In a time of reconstruction in America, Southern Baptist Women led the charge for women to be leading figures for both domestic and foreign missions. This was a time when women weren’t allowed to vote or speak out — and more importantly, a time when southern women didn’t. The civil war had just ended. Their husbands’ land had been demolished. Everyone in the south was undergoing the consequences of the war. Southern women were home makers just trying to put their homes back together.
But that didn’t stop the Southern Baptist Women of Baltimore, Maryland from encouraging women all over the South to keep mite boxes in their homes for domestic and foreign missions. By 1875, the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention — all male at the time — had agreed to provide mite boxes for any Southern Baptist home willing to participate.
And it didn’t stop there! Over the next five years, the idea that Southern Baptist Women should organize beyond the level of the local church grew stronger. Even Southern Baptist men recognized the potential of the passion for missions behind these mite boxes. By 1880, women joined their husbands on the trip to the annual SBC meeting, which they had previously not been invited to attend. Women of the SBC began having their own meeting as a part of the events of the convention.
In 1887, the women’s meeting of the convention began to entertain the idea of a Southern Baptist committee of women for the purpose of greater efficiency in missions. The next year, the convention voted to form such a committee, and in 1890, it adopted the name of the “Women’s Missionary Union, Auxiliary of the Southern Baptist Convention”. Today, the WMU is the convention’s only auxiliary unit, and without it, the convention wouldn’t have the impact that it does today.
Southern Baptist Women have been revolutionizing the way the church does missions since the 1870’s. Armed with the purpose of educating all age groups about missions and with the hope of connecting individuals of the church with missions opportunities, the WMU has a presence in nearly every Southern Baptist church.
The spirit of WMU is probably best embodied by one of its early members, who began changing the way the church does missions at the 19. Annie Armstrong’s first experience with church missions happened when she was 19, after she joined a team from her church that set out to start another church. For 50 years, she taught “the Infant Class”, her church’s program for children all the way through the age of 12. At the same time, she ministered to mothers, immigrants, African Americans, the poor, the sick, etc. All of these groups are examples of groups that no one else in society wanted to deal with.
Today, the WMU has created WorldCrafts, a company that employs and sells the art of artists from third world countries. This gives these people a way to support their family and it gives missionaries the opportunity to reach these people.
When Annie Armstrong was in her late twenties, her heart broke for Native Americans who were being forced from their native lands onto reservations. She vowed to everything she could to help after realizing how unfair it was that local churches had the means to support the poor but frontier churches did not have the resources to help the Native Americans. She organized an effort for her home church and other local churches to collect clothes for the Native American Students at the Levering Manual Labor School, a ministry that continued throughout the reminder of her life. She made several trips to the Oklahoma reservation where she shared the love and Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Native women.
In 1888, she helped create the WMU and served as the organization’s first corresponding secretary, which could be equivalent to the executive director position today. She did this job until 1906, always refusing to be paid for her work with WMU. During this time, she wrote many letters to Southern Baptist Churches and Southern Baptist foreign societies. One one occasion these letters asked for contribution to a Christmas offering which would later be known as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering because it raise enough money to send three missionaries to China to assist IMB missionary Lottie Moon.
In 1934, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering was established in her honor to reflect the efforts she made to raise money for the Home Mission Board so that it didn’t have to recall missionaries from the field.
Annie Armstrong began to change the world at 19. As a young woman, she let the compassion and love of Jesus Christ lead her to help start an organization for missions led by women. Her passion for missions has outlived her life. Her life is an example for 19 year old Christian girls today — you don’t have to be grown up to live out the mission of Jesus. To college aged women today — you don’t have to have it all together to make an impact.
Because a girl your age helped start the WMU. A girl just like you inspired other women to lead the charge for church missions. A girl like you educated hundreds of children about Jesus and efforts of missionaries everywhere. A girl like you established ministries to people others were afraid to minister too.
A girl like you changed the world.
**information provided by the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Deleware.