|Florida WMU celebrates 120 years passes “torch light” to next generation
By Don Hepburn
May 28, 2014
LEESBURG—Using the symbolism of a torch and flags of many nations, the 120th annual meeting of the Florida Woman’s Missionary Union convened April 24-26 at the Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center to reaffirm the organization’s 120 years of commitment to missions’ education, prayer and financial support of sharing the “torch light” of the gospel around the world.
The torch, carried into the Friday morning general session by Cindy Goodwin, team strategist, Women’s Missions and Ministries/Missions Education team, Florida Baptist Convention, represented the “passing of responsibility” for missions’ education and support to the next generation of Florida Baptists, explained State WMU President Anna Guy.
The pageantry sought to call attention to the 120 years that the Florida Women’s Missionary Union organization has been committed to missions, said Goodwin. She told the 200 in attendance that the Florida organization, begun in 1894, has involved Florida Baptist women in missions’ education and missions support through prayer and financial contributions.
That commitment has undergirded Southern Baptists’ international mission effort, she noted. The statewide organization encourages and supports WMU and women’s ministries groups in local churches to be actively involved in mission outreach in their own church field.
Although the event showcased the Florida WMU, the three-day “Missional Connection” conference sought to underscore how men and women in local church missions organizations can be involved in mission outreach locally and internationally.
The present day “torch carriers” of foreign missions was exemplified by two international missionary couples featured as keynote speakers. Harry and Barbara Bush told personal vignettes of their mission service in the countries of Mayamar (formerly known as Burma) Sumatra, East Java and Bali.
The Bushes reminded the mostly female audience that “someone in the world is waiting on you to share Jesus Christ” with them. This sharing may be through “talking with someone in your neighborhood” or praying for specific missionary efforts around the world.
Harry Bush concluded by asking, “Are you faithful in your church to share the gospel,” with someone?
In a later presentation, the Florida women’s prayer partnership with missionaries serving in the nation of Mozambique was highlighted by Dianne and Larry Randolph. Since 1995, the Florida WMU has mobilized its members to provide prayer support for the missionary personnel and mission needs in the African country. The Randolphs, who initially served as in-country coordinators when the prayer partnership was begun, told of the mission challenges of sharing the gospel in the predominantly Muslim nation.
The couple cited specific met needs—particularly the assignment of new missionaries to unreached people groups—that resulted from the prayer commitment. When the Florida women began praying 19 years ago, 15 missionaries—seven couples and a single woman—served in the country roughly twice as large as the state of California. Now the number of missionaries serving the southeast African nation has doubled, the couple reported.
To underscore the potential mission activities that local church WMU and women’s ministry groups can undertake, five small groups highlighted the mission involvement of their churches.
The following day, a second series of seminars created awareness of other possible mission activities for men or women mission groups. These included: mission trips to Florida’s mission partnership states and foreign countries; disaster relief; presentations by international missionaries from Africa and Southeast Asia; missions education for boys and girls; responding to victims of human trafficking and exploitation; and the use social media to create and maintain young adult mission groups.
Among the registrants was Jason Smith, a young layman from the Woodlawn Baptist Church in Hawthorne, who came to learn more about Royal Ambassadors, the missions’ education program for boys. He said that he hoped “to get more information and different ideas,” as he works with the Lads group of RAs.
Viewing RAs as an “alternative to what the world offers,” Smith said the RA program gives a boy the opportunity to experience a Boys Scout-type program “in a more conducive environment” of a local church. He also cited the potential role the missions program plays “to bring the non-Christian into the church.”
Beverly Richter, who serves as the women’s ministry director for the Keene Terrace Baptist Church in Largo, brought a delegation of three women to their first WMU conference. She said she had been looking for training options for her women’s group and came to this weekend event “to preview” the WMU mission training opportunities. She said the value of the seminars she attended offered possibilities for her local missions group, “So we don’t go stale.”
A planned Friday evening reception to celebrate the 120th anniversary of Florida WMU also served as a farewell event for missions’ leader Cindy Goodwin, who has worked in the Women’s Missions and Ministries/Missions Education program team since 1993. Prior to the meeting, Goodwin, who has been the women’s missions’ team program director since 2004, announced plans to retire in August.
Stressing how the missions’ “story lives on” a program segment honored and recognized several church mission volunteers. The laypersons spoke on their involvement in the ministry areas of disaster relief, church and community ministries, partnership missions and Women's Missions and Ministries/Missions Education leadership.
Saturday morning’s featured missionaries were Patrick and Archalena Coats, Florida Baptist Convention church planters serving in Miami, who focused on the “building for the future” session theme. They shared how their childhood experiences in Acteens and Royal Ambassadors created a missions awareness that led to a calling to be missionaries. They emphasized the importance of missions’ education to prepare future leaders for missions’ service in God’s world.
The “missional connections” conference concluded with a visually challenging presentation. As they entered the Maguire auditorium on Saturday morning, attendees were confronted by a very large world map laid out on the floor at the front of the stage. The map was covered in thousands of black beans with a sprinkling of white beans.
“Each of the dark beans represents 100 people” who live in spiritual darkness around the world, explained Anne Wilson who led the closing devotional emphasis. “Each of the 4,800-plus white beans represents the total number of Southern Baptist missionaries serving around the world,” the summer missions’ camp director explained.
“What are you going to do about the people living in darkness?” she challenged the assembly. Wilson invited the men and women to commit to share the gospel with someone either through prayer, personal witnessing or financial support of missionary endeavors.
Audience members were invited to demonstrate their personal commitment to share the gospel with people around the world by coming forward and picking up as many beans as they were willing. Within a few moments, the front of the auditorium was filled with women and men scooping up beans and pausing in silent prayer.
A closing procession of the torch and the flags of nations highlighted that missions commitment continues with the taking of the gospel around the world. Goodwin’s five-year-old granddaughter, Kristen Wilson, carried the torch out of the meeting place, symbolizing the passing of the torch to the younger generation.