‘On mission and making a difference’

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NORTH PORT—It’s not just a nostalgic memory; it’s the future of missions for local churches, Irene Owens-Sharrett believes.

With just 32 faithful women, the national Woman’s Missionary Union was founded in 1888 for the purposes of collecting funds for the then-Foreign Mission Board (International Mission Board) and the then-Home Mission Board (North American Mission Board) and promoting a missionary spirit within the Southern Baptist Convention. Through the years, the WMU’s focus on missions education and personal missions involvement has led the way in equipping Southern Baptists to carry out the Great Commission.

Despite not having the rich history of the national WMU, in 2019 a dozen enthusiastic women at Liberty Community Church, a member of Peace River Baptist Association in southwest Florida, decided they wanted to carry the baton of missions and missions education by creating their own WMU group.

“God just laid it on my heart that the church I’d been at for years needed a WMU group,” said Owens-Sharrett, founder of Liberty’s WMU group. “I had a burden to support missions and began educating our women on what it means to be Southern Baptist.”

With support and encouragement from church leaders, the group has been serving those outside its four walls for four years. Desiring to carry out the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, the group also has promoted Southern Baptists’ two annual missions offerings. Even with the COVID shutdown soon after the WMU group’s launch, the women have persevered.

The 12 active members of Liberty’s WMU group have raised awareness for the annual North American Mission Board’s Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the International Mission Board’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. By utilizing prayer prompts, videos and other resources, the faithful church of about 40 members has always exceeded its financial goal for the missions offerings.

“We’ve been at least doubling or exceeding our financial goals,” she said. “Our church is so missions-minded.”

The group also adopts a missions project once a quarter. With numerous local options for serving people in the community, the group is “amazed” at the number of compassion ministries sponsored by WMU, such as Christian Job Corps, WorldCrafts, Project HELP, Baptist Nursing Fellowship, and Pure Water, Pure Love.

“We are amazed at everything under the umbrella of WMU,” said Owens-Sharrett. “These projects are a great way to expose women to the various things Southern Baptist women can do.”

Over the past several years, the group has hosted a WMU Tea to educate women about missions, make missions-conscious purchases from WorldCrafts and support Pregnancy Solutions by volunteering weekly and hosting a baby shower.

By focusing on one mission project a quarter, the group has been able to serve and reach far beyond what the women could ever imagine—right from their homes.

In 2022 the WMU group led the entire church to participate in a Christmas in August project to serve a NAMB missionary who leads a small group of children and youth in Waterloo, Wisconsin. Church members, including children, collected, packed up and shipped art supplies, Bibles, crayons, towels, balloons, soccer balls and spiral notebooks to the missionary as an answer to his prayer.

‘Women are realizing that you don’t have to be a paid missionary serving around the world in order to be on mission and making a difference.’

Irene Owens-Sharrett Founder of Woman’s Missionary Union group at Liberty Baptist Church, North Port

“Women are realizing that you don’t have to be a paid missionary serving around the world in order to be on mission and making a difference,” said Owens-Sharrett.

The missions-minded emphasis of the WMU group has not only served others, but also has strengthened the local church, Owens-Sharrett believes.

“We have seen that this WMU group has united our church as we seek to work together in order to accomplish these various projects,” she said. “The participation of the church plays a vital role.”

“The WMU is truly a program that unites.”

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