January 26, 2000

Wanda Lee named
executive director for WMU

___By Bob Allen
___Associated Baptist Press
___TALLADEGA, Ala. (ABP)--Woman's Missionary Union President Wanda Lee was "pretty emphatic" when she told a search committee last year she wasn't interested in the organization's top executive job.
___ "There was no way," she related to the WMU executive board Jan. 22.
___ In time, however, she said she came to believe it was God's will for her to reconsider.
___ "All I have ever wanted to do is be where God wanted me to be and to do what he
wanted me to do," the registered nurse and former missionary said hours after her election as seventh executive director of the Southern Baptist Convention auxiliary.
___ Lee, 50, of Columbus, Ga., will assume the post March 1. She succeeds Dellanna O'Brien, who retired last September.
___ Lee was elected unanimously at a called meeting of the WMU executive board in Birmingham, Ala. That evening, she addressed the board at a regularly scheduled meeting at Shocco Springs Conference Center near Talladega, Ala.
___ Lee, who appointed the executive-director search committee a year ago, said she saw her role as an elected officer to act as a bridge between O'Brien and her successor.
___ When first asked by the committee if she wanted the job, Lee said she was flattered but, "I knew I could not do it," and she had a list of reasons why.
___ When it became apparent that a new leader would not be found before O'Brien's retirement date, Lee began sitting in on management meetings at WMU's national headquarters in Birmingham.
___ She said it was in the midst of a painful decision last November--when WMU announced cost-saving moves resulting in the loss of 39 jobs--that "God began to speak to me in ways (I) hadn't heard before."
___ She said she confessed in her prayers, as she had done before, that she felt inadequate for the job. Then, she continued, it was as if God answered: "You finally got the point. I don't want you to do it. I want to do it through you."
___ Rather than going to the search committee, Lee waited to see if they would reapproach her.
___ "I told God if he wanted me to do this he would have to show beyond a shadow of a doubt," she said. "He would have to reveal it to the committee, and they would have to reopen the door. Then I would know for certain it was his will and not mine."
___ Since she previously had told the committee "no" in strong terms, Lee said she had no reason to expect them to ask again. At a meeting of the search committee two weeks later, Lee began to conclude that God was simply asking her to be willing to take the job and not actually to do it. Suddenly, a committee member stopped the discussion, looked at Lee and said she felt compelled to ask if God had done anything to change her mind.
___ "It was one of those moments when I knew God was at work and I had better listen," she recalled.
___ "I realize God has called me to do this," she said. "I will do it to the best of my ability."
___ The Shocco Springs audience, which included former executive directors O'Brien and Alma Hunt, responded to Lee's election with enthusiasm.
___ "I have felt from the beginning that Wanda had all the characteristics necessary for this position," O'Brien said. Lee brings "a real compassion for the lost and hurting people of the world," O'Brien said, and has "a good head on her shoulders."
___ Joy Fenner, executive director of Texas WMU, called Lee "a courageous and visionary leader" who will build on the past.

___ Search-committee chairwoman Ann Coffman of Sanford, Fla., pointed out that Lee has experience as president at both the state and national levels. She was president of Georgia's WMU from 1993 to 1996. She has been a pastor's wife and a Southern Baptist missionary, serving in the Leeward Islands between 1979 and 1981. The family left the mission field because of a child's asthma.
___ "Wanda's vision and leadership will determine the direction of Woman's Missionary Union as it enters the new century," Coffman said.
___ Lee's election comes as the 112-year-old auxiliary struggles to find ways to attract younger members amid declining membership and sales of materials. Nationally, WMU receives no funding through the SBC's unified budget, the Cooperative Program, and earns most of its support through product sales.
___ There also are lingering effects of the SBC controversy between conservatives and moderates. WMU purposely stayed out of that fight, to the chagrin of some SBC leaders who have questioned their loyalty to the so-called "conservative resurgence." The WMU executive board declared in 1993 that the organization would work with all Southern Baptists.
___ Along with its traditional role of promoting SBC missions, the auxiliary has in the last decade branched into new ministries including a job corps to help low-income women and hands-on volunteer missions opportunities. They also have expanded their publishing arm and established a WMU Foundation, which last year took in more than $1 million.
___ Lee said WMU has "many challenges for the future," but the women who started the organization in 1888 also faced challenges in order to "stir up the churches" on behalf of missions.
___ "I don't believe for one moment that we have completely accomplished the task (God) has called us to," she said. "As a matter of fact, I believe God is issuing that call more loudly than ever before, and he is waiting to see if we will allow him to work through us."
___ Born in Russellville, Ala., Lee grew up in Michigan and south Florida before returning to Russellville during her junior year in high school. She holds a nursing degree from Samford University.
___ Since April 1982, Lee has worked as a registered nurse at St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, Ga.
___ Her husband, Larry, is a former pastor who now is an endorsed chaplain and director of pastoral care for the Columbus Regional Health Care System.
___ Their children, Allison and Matthew, both live in Birmingham. Allison graduates from Cumberland Law School at Samford University in May and is engaged to be married in November. Matthew graduates from Samford University in May with a degree in biochemistry.
___ In accepting the position, Lee recounted the spiritual journey she and her family had traveled and her struggle in recent weeks with the sacrifices her election would bring for her husband and children.
___ But, she said: "I remembered another time in our lives when he asked us to do that very thing, and I was reminded of how God provided everything we needed during our time as missionaries. I knew he would do it again."
___ A new WMU national president will be elected this summer.


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