Commentary: A coal miner's daughter shares about the impact of the Woman's Missionary Union


Miners always filled the bottom of the lunch bucket with water so that if they were trapped underneath the ground, they would have water to live on for a couple days. And every night before my dad got on the elevator to ascend 200 feet to the top, he would throw out the water in his lunch bucket and fill it up with miner dollars, or pyrite disks. He wasn’t stealing. This was allowed by the coal mine.

These pyrite disks can only be found in one place in the United States, and that’s southern Illinois. And they’re usually about three or four inches in diameter. And every night, daddy would bring home those pyrite disks and he would clean them with a toothbrush. They’re pretty fragile.

One time there was a special offering at our church, and my dad pledged $1,000 to it.

One thousand dollars. You might as well have said a million dollars. We were poor. But my daddy had a plan using these miner dollars. Here’s what he did in his spare time—he crafted 100 tiny shovels, and he crafted 100 tiny picks out of wood. And he made 100 tiny replicas of miner dollars. Then, he created a display to put them on, along with tiny pieces of coal and a miner dollar. He spent hour after hour painstakingly making these hundred displays with incredible sacrifice.

He sold them for $10 each. He had made 100, and he was able to complete his $1,000 pledge to the special mission offering at our church.

Who does that?! People who are committed to being on mission.

Together, we must pass on the missional disciplines of sacrifice and generosity. And that’s what the people of the Midwest did for me. WMU does that by making disciples of missions among every age group.

WMU was birthed at the request of the mission boards to work with mission societies and to systematically raise money for missions. And so WMU began the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. In our 135-year history, we always try to call Baptists to generosity. That tiny Southern Baptist church had 25 people who were passionate about Southern Baptist missions.

In a recent webinar, I was asked, “What do you think is the benefit of WMU for the local church?”

And as I prepared for that interview, I pulled out a notebook that I had written in when I was a teenager, when I was involved in a missions group in that tiny church in southern Illinois. And as a teenager, I wrote on the very first page an essay titled, “Why I am a tither.” That notebook made it through 45 years and nine moves, and it reminds me of people who invested in me and the powerful lessons that I learned from faithful Christ followers.

1. I learned that everything comes from God, and I have a responsibility to steward well that which was entrusted into my care.

2. I learned about gospel proclamation every Wednesday night after we met in my group, which was me and the pastor’s wife. We went out in the community and knocked on doors and witnessed. She taught me how to share my faith.

3. I learned a Christian worldview and that there was a whole world that God was at work in beyond the walls of my church.

4. I learned compassion. We did hands-on ministry, and we nurtured the spiritual discipline of compassion in our lives.

5. I learned about prayer. I was taught what prayer is and how to pray according to God’s will and how to pray for our missionaries.

6. I developed a heart for the nations. I discovered that I was a part of something larger than my tiny community in southern Illinois.

7. I learned about leadership. WMU equipped me for leadership in my church and my association at the state level, at the national level. As a young adult, WMU leaders invited me to come along and to take responsibility. And when I failed, they encouraged me to try again.

8. WMU taught me to have a ready response, to listen for God’s call on my life. My continued involvement enables me to set my heart toward what one WMU leader called predetermined obedience. Whatever God asks, my answer is “yes.”

9. WMU gave me a passion for missions, to develop a missional lifestyle.

WMU seeks to come alongside the church and to help you accomplish the mission of God. Our desire is to see all age levels engaged, equipped, and motivated for missions. Would your church benefit if members knew about God’s work around the world through Southern Baptist missions? We can help. What would happen in your church if people were praying more, if they were giving more generously, if they were doing missions and they were telling others about Jesus? We can help.

We make disciples of Jesus who live on mission. That’s what we do. That’s all we do. And it is our sacred joy to do it in partnership with you.


At the recent Midwest Leadership Summit in Springfield, Woman’s Missionary Union national executive director-treasurer Sandy Wisdom-Martin shared her story of missions legacy and learning set by her father and the small Illinois Baptist church where she grew up. This column is taken from the transcript of her message, and first appeared in the Illinois Baptist.