Dellanna West O'Brien Award

Arab Woman Today leader Abbassi named O’Brien Award recipient

Ruba Abbassi, CEO of the Jordan-based ministry Arab Woman Today (AWT), is the recipient of this year’s Dellanna West O'Brien Award for Women's Leadership Development.

Sandy Wisdom-Martin, Ruba Abbassi, Candice Lee, and Melanie VanLaningham celebrate the O’Brien Award for Women’s Leadership Development.

Sandy Wisdom-Martin, Ruba Abbassi, Candice Lee, and Melanie VanLaningham celebrate the O’Brien Award for Women’s Leadership Development.

Abbassi was honored during national Woman’s Missionary Union’s annual missions celebration June 10 in Dallas.

The O’Brien Award, named in honor of former WMU executive director Dellanna West O’Brien, has been given annually since 1998 to recognize Baptist women who lead well and foster leadership potential in others.

Abbassi’s work through AWT, which spans the world’s 22 Arabic-speaking countries, has been going nearly as long as the award. In 1999, Abbassi began developing the organization with radio, television and online ministries as well as community programs to develop women as Christian leaders in the Muslim world.

The work has been going strong ever since.

“It takes a committed leader to develop and equip other leaders, and Ruba is an exemplary model of such ripple-effect leadership,” said Melanie Van Laningham of Birmingham, Alabama, who nominated Abbassi for the award. “She does not shy away from the hardships that come with being a woman leader in the Arab world. In fact, she — in her quiet strength — walks through the obstacles with Christ-like grace, determination and persistence.”

Abbassi “is a remarkable woman and a mentor to many,” said Cindy Walker, WMU director at First Baptist Church of Minden, Louisiana. She also noted that Abbassi had implemented a “phenomenal” program to reach out to Syrian refugees.

Abbassi chronicled the challenges facing Arab women — and the hope offered to them in Christ — in her book, “The Arab Woman: Embracing Her Potential.” She also regularly shares with church and mission groups in the U.S.

Cindy Townsend, minister of WMU and women’s enrichment ministry at First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, said Abbassi fulfills her role with “a servant heart and out of a passion to be on mission in her world every day.”

The O’Brien Award comes with a $2,500 grant from the WMU Foundation that will go to further Abbassi’s discipleship of Arab women around the globe.

For more information about Abbassi’s ministry, visit

Called to Serve

Becky Sumrall said that when God impressed a call on her heart as a young girl, she was ready to say yes.

And that readiness, she said, was because of Sunbeams, Girls in Action, Acteens and everything she had learned through those programs.

“Because of all that experience, I was receptive to that call, and it was powerful enough that it’s driven the rest of my life,” she said.

It drove Sumrall first down the aisle of a camp in Georgia where she made her commitment public at 16, though she had no idea what form a life of ministry would take for her.

“I didn’t know what the call was for, I just knew I had to do something,” she said.

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With that in mind, the counselor who met her at the altar told her that God might have lots of things for her to do, just to watch and see what He did.

So Sumrall has watched — and God has led her through seasons of teaching school, working on several church and associational staffs and directing inner-city apartment ministry. She served as adult missions and ministry specialist on the Tennessee WMU staff.

And for the past 15 years, she’s watched as God has worked through Begin Anew, Middle Tennessee’s branch of Christian Women’s Job Corps and Christian Men’s Job Corps, which she serves as executive director.


“She has spent the last 40 years investing in the lives of women to help them fulfill their call to serve the Lord,” said Vickie Anderson, executive director of Tennessee WMU. “Her ministry has empowered women of all social classes and has led to not only changes in individual lives but also communities as a whole.”

Because of this, Sumrall is this year’s recipient of the Dellanna West O'Brien Award for Women's Leadership Development, which recognizes a Baptist woman who mentors other women to become leaders.

The award comes with a $2,500 grant given by WMU Foundation to help further the ministry she leads at Begin Anew.

In each position Sumrall has held, “she has shown her selfless ability as a servant leader to influence other women to become leaders, all the while leading with personal integrity,” Anderson said. “This constant drive and servant leadership has led to the transformation of thousands of lives and has enabled countless (women) to follow and develop their own call and continue their path of transformation with her support and encouragement.”

Sumrall said that would have never been possible without WMU encouraging her and shaping her. After she committed to the call to ministry, her mom — a longtime WMU leader — began to find ways for her to explore her call, from going to camps to shadowing missionaries. That investment carried on as colleagues poured into her along the way.

And working on the state WMU staff “developed some of the leadership and organizational skills that really prepared me to step out of there and lead at Begin Anew,” Sumrall said.

 She said she is grateful to still be fulfilling the call she heard as a teen.

“WMU feels like home to me,” she said. “I think that’s why this award means so much — it’s who I am and who developed me.”