Published July 1, 2019
"I can really see His hand"—those are words spoken frequently and fervently by Linda Cooper, reflecting on God's work in her life from the days of her youth until now as she begins her fifth year as president of the national Woman's Missionary Union (WMU).
"I see His hand in the most minute of things," said Cooper, a Bowling Green resident who is the only Kentuckian to hold the national WMU presidency.
"I chuckle sometimes about it. The only way I can serve is for Him to equip men in every step."
Cooper said serving the Lord and telling people about Him involves using what the Lord has gifted you with.
"There are simple things we can do to show Christ—a smile, your accent — everything is simple. God puts these opportunities in our path," she observed.
For instance, in Alaska, her Southern accent was embraced. She was in a restaurant when a man, overhearing her conversation, asked where she was from. She told him, prompting him to ask why she was in Alaska. That allowed her the opportunity to tell him about Christ and to ask if the man knew Jesus. "We had that exchange—all because of my accent."
And a smile will open a door. "I was getting ready to board a 17-hour flight and a man noticed me smiling. He said I looked 'awfully happy' for someone getting ready for go on such a long flight." That opened the door for her to tell him, "When you have the love of Jesus you can smile."
She embraces the scriptural truth (Luke 12:48) that to whom much is given, much is required.
"In Africa there are people who have never heard of Christ. Here we have a church on every corner, but we need to tell people about Christ. In my county, we have 93,000 people who are unchurched. We have to start being the church in our everyday lives—sharing Jesus wherever we go. We are going to answer for the opportunities He gives us. I want to be found faithful. We have to get to the point where we ask 'so what' (when people wonder about us because we witness).
"I've prayed with people in grocery stores and in Walmart. I was in a grocery store when I saw two international students and could tell they had a problem. They were checking out and didn't have enough money, so I said to put it on mine. They were able to dig up enough money and left the store."
When she exited the store, it was dark, but she saw two men walking toward her.
"They asked, 'why did you do that?' I said, 'Because I know Jesus Christ.' While they responded that they didn't believe, I told them 'Jesus Christ helped me do that.'" Then she challenged them to read the New Testament, to go to the book of John and allow it to speak to them. "I gave them my card and I pray that they found Him, so that when they return to their (home) country they can be missionaries for Christ."
Praying for discernment
When she served as national recording secretary, the question was asked: Can we elect her as president?
"My head spun around, but I had a whole year to pray and seek," Cooper said. "I prayed more fervently than I ever had. It is a calling. I prayed God would not shut the door, but slam if it was not for me. I wanted it to be crystal clear. God said you've been praying. I have not slammed it, I've opened it. I wanted it to be clear as clear could be and He did that."
As the first Kentuckian to serve as national WMU president, Cooper said prayer is vital to serving.
"I have prayed that God would give me the words and stories and when I listen to Him, it is amazing that a song someone sang would go right along with what I was saying. We serve the coolest God ever. I had one man who asked me after I spoke, 'what corner of the deacons meeting were you in. You spoke just what this church needed to hear.' I had no idea what was going on in the church. I can't tell you how many times that has happened, when someone says 'I needed to hear that.'"
Getting to 'the end of me'
As opportunities were presented for state and national leadership positions, Cooper said the Lord helped her deal with issues of perfectionism and control. "He has gotten me so to the end of me; He wants to be in control. As a human, we want to be in control, but He says 'I can do it through you.' He wants us to get to where we depend on Him totally. That's what I do and what I so enjoy."
Cooper, who works three days a week as a registered dental hygienist in addition to her WMU duties, grew up in Tompkinsville in a family which valued the church. "I grew up in church—there was no question if we were going. It was a little country church, Rock Bridge Missionary Baptist Church." She and her three sisters sang together as the "Carter Sisters" —whenever there was a fifth Sunday singing, you could count on Linda Fay, Brenda Mae, Loretta Gay and Leslie Kay to be included. Linda played the piano as well.
"I had an ear for music, and was frustrated when I tried to play by note," she recalls. "So I quit lessons and played by ear."
In high school, Linda was captain of the varsity cheerleading squad, then went on to attend Western Kentucky University, where she earned a degree in dental hygiene, fulfilling a goal that began in the third grade. Her uncle was a dentist, and she knew at that early age what her career path would be. While at WKU, she was the top clinician in her class as well as class president. "I can see how God was preparing me," she said.
Her church didn't offer programs such as GAs or Acteens, but when she married at age 21, her mother-in-law invited her to a Baptist Women's meeting—and that invitation fueled a life-long desire for mission work. Soon a Baptist Young Women's organization began at her church.
"I was hooked," she said."It opened up the lostness of the world to me. I jumped in with both feet."
She served as president of the Forest Park Baptist Church WMU group. When she participated in state training, it wasn't long until she was asked to serve on the Kentucky WMU board. That was a three-year term, then after rotating off for one year, she served another three years. Not long afterwards, she was asked to consider being president of the Kentucky WMU. She agreed, and that acceptance resulted in her participating often in domestic and international missions opportunities.
"The Kentucky president was invited many places and spoke a lot — that prepared me well for the position I now have," she said.
After serving a four-year term as state president, she was chosen as national WMU recording secretary. Then she was elected national president, and began her fifth year in that position last month—giving her 10 years of consecutive high-level leadership experience.
"While I have a platform and they're listening, I want to share Jesus. I never turn down speaking engagements—time is fleeting, it's going by fast. Maybe they won't remember I was president, but I want them to remember I love Jesus and shared Him with the people I met along the way."
In an interview done by national WMU when Cooper was introduced as its president, the story was told of an event in Henderson when Linda noticed one lady in a wheelchair, bent forward, with a blank expression on her face. "I prayed that maybe something I would say would speak to her. When I began sharing the verses that lead someone to Christ, one by one I began the verse and she completed it — every time! I was so surprised. When I finished and all questions had been answered, I went over to her wheelchair, squatted down beside her and asked where she learned all those scriptures. She immediately said she learned them as a GA. Here she was, a woman in her 80s who appeared to have memory issues, yet because someone took the time to teach her in GAs many years ago, it never left her memory. What we are doing in WMU matters. It matters for eternity."
Dental hygienist work
This month marks the 40th year that Cooper has worked in the same dental practice.
"When I entered the job market, it was the only job in the area," she recalls. "It is in Smith's Grove — just a dot on the map. But I interviewed and got the job. The practice is owned by a Christian couple and we pray before work every day.
"I can talk about Jesus — I tell people I have a sharp instrument and a captive audience — they're going to hear about my Jesus. Until we live Christ every day, they are not going to know Him."
Linda and her husband, Jim, have two adult children — a daughter, Jamie, who lives in Florida, and a son, Brad, who lives in Bowling Green. They have four grandchildren. She and Jim met in March 1979, two months later were engaged and then married in July.
Jim is a college women's softball umpire, and travels extensively from February through May, and also officiates high school basketball. "When I was first elected, I went to Alaska, then to Hawaii. He felt God's call to go with me to those two," Linda quips.
Valuable life lesson
Linda's father, an elementary school principal, often told his daughters that if something is worth doing, then it is worth doing right. That advice has stuck with her, calling to her attention Col. 3:23: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters."
She and Sandy Wisdom-Martin, national WMU executive director-treasurer, have just written a devotional book "On the Journey." It consists of 30 devotionals and debuted at June's SBC annual meeting. It is Cooper's first book.
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