Legacy of Service: the Story of Doris Ragan

When Doris Ragan died last year at 97, she left behind fifty years’ worth of travel journals.

And when her sons and daughter found them, they got out a big map and started sticking pins in every country she’d been to.

“It was at least sixty, and at least half of those were missions trips,” said her daughter, Angela Sloan. “She was a ‘go, go, go’ kind of person. She never dwelt on the past—she was always looking forward to the future.”

That’s the legacy Doris left at her church—First Baptist Church of Tavares, Florida—as well as in the community around her. She taught Sunday school, was director of WMU, led Girls in Action, played the piano at church, directed the choir when needed, and insisted on a cut-flower arrangement every Sunday in the church.

Doris’ daughter explained, “My mom is 3rd row far right if you count the row with the crown bearers. I am in the middle with my brother, Randy, in front. Carolyn Weatherford was there to give me the scepter.”

Doris’ daughter explained, “My mom is 3rd row far right if you count the row with the crown bearers. I am in the middle with my brother, Randy, in front. Carolyn Weatherford was there to give me the scepter.”

And she loved missions, said Ann Fortenberry, a fellow church member. “She was a wonderful lady—a real go-getter,” Ann said.

Doris invested in WMU for a reason—she believed in its work, and it spurred her on. After she read a missions study on Japan, she visited the country twice. She once felt such a burden for an orphanage in Egypt that she spent a month serving there.

And up until recently, she was still going on missions trips, standing out in the hot sun to help people in need all day long—and outlasting people half her age without so much as a complaint.

“Mom was very feisty,” Angela said. “We couldn’t stop her, so we just let her go until she was ready to stop.”

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Doris’ grandson, Jonathan Sloan, said one of the places her zest for life showed was in her garden.

“She was a master gardener and had amazing exotic plants in her backyard—many she took from her travels,” he said. “She knew every plant by its scientific name and also created more than two hundred flower arrangements a year for public libraries, civic receptions, and shut-ins.”

She nurtured flowers, and she nurtured everyone around her, Jonathan said. She spent more than five hundred hours every year serving the community. The city of Tavares declared “Doris Ragan Day” on two separate occasions. The mayor called her the “ultimate community volunteer.”

Jonathan said his Nana didn’t think what she did was anything out of the ordinary. He said when she was asked about it, she simply said, “Jesus was a servant. He was the one who washed the feet of His disciples. While we’re here on this earth, I believe we’re here to serve.”

Because of her legacy of service, her WMU group purchased a brick in her name for the Walk of Faith at national WMU headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama. Their gift honors the memory of Doris’ passion for missions and invests in the future of WMU’s ministry.

“She was a special person, someone who never stopped going and giving,” Ann said.

For more information about how to honor a past or present missions hero on the Walk of Faith, visit wmufoundation.com/walkoffaith.

You Are Welcome Here: Massey Endowment Supports Ministering to Refugee Children

Have you ever been in a country where you couldn’t speak the language?

Many of us have experienced being in a place where we didn’t speak the language or know the customs of the country where we were visiting. Even if the language is the same as your native language, the words often have different meanings in different countries.

Now, imagine if you were a child in that situation. And what if you and your family had to leave your home country and move to another for protection or to survive?

That is exactly what millions of people around the world experience that every day. Over the last year, WMU has focused on the needs of refugees both around the world and here in the United States.

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The WMU Foundation has a specific endowment that helps train Christian children’s leaders in an international setting. It’s the Barbara Massey Endowment named for a long-time children’s worker at national WMU. For several years, we made grants to Christian children’s leaders in foreign countries. This year, we found another creative way to use this grant for God’s glory right here in the US.

Just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, there is a large concentration of refugees who live near a small Baptist church, Tusculum Hills Baptist. The church members decided to reach out to their new neighbors and found a unique way to meet their needs.

They offered after school assistance with homework and then they started an international children’s choir. Through Music City Soundtracks, they launched the Children's Freedom Choir made up of refugees and immigrants in the Nashville area.

The Massey Endowment typically supports Christian leaders working with children overseas. In this case, we are able to support Christian leaders working with international children who have come to the United States. Earlier this year, the WMU Foundation made a grant from the Massey Endowment to Music City Soundtracks to support their work with the Children’s Freedom Choir.

You can find a video of the Children’s Freedom Choir singing with the Nashville Children's Choir here. The choir sang "You Are Welcome Here," a song written by Mark Burrows, a children's minister in Ft. Worth, Texas.

This is a beautiful example of Christians reaching “the world” with the love of God by accepting and welcoming those the Lord sends to us.

Looking back on those times when you were pushed out of your comfort zone, how did that make you feel? It probably wasn’t easy. You hopefully learned and grew from those situations, but they can be difficult and even scary. You can feel out of place and left out or even forgotten. In those kinds of situations, the best encouragement is finding a friend who lets you know you are welcome.

This is just one story of how your gifts are at work changing lives. Discover your missions passion as you give through the WMU Foundation.

Written by David George, president of the WMU Foundation.

Mother Helps Cast 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.