LOUISVILLE—Joy Bolton, champion of missionaries everywhere, is stepping down as leader of Kentucky Woman's Missionary Union after 19 years. She was honored at a retirement reception last Tuesday for her selfless leadership and unwavering promotion of missions education in Kentucky Baptist churches.
"She has been a blessing to Kentucky, a blessing to the kingdom and a great partner of the Kentucky Baptist Convention," said KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood.
Chitwood said Bolton has always sought to be a team player; the type of leader who celebrates achievements of the ministry and never self. She sees triumph when churches get involved in mission work, or when gifts to the Eliza Broadus State Missions Offering exceed expectations.
"It's never been about Joy," he said. "It's been about her Savior and His commission to the church. She has lived and served to that end."
Only 8 years into her role as Kentucky WMU executive director, Bolton saw the state missions offering top $1 million—and, she said, "we haven't looked back since."
Eric Allen, head of KBC's Missions Mobilization, said under Bolton's leadership, Kentucky WMU has been a strong partner and advocate for Kentucky missionaries.
"I am grateful that she has always been helpful and willing to collaborate, support and involve Kentucky WMU in ministry efforts like Operation Inasmuch, Christmas backpacks, Hospice buckets, hunger relief, pregnancy care, missionary retreats and disaster relief."
Allen said thanks to Bolton, new state missionaries are now commissioned each year at Kentucky WMU's annual meeting and the agency awards grants through the Eliza Broadus State Missions Offering to many Baptist associations for mission projects and ministries.
Bolton said Kentucky WMU is not only providing more missions-ready projects for churches, churches are contributing more to missionaries. Gifts to the Eliza Broadus Offering have increased nearly 40 percent since 1999.
Bolton believes she was cultivated for the WMU leadership position. Her father was a Baptist minister. Her mother, a church WMU director.
"My mother was a GA leader for many years when I was young," Bolton said. "She was never my group leader, but she taught the Intermediate GAs and they often met at our house. So, between the GAs gathered around the table or the missionaries who ate with us, I often say that I learned missions at my dining room table."
When she was 10 years old, Bolton said her GA leader challenged girls to learn the names of their state and national WMU leaders, "never in my life dreaming I would be one."
When the Southern Baptist Convention Woman's Missionary Union held its annual meeting in New Orleans in 1969, Bolton was one of girls enlisted to serve as a page.
She went on to serve as a summer intern at the national WMU office, published two books filled with ministry ideas, was an associational director, and served on the Maryland/Delaware Woman's Missionary Union executive board. But it wasn't until 1995 that her work in missions changed from a philanthropic passion to a full-time position.
"I owe a big thank you to Evelyn Blount," Bolton said of South Carolina's then-WMU executive director. "She gave me the opportunity of a lifetime."
Bolton said she was still serving with the South Carolina Baptist Convention WMU when a former co-worker named Bill Mackey encouraged her to seek the Kentucky job. Mackey recently had made the transition to serve as Kentucky Baptist Convention's executive director. He later retired in 2011.
During her time as head of the agency, Bolton saw growth in Kentucky WMU's missions influence in the state by taking on two ministries formerly under the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Kentucky Changers, a summer service-oriented ministry for students, and Creative Ministries Festival, which teaches Christians how to use skills like juggling or ventriloquism to share the gospel.
"We didn't have the budget for it, but we stepped out on faith that we could do it," Bolton said.
She considered it a compliment to be entrusted with the new ministries and eager to take on a new challenge, her staff managed to have Kentucky Changers up and running in six months.
With all the new growth in mission opportunities and increased awareness of the state offering for missionaries, Bolton said she has few regrets.
"I didn't write a biography of Eliza Broadus," Bolton said. "It's still on my list. She was a phenomenal woman."
One day, Bolton hopes to find time to sift through hundreds of documents archived at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary once owned by Eliza Broadus's father, John Broadus, and write a comprehensive book about the woman she calls "a spitfire."
Bolton has long held a fondness for writing and regularly used her blog, "Discover the Joy of Missions," to promote the Kingdom work made possible through contributions to state missions. She also chronicled the work God was doing in the lives of others during the many stateside and overseas mission trip she led.
"WMU engages people in learning about missions, praying and raising money for missions, and getting people to get involved in missions outside the four walls of the church," Bolton said. "I still think those are desperately needed and WMU continues to be a voice for that."
Bolton said she wants to make the transition to a new executive director as smooth as possible so the Kentucky WMU can continue its firm foundation of serving churches with their missions and ministry needs.
"That always was my philosophy," Bolton said. "I wanted Kentucky WMU to be the premiere provider of all things missions. If a church had a question, we would be their first stop."
Much like the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Bolton said God invested in her life through the Woman's Missionary Union and her prayer was to double that investment in the lives of others.
"To finish well, I'm grateful for that," Bolton said.
"Today we honor one to whom honor is due," Chitwood said during Bolton's reception at the Kentucky Baptist Building in Louisville.
A public reception will be held in Bolton's honor at Shelbyville's First Baptist Church on Friday, Oct. 26 beginning at 7 p.m.
"We will miss her," Chitwood said. "Not just for her advocacy of the Eliza Broadus Offering and her advocacy of the Cooperative Program, but because of her passion for seeing the gospel get to the nations has modeled what it means to be a Baptist leader in Kentucky." (KT)