women's leadership development

A Legacy of Leadership Development & Missions

When Claudia Johnson was growing up, she watched her grandmother, Susie Mae Towry, make hundreds of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls.

“She would hand stitch one for every single child in her classroom, each with a heart on the front that said, ‘I love you,’” Johnson said.

It was a “sweet legacy” for the longtime schoolteacher to leave behind, she said. Towry liked to send the students off each year with a reminder that they were loved. She liked to finish well.

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But part of finishing well also meant leaving some things undone — she left a few things behind for her granddaughter to finish too—things that would come full circle in ways Johnson could’ve never anticipated.

“She was a preacher’s wife and prayed daily for missionaries,” Johnson said, noting that her grandmother kept her Bible open in the bathroom with a prayer list of missionary names marking her place. “She loved the work of WMU and loved God’s Word. I know that it was her prayers that really got me through all my high school years. She was just a real woman of God.”

And because of Towry’s active influence on her granddaughter — and her inherent influence through the way she raised Johnson’s mother, Nancy Towry Wall — Johnson eventually became one of those missionaries on that prayer list.

After Johnson finished school, she went first to Africa as a journeyman, then to Thailand with her husband, serving a total of 28 years with the International Mission Board.

“My grandmother and my mom were very inspirational in my life,” she said. “They were both very strong Christian leaders, and I am confident that it made a difference in my life. It made me want to serve the Lord in whatever capacity I could.”

One of those capacities was that, while serving in Thailand, she burned the midnight oil for a year to get her master’s degree so that she could teach at the international school.

“It was a very hard year, but when you have a clear word from God that you’re supposed to do something, it is really comforting,” Johnson said.

It was a sacrifice that paved the way for innumerable ministry opportunities for both herself and others. Because international school had become so expensive in Thailand, missionaries had been told recently that they had to homeschool their children from then on.

Johnson’s decision to lead at the school not only provided the means for her own children to go to school for free, her whole salary also went to fund other missionaries’ children’s tuition. That freed other mothers up to do more ministry, too.

And over time, God led Johnson into even deeper waters — she started a school for Urdu-speaking refugees in Thailand.

“The plight of refugees is tough, as we know, and those children gripped my heart,” Johnson said.

It was clear teaching ran in the family, as did a burden for the children who sat in the desks. Towry may have passed away before she got to see Johnson become a missionary and a teacher, but her legacy had lived on.

And recently, after Johnson returned to the U.S. and took the role of leadership consultant for WMU’s Christian Women’s Leadership Center (CWLC), her mom found something special when she was going through Towry’s things.

“It was a leadership card that said my grandmother had completed the WM Society’s leadership course,” Johnson said. “I thought that was so interesting. It was dated Nov. 12, 1963, and was signed by Alma Hunt.”

That struck a chord with Johnson, because these days her desk sits in the middle of the Alma Hunt Museum, named after the missions hero who led National WMU from 1948 to 1974. Every day as Johnson sits at that desk, she works to run the same leadership development courses for women that her grandmother completed back then — only now they are online.

And Johnson still has one of Towry’s unfinished Raggedy Ann dolls — a reminder that not only is she loved, there are still things left to do.

“I know my grandmother’s prayers and influence made a difference in my life,” she said. “She left a legacy of love behind. You couldn’t find a sweeter person, and the gift of having a family legacy of being in church and being in the Word — I recognize what a gift that is.”

she instilled a missions heart in children, their children, and their children’s children—too many to count—and mentored countless others as they in turn became leaders..jpg

Claudia Johnson recently decided to place a brick in Towry’s memory in WMU’s new Walk of Faith brick garden. For more information about the Walk of Faith or to purchase a brick in someone’s memory or honor, visit wmufoundation.com/walkoffaith.

A Priceless Heritage

At the tiny country church in southern Illinois where Sandy Wisdom-Martin grew up, the first few steps toward Jesus weren’t for the faint of heart.

“My church did not have a bathroom, let alone a baptistery,” she said. “My church had this idea that when you accepted Christ, you were baptized the next Sunday, no matter what.”

And when Wisdom-Martin accepted Christ at age 9, the next Sunday just happened to be an ice storm. They went to the lake anyway.

“Men laid down cardboard so the pastor and I would not sink in three feet of mud,” she said. “My father passed out the hymnals. We sang ‘On Jordan’s Banks I Stand’ and ‘Shall We Gather at the River.’”

And coming up out of water in the middle of that ice storm onto that cardboard was her first public witness as a Christ follower.

Now Wisdom-Martin, the new executive director of national Woman’s Missionary Union, says she likes to think of her role as doing for others what has been done for her — laying the groundwork for them to know the hope and love of Christ.

“The first Southern Baptists I knew were Christian parents who work hard and served well,” she said, noting that she’d grown up in poverty not even understanding the sacrifices her parents made.

Her father worked two jobs, getting two hours of sleep each night. Her mother worked the midnight shift so she could be at home during the daytime and on evenings.

But the couple faithfully attended their church with their children, and from them, Wisdom-Martin said she learned lessons too numerous to mention.

“And the members of our tiny country church poured their lives into mine, giving me every advantage possible as a young Christ follower,” she said.

One of those, she said, was a new pastor’s wife who introduced her church to Acteens, and as a result Wisdom-Martin discovered what God was doing in the world.

“State missions camps and events as well as Acteens Activator teams sealed my heart for missions,” she said. “Then came the opportunity to rub shoulders with heroes of the faith who served with the state convention. When a hero calls you by name and takes an interest in you, it changes the course of your life.”

When a hero calls you by name and takes an interest in you, it changes the course of your life..jpg

In college, the associational WMU council invited her to join their team, and they encouraged her to teach conferences.

“I was awful; they loved me anyway,” she said.

And that’s “only the beginning” of a long line of people who invested in her, she said.

As a result, when Wisdom-Martin moved to Birmingham, Alabama, from Texas to take the WMU executive director position, she brought with her a “priceless heritage” passed down by “faithful Christ followers,” she said.

“WMU has never been my job — it has been how I have lived out God’s calling on my life because I believe in the restoration of brokenness through hope in Christ,” said Wisdom-Martin, who formerly served as executive director of WMU of Texas. Before that she served as women’s missions and ministries director for the Illinois Baptist State Association and as Cooperative Program Missionary with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

“I am excited about the future because I am excited about the God we serve,” she said. “We are defined by the One who calls us by name. He has redeemed us, and we belong to Him. He treasures us and trusts us with the work of His Kingdom.”

Wisdom-Martin hopes that through WMU many will come to understand the gifts God has given them and respond to His call on their life.

“We are here to help nurture that call,” she said. “It's not about what we do; it's about who we are in Christ. We were created in the image of God for His purpose and glory. Our assignment is to take the message of hope in Christ to the nations.”

You can support the next generation of missions leaders by making a gift to the Second Century Fund.

This article first appeared in the April 2017 issue of Missions Mosaic and was written by Grace Thornton. 

Why Women's Leadership Development?

Why in the world would we, the WMU Foundation, care about women’s leadership development? Why would an organization created to financially support missions invest in SHE leads? Shouldn’t we just focus on raising the money and making the grants?

Without women’s leadership development, the WMU Foundation would not exist. The women who founded WMU made a commitment to support the spread of the gospel no matter what challenges stood in their way.

Women in 1810 didn’t have jobs. But Hepzibah Jenkins Townsend, a wealthy South Carolina woman, defied her husband’s wishes and sold gingerbread at the market to raise money for missions. She found a way.

Early WMU leaders who organized women in support of global missions did so in the midst of a society that did not welcome or encourage women to lead anything. This did not stop them.

Eliza Broadus, one of those early leaders, said, “God demands not success but effort, leaving the results to him.”

The women in WMU’s history were Christ followers who were unwilling to allow anyone but God to define their mission in life. Their call was to go into the world and make disciples. We are committed to continuing their legacy.

Through the Second Century Fund (SCF), over $2.5 million in grants since 1988 have allowed women in the United States and around the world to receive the missions leadership training they needed to respond to God’s call. Women like Lisa in Uzbekistan, a SCF grant recipient who has fought against human trafficking and made disciples in the former USSR for the past 15 years.

We support women’s leadership development because it is part of our history and vital to our future. We will invest in helping women respond to God’s call because it helps fulfill the Great Commission.

Why in the world do we care about women’s leadership development? Because Jesus told us to go into all the world and make disciples, and we believe in helping women do exactly that.

Here’s how you can join us:

  • Pray for the women God has placed in your life to mentor and disciple you. Write them a thank you note.

  • Think about who you could mentor and disciple. Write them an encouraging note and reach out to them as you see their leadership potential.

  • Take a leadership course through the Christian Women’s Leadership Center.

  • Serve through national WMU’s MissionsFEST or FamilyFEST.

  • Volunteer at your local Christian Women’s Job Corps site.

  • Start missions education in your church. National WMU has curriculum available for preschool through adults to help pray for and support IMB missionaries around the world and NAMB missionaries and ministries in the States.

  • Give to the Second Century Fund. Your donation helps provide leadership development for generations of women to come.

SHE leads: Women's Leadership Development

In the capital of Uzbekistan, a heavily Muslim country, Lisa found Jesus.

And then hard times found her.

When she was still a teenager, her mom died. She left Lisa with an apartment, which would’ve been a big help — except that other family members wanted it for themselves.

So they made Lisa’s life even harder.

“Lisa was forced to leave Uzbekistan to save her life, leaving everything behind,” Oleg Turlac said.

She landed in Moldova. That’s when she found the Baptist college.

And that’s where she met Turlac, a Beeson Divinity School graduate who moved to the former Soviet nation to teach theology at the college.

“She wanted to study missions so that she could then tell people from different cultures about Christ,” Turlac said.

And that went well until funds began to be an issue.

“Seeing this, I remembered about the Second Century Fund, of which I read on the website of Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU),” Turlac said. “I decided to apply for a grant for Lisa. Because of funds received through the grant, Lisa was able to finish the college program. She graduated in 2005 with a bachelor's degree in missions.”

And she hasn’t slowed down since.

Lisa is now serving in a small town in southern Moldova, reaching out to young people and teaching at the town’s only Baptist church.

Along with Galina, her friend and fellow graduate of the Baptist college, she started a tailoring school with the purpose of teaching a trade to girls at risk of human trafficking, Turlac said.

It’s a vital ministry, he said. “More than 100,000 women have been trafficked out of Moldova by human traffickers since 1990. In the town where Lisa ministers, school has been closed and teens had nowhere to go.”

So Lisa held summer camps for them, and during winter she and Galina would gather the teen girls into the mission station and have Bible study, do crafts and teach them tailoring.

“Lisa is saving the lives of these young women from human trafficking,” Turlac said. “Personally, I have seen few people as dedicated to ministry as Lisa is. In spite of very challenging circumstances, God is using Lisa to reach people for Christ in the former USSR.”

The ongoing fruit of Lisa’s $2,000 grant in Moldova is one of many ways WMU Foundation is seeing the impact of the Second Century Fund continue years after the grants are made.

The grants have been providing women’s leadership training domestically and internationally ever since the first four Second Century Fund grants were given at WMU’s Centennial Celebration in Richmond, Virginia in 1988.

Ruby Fulbright, current chair of the fund’s awards and nominations committee, said it’s an indescribable legacy.

“Only heaven will know the impact the Second Century Fund has made on countless women in leadership here in the U.S. and around the world,” she said.

Fulbright said she saw the grant’s impact close to home when she was serving as executive director of North Carolina Woman’s Missionary Union from 2002 to 2012.

“It was the Second Century Fund that helped us start an amazing leadership training in the western part of North Carolina. It was a difficult place to get work started, but a bold group of WMU women started and the Second Century Fund provided the start-up funds,” she said.

And in the time since, she’s seen these women and others become a “force to be reckoned with.”

“WMU — nationally and on the state level — is stronger because of those who continue to see value in leadership training and development,” Fulbright said. “I personally, and on behalf of an organization that trained and nurtured me, am grateful.”

Click here for more information about the WMU Foundation’s Second Century Fund. 

This article first appeared in the February 2017 edition of Missions Mosaic