Thursday, December 15, 2011

December 15 - Annie Armstrong, Layperson, Advocate for Missions, Founder of the Women's Missionary Union

Annie Armstrong had a Baptist pedigree that many other Baptists may have envied. Her immediate family was intimately involved in church life in Baltimore, Maryland. Her ancestors had been Baptists about as far back as anybody could remember and her father's great-grandfather had been a man who helped establish the first Baptist church in Maryland: Henry Satre. In other words, Annie was very familiar with the life of the Church and the roles that it filled in the lives of those around her. Yet, it wasn't until she was nineteen (four years after the end of the United States of America's Civil War) that she finally had an experience she would call "being born again." This moment was a significant one for her and was a leap forward in her conversion away from the powers of this world to Lord of All Creation. Shortly thereafter, she left that first congregation--Seventh Street Baptist Church--and was a charter member in a new congregation: Eutlaw Place Church. The pastor at the time was a man with a heart for missions who preached about a need to go into the world and meet the needs of a people that live in darkness because of a calling upon the lives of the members to reflect the light of their Lord and Savior. This was a message that Annie heard loud and clear.

The Baptists of Annie's day were loosely confederated in conventions and associations. The typically independent Baptists convened and associated for missions purposes, at first. They became increasingly aware that they could do more good for the world and meet more needs if they'd work together. Annie was involved in these efforts early on. While in Baltimore, she became intimately associated with a variety of people with a variety of needs regardless of social or racial identity. As a follower of Jesus, Annie felt called to associate with those that many in the nation looked down upon and resented.

In 1888, Annie met with a group of women from many Baptist churches to address the question of female involvement in missions throughout the world. They were aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and organized a group that worked through the denominational structure to encourage women to think about their faith in terms of missions.This group would eventually be called the Women's Missionary Union (WMU) and Annie would be its first director. Her early efforts for missions involved writing many letters--Annie is said to have written over 17,500 letters in one year--and providing a loving hand and a hospitable environment to children and the lonely, disenfranchised masses. The SBC wanted to pay her a salary for her efforts to raise missions awareness among Baptists but she refused not only the salary but also reimbursements for any of her expenses. She insisted that her work was a calling and labor of love.

Annie eventually resigned from her position of leadership because of a fear that her work was paving a pathway for the ordination of women--an issue she was stridently opposed to--and Annie never worked with the WMU again. She continued to live a life of emphasis on mission work but stuck to her convictions and abandoned the organization she had helped to establish. Yet, near the end of her life (a few years before the beginning of the Second World War and in the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the WMU) she offered a blessing for the WMU and shared her hope that it would continue to grow stronger and stronger each year.

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