BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) -- Declaring that "the story of my life cannot be told without Acteens," Sandy Wisdom-Martin welcomed current and former Acteens and leaders from across the nation to an Acteens for Life dinner last Friday.
The event at national Woman's Missionary Union headquarters in Birmingham, Ala., kicked off Acteens' 50th anniversary celebration.
WMU's missions organization for teenage girls in grades 7 through 12 was launched in 1970. The yearlong celebration will culminate at Blume, a national missions gathering for girls, July 8-11, 2020, in Memphis, Tenn.
Wisdom-Martin, executive director of national WMU, announced the creation of Acteens Legacy Awards in honor of Acteens' 50th anniversary.
"Acteens didn't just happen," Wisdom-Martin said. "It took planning and preparation and prayer. It took dedicated leaders at all levels. It's hard to imagine Acteens without the women who have paved the way for us."
The certificates for the award cited outstanding leaders for their commitment to "investing in teenage girls" and challenging them "to live their lives openly for Christ in a very real and radical way."
National Acteens Panelist Grace Cain (left) voices a prayer of thanksgiving as state WMU leaders gather around Evelyn Tully and Beverly Sutton Miller (center), the first two national directors of Acteens. Tully and Miller were among five recipients of WMU's inaugural Acteens Legacy Awards. (Photo by Pam Henderson)
Recipients of the inaugural awards included Barbara Joiner, an Acteens leader for more than 30 years at First Baptist Church in Columbiana, Ala., who died in 2016 at age 84; Cathy Denton and Andrea Young, longtime Acteens leaders at First Baptist Church in Bolivar, Tenn.; and Evelyn Tully and Beverly Sutton Miller, who served as Acteens' first and second national directors, respectively.
"Today I am involved in missions because my life was shaped by Acteens. I owe a debt of gratitude to those who went before us," Wisdom-Martin told the honorees. "We will give you certificates that say 'Acteens Legacy Award,' but those gathered in this room and many more like us are your legacy and we are grateful for you."
Wisdom-Martin also moderated a panel discussion featuring three Acteens leaders -- Denise Gardner, state Acteens specialist for Kentucky WMU; Candace McIntosh, Alabama WMU executive director; and Laura, a Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionary to Africa whose last name was withheld due to security concerns.
Reflecting on the personal impact of Acteens, Gardner said, "In Acteens, I think my favorite part was the prayer circles. It included personal prayer requests from missionaries that we had adopted. More than that, it included personal requests from the girls and we just couldn't wait for that prayer circle time."
McIntosh recounted, "As an Acteen, I just remember the fellowship, the being together, the sleepovers, the connectedness that we had. As a leader, it's the 'aha' moments when the girl gets it and I look for those moments."
As an IMB missionary for 14 years, Laura noted, "I received my call to full-time missions as an Acteen at Acteens camp. As an Acteen, I learned that our Lord has a heart for all people. Acteens laid the foundation for the Lord to give me that heart and open my eyes and show me that He loves all people and desires for us to go and share with them."
Among participants at the event, Mary Krome and her daughter Rachel traveled more than 800 miles from Wisconsin. "I wouldn't have missed it for the world," said Krome, a former Acteen who became her daughter's Acteens leader. "It has been part of my life for so long."
Rachel, a former WMU Top Teen and National Acteens Panelist, has helped her mom teach Acteens, Girls in Action and Mission Friends over the years. "I really think everything comes back to the cycle of missions -- one person telling other people," Rachel said. "It's standing up for what you believe in."
Heather Keller, WMU's national Acteens consultant, coordinated the Acteens for Life celebration. "Tonight was about our legacy as Acteens, our legacy as Acteens leaders," she said. "But tonight also is about the future of Acteens. More importantly, it's about the future of teenage girls being empowered to live out the Great Commission.
"We had the warm fuzzies and the tears of joy and fond memories, but it's also the reflection of, 'How am I going to help these young girls who I can influence today?'" Keller added. "It's instilling a commitment to missions in the next generation."
Trennis Henderson is the national correspondent for WMU (Woman's Missionary Union). A Baptist journalist for more than 35 years, Henderson is a former editor of the Western Recorder of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Arkansas Baptist News state convention newsjournal.