian representatives created a program called Digital Voices, where they could use technology to reach more women their age.
Through Digital Voices, a young woman from each association communicates ideas to local groups about different missions initiatives they could begin in their areas. One example was a missions project that partnered with other WMU organizations to travel to an Indigenous community and share the gospel. The theme was “Jesus the Light of the World,” based on John 8:12. The new program allowed women to connect and share ideas so their WMU groups could expand the ways they work and serve.
“It is a blessing to do ministry with women who have worked from generation to generation,” Rosa said. “The passion only continues to grow and build up.”
Missions in Everyday Life
In addition to outreach events, Panama WMU helps women learn how to share the gospel with friends, family members, coworkers, and people they interact with throughout their day.
“The main religion is Catholicism, but there are so many other religions too,” Rosa said. “People are skeptical if you jump right into a conversation about religion. We try to get to know them first, show we care, and ask if we can pray for them.”
A Legacy of Giving
A key part of missions education and engagement is learning to support missionaries. In 2020, Panama WMU donated $1,180.88 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO). Despite the uncertainty and financial struggles of 2020, the women worked together to give.
Rosa explained one of the reasons the LMCO is so important is because of Lottie Moon’s history as a pioneering missionary.
“She was a wealthy woman who left everything for the work of God and to help others,” Rosa said. “We want to live with that kind of humility, and we know that many countries have so much need right now. Lottie Moon left us a legacy, and we want to continue it to provide that aid to the missionaries.”
“The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:8–9 NIV, emphasis added).
Looking Back and Looking Ahead
Rosa believes missions is a generational effort. Her aunt, Edid Martinez de Gonzalez, was a WMU leader who modeled how to lead with a servant’s heart. “She was faithful, very loving, and dedicated to WMU,” Rosa shared. “Aunt Edid inspired me to always seek to learn more. She has been a great blessing to me.”
Now, Rosa’s 18-year-old daughter, Sharis, is learning and leading as well.
“In my daughter, I see that same passion to know the Lord, to grow, and to serve,” Rosa said. “She loves to be around the older women and learn about the WMU meetings, bylaws, and responsibilities.”
Rosa asked that people pray God would continue moving the hearts of women toward missions. “It’s thrilling to think of all that we can do when we, as women of all ages in the church, work together for God’s kingdom and impact generations.”
Rachel Sinclair is a writer who loves to share stories and help people grow deeper in their walk with Christ. Connect with her at rachelsinclair.net and on Instagram at @rachelsinclairwrites.