It may be challenging to find any ministry couple in Pennsylvania more committed to the role of Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) in missions support and discipleship than Kathy and Steve Sheldon.
For the past 35-plus years, the Sheldons have invested their lives in families, churches and communities in their home state of Pennsylvania. Much of their ministry focus has revolved around engaging churches and associations in missions on the local, state, national and international levels — and the primary missions tool they have utilized is involvement in WMU missions discipleship programs.
“One of the things I found very early in my pastoral ministry was one of, if not the deepest foundation in Southern Baptist churches, is missions — and the pillar of missions is WMU,” Steve said. “I knew if I was going to have a strong missions church that reached its community and reached the world, we needed to work through WMU organizations. That was very pivotal for all the churches we’ve been a part of.”
“Every church we have served in has had WMU or I’ve introduced it to them,” Kathy said. “It’s really been important to me and to Steve because it’s a way to introduce missions to every age group, and through that, to our future missionaries.
“I just think [WMU] is a wonderful way for them to be introduced to what is already happening and what their opportunities are, either locally or internationally,” she added. “There’s just so many different situations they could be involved in. In the churches, we’ve tried to do that as far as missions trips, as far as missions projects locally and to involve every age group. I think that’s a big factor in WMU.”
The Sheldons’ strong commitment to missions and all things WMU started early in their ministry journey. After being stationed in San Diego while Steve was in the U.S. Navy and then serving in churches in Kentucky while he was studying at Campbellsville College (now University) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Sheldons returned to their home state in 1984 “and have been serving in Pennsylvania ever since,” Kathy said.
During that time, she served 11 years as president of Pennsylvania/South Jersey WMU while Steve served as a pastor and director of missions, including 23 years as pastor of Bux-Mont Baptist Church, Hatboro, Pennsylvania, in suburban Philadelphia. He recently retired as pastor of Wrightsdale Baptist Church, Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania, and they moved back to their hometown of Waynesboro.
During her years as state convention WMU president, Kathy drew on the resources and experiences she gained as a member of national WMU’s executive board. “As I served with national WMU, I wanted to bring back to the state everything I learned at our board meetings,” she said. “As new products or new opportunities were introduced, that is what we would bring back and share.”
As a result of those efforts, she said, “I feel like it has introduced more churches to WMU but our challenge is endless … because of the changeover with pastors in churches.”
For Steve and Kathy, that involvement has led to missions opportunities from Kazakhstan to Chile. “The very first missions trip we went to was to Kazakhstan in the Soviet Union with 300 other individuals from across the United States,” Kathy recalled. “It was a two-week experience, and it was eye-opening and very heartfelt when you realize how very blessed we are.”
Steve emphasized that their commitment to supporting and promoting the work of WMU “really is a missions mindset.”
With Kathy frequently taking the lead in urging missions engagement on the local church level, “she wound up the WMU director in every church we served,” Steve reflected. “As far as missions was concerned, we would never say no. If an opportunity came, we were going to find a way to do it and we worked together on that because that was our byword: ‘Never say no. Let’s do it.’”
Home and global missions
Encouraging other congregations to actively pursue a missions mindset fueled by WMU involvement and resources, Steve said, “You can deepen the commitment of your people by the missions organizations, by being a part of your local, state, national and international missions. The stronger we can be at home with missions, the better our mission globally is.”