Mother Helps Casts Missions Vision for Family, Runs Community Ministry in the Bronx

When Kerri Johnson started taking missions trips to the Bronx with her family, she quickly realized something — she wanted desperately to be in the place where no one else wanted to be.

“Most everybody in the Bronx wants to get out, and we were finding every opportunity we could to come back,” she said.

It wasn’t long before she and her husband, Josh—her high-school sweetheart—said goodbye to the West Virginia town where they grew up and moved their family to New York City.

The Johnson family: Noah, Paige, Kerri, and Josh

The Johnson family: Noah, Paige, Kerri, and Josh

For Kerri, the eight years since have been a labor of love where the laborers are few. With limited resources, she runs Graffiti 2 Works, a Christian Women’s Job Corps site, and WorldCrafts artisan group based at Graffiti 2 Community Ministries. She’s helped to provide jobs for some and train others with job skills.

“We’re not in the Bible belt, so finding volunteers and finances is tough,” she said. “We don’t have a church down the street we can pull volunteers from. Most everyone we know who could serve as a volunteer should be a participant in some way.”

It’s an ever-evolving program as needs arise, she said. She does much of it on her own, working one-on-one with people through Graffiti 2’s adult learning center. In one case, Kerri meets regularly with a mother who struggles to read.

“We’re working to get her some basic vocabulary, and we’re doing some reading activities using the Bible,” Kerri said. “We take one story a week and walk through it and have vocabulary words from it.”

Kerri leads her Women on Mission group.

Kerri leads her Women on Mission group.

She meets with other mothers to teach them English, or even just sit and visit. That has expanded—almost accidentally—to an ESL program that kicked off in 2019.

“What we were advertising originally is literacy, but somehow what got out is that we were teaching English,” Kerri said. “We found that was a big need.”

This type of hands-on ministry and the ministry she runs through the sewing microbusiness make her “heart sing,” she said. “We have big dreams and big visions. It isn’t always easy, but God gives us small glimpses of what He’s doing, and that helps us keep going. We’re just moving forward and seeing what He has for us in His time.”

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Her husband, Josh, said Kerri’s passion for investing in people has made all the difference in their family as they have followed God’s call to the Bronx.

“As a family unit, God has blessed us to lock arms and continue where He has planted us,” he said. “We’ve been on quite a journey together, and sometimes it’s tough, but having her as a wife and a mother who can drive that vision has made all the difference.”

“It’s been life changing for our children to see their mother’s love for Christ, people, and missions,” said Josh, who recently bought a brick in his wife’s honor in the Walk of Faith brick garden at WMU headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama.

“She has been very instrumental in being that champion on the team and helping make the vision happen.”

For more information about how to honor your missions heroes on the Walk of Faith and support the work of WMU, visit wmufoundation.com/walkoffaith.

To learn more about Graffiti 2, visit graffiti2ministries.org.

Written by Grace Thornton.

A Continued Calling: a Q&A on Retirement

For many who enter the retirement season, questions for what to do with their time and how to continue serving or volunteering with purpose arise. After you worked in your place of service for years then passed the torch on to others, how will you spend your time? Who will you invest in? Your retirement may be exactly what you thought it would be, or it may bring with it an unexpected season of continued and intentional work and ministry. We interviewed Ruby Fulbright, former Executive Director/Treasurer of WMU North Carolina, and asked her to share a few of her retirement experiences and how she continues to invest well during this season of life.

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WMU Foundation: What is one thing that surprised you most about retirement?

Ruby: I think I expected more down time, more rest, maybe even a chance to be a little bored. I didn’t expect retirement would be all rest and moving at a slow pace. I didn’t want that. But, almost immediately, I was busy, busy, busy.

WMU Foundation: Are there any books, websites, or other resources you would suggest for retirees or those planning to retire?

Ruby: Calvin Partain’s book, More Than Money, is an excellent resource (and you can find free monthly bible studies and leader guides on the WMU Foundation website to go along with this book). I learned a great deal from the WMU Foundation through resources they sent out and through learning experiences while I served on the Board of Directors. I also have some very good friends who retired before me, and they seemed to have done it right, so I spent time talking with them. Asking those we respect and who have experienced retirement can be very helpful.

WMU Foundation: Tell us the most fun thing you’ve done since retiring.

Ruby: When our three children left the nest, they flew far away, and, not until I retired in 2012 have we lived close to them or to grandchildren. Currently, we live close to two of our grandchildren in North Carolina, two others are in Alabama, and two are in Texas. Retirement meant I could travel to Alabama and Texas and spend extended time with the grandchildren. It is a blessing to me as a grandmother to have been at the birth of all six of my grandchildren.

WMU Foundation: How many years did you spend in your career, and what did you do?

Ruby: I married while my husband, Ellis, and I were still working on our educations. Immediately after my husband graduated from seminary, we went to Zambia, Africa, to serve with the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) as career missionaries. We served there twelve years.

Because of some health issues, we returned to the States and I worked alongside my husband in associational missions work and on a church staff. Very quickly I became involved with WMU in my church, my association, and on the state level. While serving as WMU North Carolina State President from 1999-2002, I was asked to consider taking a ‘paying job’ and was elected as Executive Director/Treasurer of WMU North Carolina. I served in this position for ten years.

WMU Foundation: Now that you are retired, how do you spend your time?

Ruby: Grandchildren, NABWU (now Baptist Women of North America), young women (Uptick), WMU North Carolina Executive Board, CWJC Executive Board, WMU Foundation Board, church Women on Mission, Sunday school teacher, mission trips.

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WMU Foundation: How do you invest in others in your retirement?

Ruby: I retired in June 2012, and, in October of 2012, I became Vice President of Leadership Development, Networking, and Mentoring for North American Baptist Women’s Union (now Baptist Women of North America). This was a 5-year commitment, and one of my greatest joys was learning from, teaching, mentoring, and encouraging young women through that organization and currently through the Uptick experience of the Spence Network. I guess I’d have to say that besides ‘building into’ my grandchildren, continuing to work with young women in leadership and ministry is where I spend most of my time.

WMU Foundation: What advice would you give other retirees about using their time wisely?

Ruby: Take time in the beginning of your retirement to rest and discern God’s leadership before jumping right into busyness. Other people will have a gazillion suggestions/opportunities (all good things) for you to do or invest in, but first reflect on those things you wanted to do and couldn’t when you were working. Give yourself time to do some of those things that fill your heart and your soul as well as your calendar.

WMU Foundation: How are you connected to the WMU Foundation?

Ruby: As Executive Director/Treasurer of WMU North Carolina, I came to appreciate who the WMU Foundation was, what she stood for, and how helpful David George, in particular, was to us as a state organization. During some rocky times for WMU North Carolina, the WMU Foundation offered advice, suggestions, and encouragement related to our finances and investments.

I served on the Board of the WMU Foundation from 2013-2018, and, for three of those years, I was Chair of the Awards and Nominations Committee. This committee, in my opinion, is the best committee of all. There definitely is work to do and there are difficult decisions to make, but this committee helps determine scholarships and grants, which ensure the missions and ministries of WMU and Baptists around the world continue.

WMU Foundation: What has been the most meaningful part of retirement so far?

Ruby: Seeing someone I’ve invested in go into their own ministry and calling. Being told ‘thank you’ when I didn’t even know I did anything out of the ordinary. Having some time to journal and write and giving advice because ‘I’ve been there and done that.’ Knowing that a big part of my calling at this stage in life is to share what I’ve experienced, the ups and the downs, the good days and the bad, and being able to offer assurance that God is always near to comfort, hold, encourage, pick you up when you fall, and help remind you that “for such a time as this” I have been called.

To find more ways to use your missions passion during retirement, please contact us at wmufoundation@wmu.org or visit our Give Your Way page to see various options for how you can get involved.

Your Giving at Work in 2018: Annual Report

Your gifts make a difference for WMU ministries like Christian Women’s Job Corps. Akevia was down on her luck when she found CWJC. She was helping others, maintaining a 4.0 grade point average in school, working multiple jobs, and learning how to be a new mom. Akevia’s dream was to become a teacher, and it was clear that she would be a natural as she helped others at her CWJC site when they struggled with classes.

 
Generational poverty ended with me because of all of you.
— Akevia Wilson
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The Dove Endowment helped Akevia reach goals she never thought possible. When she received the Sybil Bentley Dove Award in 2018, she said, “I am a few months away from becoming what and who I was destined to be. God has used my journey to strengthen my faith. Because of these organizations and the wonderful Christian people who have helped and encouraged us, my son will not have to experience food insecurity or homelessness. Generational poverty ended with me because of all of you.”

Akevia is now a third grade math and science teacher and will soon begin graduate school.


2018 Annual Report

Total Granted: $1,600,000

Granted to National WMU: $615,000

Scholarships: For MKs: $58,000

SCHOLARSHIPS: For Others: $44,000

Women’s Leadership Development: $217,000

State WMU Organizations: $172,000

Receiving scholarships from the WMU Foundation was critical to helping me finish my seminary degree. Because of the generous gifts of many donors, I was able to depend less on student loans and feel less financial pressure both in school and following graduation. I’m presently working at Samford University as a Student Financial Services Advisor and VA Certification Officer. Now I’m able to help current seminary students and other college students as they prepare their finances for education. Though it’s not traditional ministry, I’m getting to connect with a variety of students and families as they face the challenge of paying for school.
— David Dockery, Beeson Divinity School graduate & WMU/WMU Foundation Scholarship Recipient
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Partnering with Purpose

I remember being in school on those days when the teacher let us know we needed to choose a partner to work on a project together. It was always a little anxiety-inducing because what if someone else chose your best friend or, even worse, no one wanted to partner with you? What if there wasn’t an even number of children in the class and you had to partner with the teacher? That could be embarrassing. Or what if you got partnered with that kid who didn’t pull his own weight and you ended up doing all the work?

You never knew what you would get when you had to partner up in school. It could be great, but it could also be absolutely terrible. If you were anything like me, you tried to make the most of the situation and hoped for the best.

All this to say, if you’re having anxious flashbacks to rough days in elementary school, I can put your mind at ease. At the WMU Foundation, we want to partner with you, but only in ways that benefit everyone.

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When you partner with us, we’ll help you find your missions passion.

Natalie Shannon, administrative assistant at national WMU, is passionate about social justice issues, so she partners with the WMU Foundation when she gives monthly to the Judith and David Hayes Endowment to Combat Human Trafficking. “I give because of how clearly scripture mandates fighting for the oppressed,” she explained. “Fighting for those enslaved by others is a very real, practical way to show love and display the gospel.”

We have churches that partner with us, as well. Mountain Brook Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, has given since the WMU Foundation’s inception twenty-five years ago. “World missions has always been a priority for our church,” said June Whitlow, a long-time church member. “Since the Foundation regularly grants funds to ministries all over the world, this enables a portion of an individual’s initial gift to keep on giving and giving, long after the giver is gone. This pleases Mountain Brook Baptist Church members,” Whitlow continued.

When you partner with us, you can make personal connections.

“It’s easy to give when you see firsthand the impact of your giving,” said Lena Plunk, national WMU CWJC ministry consultant. “As a former Christian Women’s Job Corps (CWJC) site coordinator, I know that giving to the CWJC/CMJC Special Fund directly impacts the lives of these men and women. I have heard their stories and know that my giving is helping to impact a life.”

Emily Swader, WorldCrafts marketing strategist, agrees. “I am a monthly partner because I believe it is important to provide consistent support to the WorldCrafts artisans through the Isaiah 58:10 Campaign,” she said. “I know that the money is being used to transform the lives of men and women around the world and give them opportunities to hear of eternal hope.”

When you partner with us, you help spread the love of Christ across the globe.

Mark Johnson, associate pastor at Shades Crest Baptist Church, said, “The WMU Foundation has been instrumental in helping our church connect with Baptists in need all around the world. We have been able to help respond to crises knowing that our funds are accompanied by prayer and ground personnel who are actively ministering through their actions and with their witness.”

When you become a monthly partner with us, you become part of something so much bigger than yourself. Your dollars are always at work, helping combat human trafficking through the Hayes Endowment, sending help to places in need of disaster relief through the WMU HEART Fund, or providing scholarships to missionary kids heading off to college.

And that’s only the beginning. The WMU Foundation has so many other funds and endowments, and we are happy to do whatever we can to help you find your missions passion.

“I consider it a joy to get to be a part of what is being done through WorldCrafts and the WMU Foundation,” concluded Swader. “A monthly donation is an easy way for me to be a consistent financial supporter.”

We hope you’ll choose to partner with us by becoming a monthly donor to the WMU Foundation*. We promise we won’t make you do all the work.


* The WMU Foundation offers automatic monthly giving, making it easier than ever to support your favorite fund or endowment. When you give online, select the option to make this a recurring gift. The card you use will be charged each month for the amount you specify. If you need more information, contact us at wmufoundation@wmu.org or call (205) 408-5525.

Written by Maegan Dockery, Marketing Manager at the WMU Foundation.