Eighteen years after being featured in promotional materials for Eliza Broadus, two friends are still working for Jesus and ready to encourage others around the state to give to this important missions offering.
In 2002, Ruthie Jo (White) Wise and Don Shephard were asked by Joy Bolton, then-Kentucky WMU executive director-treasurer, to be included on the poster promoting the offering using the theme "Big Hands, Little Hands Across Kentucky." Bolton chose to feature the biggest and littlest hands she knew, and it so happened that they belonged to two best friends.
The Bolton, Shephard and White families were friends and church members at Shelbyville First Baptist Church. Three-year-old Ruthie would often find Shephard at church and ask him to hold her and tell her stories about Jesus.
"I always loved Don so much," Wise explained. "When I was little, in my nightly prayers I would pray for Don as well as an older man at church who helped with the church nursery. Don was always so sweet to me, like a grandpa."
"I remember being at the hospital holding Ruthie on the day she was born, so I have literally known her all her life," said Shephard. "I have enjoyed watching her grow through the years. She is such a blessing to so many people."
When Bolton approached them, both were excited to help.
Two days before the scheduled photo shoot, Ruthie fell at her local playground and broke her arm. But even at her young age, she remembers understanding that the posters would help churches remember to give money for missionaries who worked in Kentucky.
"I was really proud to do it," explained Wise. "I always had a heart for Kentucky missions, thanks to my church and my family who prioritized those things."
Then the poster photo shoot day approached. "All I remember was going to the park and my siblings were playing on the swings and I was crying because I wanted to play, but I had to get my picture taken," explained Wise. "But I was with Don, so I guess he ended up making me laugh, of course, which is how we got the picture."
Larry Brannin, media services director for the KBC, still remembers that day well as he captured that poster image from a video he shot of Shephard and Wise. "I knew immediately that (image) would be a keeper. The two of them were so cute together. He was such a big guy and yet he was such a kind-hearted fellow. You could see the love he had for that little girl in his eyes. It was obvious to me that these two were a perfect representative of the EBO theme and I was thrilled to be a part of it for many years."
When EBO was collected that year, the giving increased almost $44,000 above the previous year! The offering supports a multitude of Kentucky ministries.
Bolton said that the importance of EBO continues in 2020 as it did in 2002.
"EBO is vital for raising support for Kentucky missions. Much of the money raised through the offering is administered by the KBC evangelism and missions mobilization teams," she said.
"The Cooperative Program puts people in place, but it is EBO that provides the ministry dollars. EBO also provides grants to smaller ministries that apply directly to Kentucky WMU for funding," Bolton continued. "In many cases, these are relatively small amounts, but to these ministries, the funds make a big impact."
"It's very important for Kentucky Baptist churches to keep emphasizing giving. It's what's taken the gospel across the world," said Wise.
That wasn't the first or last time Wise and Shephard would serve God — as individuals or together. And it won't be the last time EBO makes an impact on Kentuckians who need the gospel.
The past two decades, Shephard has worked as a Sunday School teacher and mentor to many youth at First Baptist Church in Shelbyville. He serves in the church kitchen on many occasions and said he desires to see men come to a saving knowledge of Christ.
Wise started piano lessons when her cast came off, then started harp lessons in middle school and voice in high school. She participated in the KBC's All-State Youth Choir and Orchestra and went on to receive her degree from a flagship Southern Baptist school, Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. During college, she worked as a music intern at Englewood Baptist under Travis Cottrell. She now serves in churches by providing harp, piano and vocal music as well as music lessons for children.
"Our 'Big Hands, Little Hands' photo shoot was so much fun and has always been a special memory in my life," explained Shephard. "I am thankful for the inspiration my and Ruthie's relationship was to so many to see the value of passing on God's love through giving to the EBO from one generation to another."
And the Eliza Broadus Offering will continue to be a crucial statewide initiative to encourage and support biblical mission work from the mountains to the Mississippi.
"Each year, we support over 200 ministries and ministry efforts through the Eliza Broadus Offering," explained Liz Encinia, current WMU executive director-treasurer.
"When we come together with our offerings, we not only help support ministry work, but we rally together to support lives being changed through the gospel of Christ," Encinia said.
Marina Shelton is social media and web associate for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.