Celebrating 400 Years of Baptists
The Woman’s Mission Society began in Richmond, Virginia in 1888. The name was changed to the Woman’s Missionary Union in 1890. Baltimore was selected as the home of the executive committee and in 1921 the WMU headquarters was moved to Birmingham, Alabama.
One of the primary purposes of WMU is to educate the church about missions. From the beginning in 1888 the WMU has had auxiliary status with the Southern Baptist Convention. It has successfully influenced mission decisions and actions in the local church. As an auxiliary of the convention, WMU has been self-governed and self supported. The WMU of the Southern Baptist Convention has encouraged sacrificial giving and special mission offerings from its inception.
Early on, WMU had some unique characteristics that endeared itself to the convention. There was a combined support of foreign, home, state, and local missions in one organization. The WMU never sought to handle the mission money that was given, but distributed mission gifts through the convention boards. They did not choose to appoint missionaries on their own and encouraged tithing, mission giving and local church support.
Although the WMU came into being with the clear purpose of missions’ information, giving, and action, there have always been controversies to face. The issues of women’s rights, leadership, jealousy, expenditures, theological education, age group organizations and publications have come to the surface many times. God has always seemed to provide the exact inspiration and leadership needed to help the organization thrive. In 2009 the WMU of the Southern Baptist Convention has nine core values and a vision statement that says “WMU challenges Christian believers to understand and be radically involved in the mission of God.”
A timeline of some WMU accomplishments provides weight to the effectiveness of this missionary miracle. In 1896 the WMU adopted the Sunbeams, a children’s’ missions’ organization begun in 1886 by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1907 YWA’s (Young Woman’s Auxiliary) was begun and in 1908 RA’s (Royal Ambassadors) was started for boys. The girls group officially became GA’s in 1914. Magazines, missionary prayer guides, age level studies, individual missions calling and service was emphasized. In 1970 there was a WMU reorganization effort to update and strengthen the work. Women’s Missionary Societies became Baptist Women. YWA became Baptist Young Women. GA’s became Girls in Action and Sunbeams became Mission Friends.
In 2009 the WMU is the largest evangelical women’s missionary organization in the world with approximately one million members. There are seven missionary organizations in the WMU that include age and gender interests. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions are primary budget offerings for the missions sending agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Wanda Lee, an Alabama native, was chosen as the seventh executive director of the WMU in March of 2000. She had served as a pastor’s wife, Georgia WMU president, SBC international missionary, and president of the national WMU. The WMU national headquarters is at 100 Missionary Ridge, P. O. Box 830010, Birmingham, Ala.
Jerry Windsor is executive secretary of the Florida Baptist Historical Society and retired professor of preaching at The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville.
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