LOUISVILLE—Joy Bolton fell in love with missions early in life. Recalling that “my mother and dad were passionate about missions,” she noted, “I often say I learned missions at my dining room table.”
That early missions influence has served her well. Bolton, who recently retired as executive director of Kentucky Woman’s Missionary Union after serving 19-plus years in that role, has been a missions leader, participant and advocate throughout her ministry career. Following her retirement, she will serve in a volunteer consulting role with National WMU as lead strategist for churchwide and associational WMU.
Bolton’s WMU career harkens back to the summer of 1978 when she served as National WMU’s first summer intern after graduating from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Emphasizing that “I have been a part of WMU all of my life,” Bolton said, “I can’t think of a time I have not been a part of WMU organizations. This was my real passion.”
After completing her internship and marrying her husband, Lee, later that year, they both worked for National WMU the following summer. They next served as church planters in Pittsburgh, Pa., before Lee was called as pastor of churches in Reading, Pa., and Annapolis, Md.
“During those years of serving churches, I was a WMU volunteer,” Bolton said. “Everywhere I went, I did church, associational and state level leadership and did writing for National WMU, including writing several books for them” on such topics as nursing home ministry and WMU missions guides for church and associational leaders.
She also served on the state WMU Executive Board in both the Pennsylvania/South Jersey and Maryland/Delaware Baptist conventions as well as serving over the years on volunteer mission teams in Brazil, Rwanda, South Africa, South Korea, Tanzania and several other countries.
Bolton’s missions commitment and involvement did not go unnoticed. She was named publications consultant for Maryland/Delaware WMU and later became adult missions consultant for South Carolina WMU. In 1999, she was called as executive director of Kentucky WMU.
Prior to all those leadership opportunities, however, her missions focus was shaped primarily by her parents. With her dad serving as a local church pastor and her mother serving as an associational Girls’ Auxiliary (now Girls in Action) director, Bolton had lots of opportunities to learn about missions during GA meetings her mother led at their dining room table as well as visiting missionaries who frequently were invited to dinner in her home.
Recalling one particularly poignant childhood memory, Bolton said her dad allowed her to pick up pecans from a tree in the church parking lot. As a child of 7 or 8 years old, she said her dad “would take me to the processing plant and I would sell those pecans. I can remember giving that first money that I earned to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. I’ve been giving to this offering all my life.”
Years later, during her first overseas missions trip to Rwanda, Bolton said, “We were going out on one of the Sundays to a little church in the bush. A missionary was telling us about the congregation and how they had made the brick themselves out of straw and mud. Almost as an aside, as we were pulling up, he said, ‘Oh, and by the way, the tin roof on this building was put here by the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.’
“I was a basket case for the whole service,” Bolton shared. “I cried because here I had been giving to this offering all of my life and I could see in a tangible way that what we do on this side of the world makes a difference on the other side of the world.”
Reflecting on highlights during her years of missions leadership among Kentucky Baptists, Bolton cited such Kentucky WMU initiatives as helping other state WMU groups reach their “Touch Tomorrow Today” endowment goals for National WMU, assuming responsibility for Kentucky Changers youth missions and evangelism projects and providing leadership for Royal Ambassadors under the WMU umbrella.
Concerning Kentucky Changers, which involves up to 1,000 youth and adult leaders each summer in home repair projects throughout the state, Bolton explained, “Above all, we tell those who come and participate that this ministry’s not about roofing or decks or siding. This ministry is about sharing the gospel. The roofs and the siding and the painting and the decks just open doors for us to share the gospel.”
During her recent retirement celebration at First Baptist Church of Shelbyville, several state and national WMU leaders expressed appreciation for Bolton’s faithful service.
Linda Cooper, national WMU president and former Kentucky WMU president, said Bolton “serves with humility and compassionately desires to honor God with her life. … Her WMU knowledge and work ethic are second to none.
“Leadership to Joy Bolton has never, ever been about a title or a position,” Cooper added. “It has been about one life influencing another. … Her impact has literally been felt all around this globe.”
“We just want to say thank you,” emphasized Sandy Wisdom-Martin, national WMU executive director. “Joy, we’re proud of you. We love you. We count it a blessing to be able to walk this journey with you.”
Affirming the privilege of being involved in WMU’s ongoing missions legacy and impact, Bolton said, “For me to be able to have been a part of encouraging people to live on mission and to make disciples of others who live on mission, it’s a lifelong passion. It means a lot to know that we are part of God’s Kingdom work around the world. He gives all of us a role to play in that, whether we are the givers, the goers or the prayers.
“There’s never been a time we needed WMU more than we need it right now,” she declared. “The Great Commission is still our marching orders. We are still about making disciples who live on mission. That’s what Jesus called us to do.
“The reason we are so passionate about missions education is because people don’t just grow up as adults and all of the sudden just one day say, ‘I think I’ll be involved in missions,'” Bolton pointed out. “It’s much more effective if you have been instilling that throughout life” – just as her parents did for her years ago around their dining room table.
Trennis Henderson is WMU national correspondent and former editor of the Western Recorder.