LOUISVILLE—Last Monday, Joy Bolton passed the leadership baton of Kentucky Woman's Missionary Union to Liz Encinia.
Encinia, who was unanimously elected executive director-treasurer in August, previously was a missional lifestyle strategist for preschool, children and youth for WMU of Texas. She succeeds Bolton, who is stepping down after serving in the position for 19 years.
Born and raised in a small, South Texas town, Encinia has been a part of the WMU family "from the crib." Her grandmother was a WMU leader; her mom was a Girls in Action and Acteens leader; her Dad was pastor of a small Hispanic church and also served as Royal Ambassador leader.
"I saw missions lived out in my parents, and in the way that they ministered to people inside and outside of the church," Encinia recalled. "I've always sort of carried that with me in life."
In high school, she wanted to go share gospel and make a difference, but being part of a small church, she wasn't able to go overseas, she said. But she was able to do summer missions in a nearby city.
That experience "just birthed a love for missions," she said. "It also reminded me of what GAs had instilled in me, and missions became a bigger part of my life."
Encinia now can look back and see how God has been guiding her steps. "He's been at work this whole time in my life through the WMU in Texas—and nationally," she affirmed. "So, I'm excited about the things to come."
Her first week on the job has been "a whirlwind," she laughed. "There's lots of information to process, and yet it's been exciting at the same time," she added.
She has met with different team leaders on the Mission Board staff. "It's exciting in our conversations to see what the possibilities are, and how we could partner in the future," she said.
And, although it has been "like drinking out of fire hose," it's also been "one of those experiences where there is adrenaline behind it," she added. "Let's get started! Let's take action!"
What does the new executive director see as Job 1? "Right now, really seeking the Lord and what His direction for Kentucky WMU is.
"I don't want my agenda," she said. "I want to focus on what the Lord wants for Kentucky WMU, because He has the plan, and He already knows what the future looks like.
"I want to be obedient to what the Lord is calling us to do," Encinia added.
Since Bolton announced her retirement about a year ago, both she and Encinia have seen God working in their lives over the past few months.
"I cannot tell you the things that have happened in my life that I could never have imagined. How the calendar would just fall into place," Bolton said.
The timing has helped affirm her decision to retire, Bolton said, believing it to be "a personal sign of God's favor."
"It's just been a God thing," Encinia agreed. "If you had asked me last year if I would ever consider taking on the role of an executive director, I would have probably said no. I was nice and comfortable working with the age level groups, but the Lord had other plans."
Now, she can look back and see every area in which God has been preparing her. "It's been amazing," she said.
So, when the opportunity of an executive director position arose, she wasn't all that shocked. "I'd said, Lord, I think you're stirring. … I don't know what you're going to do, but my yes is on the table, and my hands are open," Encinia recalled.
The next day, she heard about the opening in Kentucky.
"Lord, I will fill out the application. I will follow the steps and get a resume together, and if you keep opening the doors, I'm going to keep following after you," she prayed.
Through the entire process though, she's had an unbelievable peace.
"I'm not nervous, because either way—if He chose to leave me in Texas, or if He chose to move me elsewhere—the goal is still the same: to help mobilize people to fulfill the Great Commission," she explained. "I would be fulling the Great Commission no matter what.
"Because I was ultimately called to His service, that was the umbrella to everything," she added.
She did tear up leaving her family in Texas, she admitted. Yet she knew everything would be alright.
"He (God) just reminded me, you have the best company: you're going with me," she said. "He just showered me with unbelievable peace."
When you submit everything to Him and you know you're going where God has called you, "It's just awesome!" she exclaimed. "I can't wait to see what He does, because I know He ultimately has the plans for Kentucky WMU.
"Until the Lord says the Great Commission is over, we have a command to go and make disciples of all nations," Encinia continued. "In WMU, our charge is to prepare preschoolers, children and adults, to give them the tools that they can be confident (in Christ) no matter what context."
As for Bolton, whose desire was for "a healthy handoff," she's going to be on the sidelines cheering, she said. "When it goes well for Kentucky WMU, I'm going to be excited," she said.
"My goal is for WMU to be solid and healthy, and for Liz to pick up and run with it," Bolton said. "God calls leaders for a season. … My season here is done, and I'm handing it off to Liz, because God's called her here for a season."
Both agree the smooth transition has been a blessing, and each looks forward to discovering what God has next.
"To me the Lord is like (saying). 'Just follow me; follow my guidance; Seek after me with your heart, and I will lead you,'" Liz nodded. "I get asked the question often, What's your agenda? I don't have one, because I'm looking for His agenda." (WR)