Woman's Missionary Union, a staple institution in Southern Baptist life, has a widespread reputation for its emphasis on missions education and urgency to fulfill the Great Commission. This is especially true in Kentucky. Liz Encinia, Kentucky WMU executive director-treasurer for over a year, shares her vision for WMU to become an even greater voice for missions.
Vision for WMU
Encinia began her role by analyzing Kentucky WMU as a whole — where its missions education is most effective, where there is decline, why churches are or aren't embracing WMU and even how pastors play a role in WMU curriculum support.
While optimistic about the growth of WMU in the state, Encinia recognizes there has been decline in WMU participation the past several years. She and her team have met with pastors and associational leaders the past year to investigate the reasons.
"If we see that there is a decline in church life with WMU organizations, then that also has to make us look internally and see what's going on here that is missing the mark," said Encinia.
"Back in the '50s, '60s, when missions education was at its all-time high, (WMU's structure) worked. But we see how 'church' has changed over the years, and yet WMU hasn't really moved from that framework."
A major reason WMU curriculum is crucial in churches is to train children to be disciples, explained Encinia. "
"When I was a younger, being in church, you had Sunday evening and Wednesday activities that were specific to discipleship. Basically, it was designed to teach you how to be a Christian. There was scripture memory. We were taught how to tithe. There were all these things you were taught that aren't being taught today. There are missing gaps. In today's world, we're pulling teeth to get young people to give. If you were trained in that years ago, then you would know. But that's missing." Encinia and Kentucky WMU have been researching different curricula and events that will help fortify and encourage missions education in new ways. She emphasized the need to expose children to missions at a young age to prepare and educate them for their ministry later in life.
"If you look at our older IMB and North American missionaries, they will all say, 'I remember I was called to the mission field when I was a GA or when I was an RA.' They value that training because, even as children, it helped prepare them mentally for the mission field. We hear from them every year at national events and they always share that if it wasn't for these groups, their lives would be different because of that education they got as a child," reminded Encinia.
Encinia shared a story of an Acteen group in Texas. "WMU had an emphasis on a ministry called Project Help that was focused on human exploitation. One of our Acteen groups realized that at big, huge sporting events, a lot of sex trafficking happens."
Around that time, Formula 1 racing moved to Austin, Texas. The girls had just learned about human trafficking and knew trafficking likely would happen as a result of these sporting events. To help prevent this, the girls made bracelets and T-shirts to raise awareness. With the help of their leaders, they took flyers into bars in the area to make sure patrons were aware of the plight of human trafficking and what to watch for.
Encinia continued, "They even encouraged their parents and adults at the church to prayer walk the parking lot of Formula 1 and adopted a ministry that was helping victims of sex trafficking."
These girls, because they were exposed to missions education, were aware of the need and met it in the name of Jesus, explained Encinia. She uses that example to show the importance of WMU curriculum.
"Missions education is vital in the life of a church," seconded Linda Cooper, a Bowling Green resident who is president of the national WMU. "We believe the Great Commission is a mandate to all believers thus the need to make disciples. That's what we do in WMU — we make disciples of Jesus who live on mission."
Eric Allen, missions mobilization team leader at the KBC, echoed this. "Missions education is critical. People can't respond by praying, giving or going if they're unaware of the needs or don't know about those missionaries who are sharing the gospel."
To solidify discipleship and missions lessons that are neglected in the local church, Encinia suggested getting back to the basics of the Christian faith — setting educational benchmarks to ensure every student leaves WMU programming with proficiency in the spiritual disciplines and hands-on missions experiences. They've termed this "essential knowledge, attitudes and skills."
Encinia also outlined the three "stepping stones" toward achieving missions literacy and application: Mission Friends (preschoolers); RAs, GAs and Children in Action (elementary); and Acteens, Challengers and Youth on Mission (high school).
What's new with WMU
There are a few new things in store for WMU in the next year. "Missions Adventures for Kentucky Kids" is rebranding to "Changers Kids" to help with first introductions to missions experiences. Kentucky WMU is partnering with SEND Relief Center in the South Bronx, called Graffiti 2, and Montana WMU for missions projects in the next few years.
The Kentucky WMU magazine named Equip was previously published once a year, but is now going to be a quarterly product. Encinia wants people know what is happening at WMU national, state and local levels and share what God is doing through the ministry. She thinks the quarterly editions will help accomplish that.
Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong and Eliza Broadus offerings continue to increase and have helped support thousands of missionaries across the globe. Encinia praised this and is hopeful these funds will be used to send out more missionaries from Kentucky who have been inspired by WMU programming.
Kentucky WMU Annual Meeting and Missions Celebration
The Kentucky WMU Annual Meeting and Missions Celebration will be to First Baptist Richmond April 17-18. Missionaries from the IMB and NAMB will attend and new Kentucky Baptist missionaries will be commissioned at this event. "Think of it as a big missions celebration plus workshops and speakers," said Encinia.
Nik and Ruth Ripken, retired IMB missionaries of 35 years, will be keynote speakers. Andrew Mann, a SEND Relief missionary from the South Bronx, and Todd Gray, KBC executive director-treasurer, will also be speaking. The worship leaders are Hollye and Justin Hornsby.
This meeting will also be a celebration of Acteens 50th birthday. "If any former Acteens want to join us, we'll have a celebration," said Encinia. There will also be an exhibit area where attendees can engage with other missions organizations and investigate how they can partner in God's global mission.
The theme of the annual meeting is "All In: Pursuing God's Mission Together," based on Luke 9:23-24. Registration is now open.
How you can pray for and partner with WMU
Encinia says she believes God is about to grow and expand the reach of WMU in Kentucky. "We don't know what that is yet," she said. But she asks Kentucky Baptists to pray for the future of WMU and engage with the events and programming in the upcoming year. "Former executive director Joy Bolton laid a great foundation for Liz to build upon," said Cooper. "Liz comes to Kentucky WMU with great energy to move forward as we make disciples of Jesus who live on mission."
John Barnett, missions strategist at the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said it is Encinia's "passion for Christ and her desire and willingness to collaborate with the local church" that will make her a successful visionary in her position.
Barnett, Allen and Cooper emphasized the importance of being involved in local missions, teaching the younger generation the importance of missions and sharing the gospel. They also encouraged Kentucky Baptists to pray for the efforts of Kentucky WMU in 2020.
"Pray for WMU to continue to promote the work of ministries and missionaries in Kentucky and around the world, and encourage others to serve," said Teresa Parrett, missions mobilization coordinator at the KBC.
Above all, Encinia says she is excited about helping Kentucky Baptists engage in missions education and prepare to fulfill the Great Commission. "We want to support churches and come alongside them."
Marina Shelton reports for the Western Recorder. She is associate for web and social media communications for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.