February 2001 Issue
A Day with
by Carmon Keith
I wish with this letter I might send you a large palm-leaf
and a very attractive pitcher of iced lemonade, for I think if
you had these, you might have more patience to consider the numerous
items which I will now have to present to you, but as these comforts,
or rather necessities during this intensely hot weather, cannot
be sent through the mail, I will have to ask that you either provide
them for yourself or consent to be a martyr.
- Letter to T.P. Bell from Annie Armstrong,
June 30, 1894
So began the letter Annie Armstrong wrote to then secretary
of the Sunday School Board, T.P. Bell, on June 30, 1894. I could
just picture "Miss Annie," fingers tapping quickly the
keys of her well-worn typewriter, trying to add some humor to
the somewhat routine task of gathering and giving information.
I could also picture Mr. Bell opening the letter and chuckling
at her words.
As the first corresponding secretary of Woman's Missionary
Union, it was obvious that Annie took very seriously the word
"corresponding." She wrote thousands of letters - lengthy
epistles that touched on everything from personal details to professional
I first learned of Annie Armstrong when I was a GA leader at
Second Baptist Church in Griffin, Ga. Wanting to know more about
this woman named in the offering the GAs were giving money to,
I went to the church library and checked out a copy of Annie
Armstrong: Dreamer in Action. I found the Annie Armstrong
Easter Offering not only worthy of monetary gifts, but that it
truly did honor a woman who had been an incredible on-mission
Little did I know that years later I would be writing promotional
materials for the Offering, or that the task would take me to
the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville, Tenn., which houses
an extensive library of Southern Baptist historical materials.
Among those are some of Annie Armstrong's letters, written in
the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Thus, on a fall day last year, I became, as T.P. Bell did in
the summer of 1894, a willing martyr. Facing me was the task of
reading some of the letters contained in more than twenty folders
in the library. Being handed the first folder from the librarian
was like being entrusted with sacred treasure. While I had read
what others had written about Annie and her work, I now had the
unique opportunity to read what she herself wrote. The first folder
contained a large stack of now yellowed letters, and I immediately
leafed through them, noticing that they were for only a brief
period of months in 1894-1895. Could she really have written that
many letters - to one person no less? Bring on the iced lemonade.
This could take a while.
Reading the first letter, I could not help but think of the
scene in the Mission Rooms where Annie worked in Baltimore in
1894. I became immersed in her thoughts, fascinated at the details
of her work, and tried to read between the lines to catch a more
personal glimpse of her. And, in the palm-leaf wish to T.P. Bell,
I found the connection. A committed on-mission Christian? No doubt
about it. A passionate advocate for missionaries all across the
world? The evidence supports it. A real person who faced physical
and spiritual challenges with her job, her family, and her friends?
Definitely. Suddenly, Annie seemed less historical and more human.
If it's true that in every piece of humor there is a hint of
truthfulness, then T.P. Bell may have experienced the same bit
of martyrdom I felt as I picked up yet another folder of Annie's
letters and thought, "Here's another one." Plain and
simple, Annie exhausted me. The key element needed to read her
letters is patience. Between the long introductions that would
often take up the first page, and the "Yours Very Truly"
closing, Annie would embark in providing detailed information
or requests, giving each paragraph or section a heading that would
make it easier to organize her thoughts. But while she exhausted
me, she also inspired me. In an age before email, carbonless paper,
and computers, Annie wrote without distraction. Her advocacy and
passion for missions and getting missionaries what they needed
to do their work is a model for Southern Baptists today.
If Annie were alive now, she would no doubt delight in the
modern conveniences (especially computers!) of our day, but I
believe her heart would feel even more burdened by the needs represented
in this time. Even as the scope of North American mission efforts
has expanded and the number of missionaries has grown, the tremendous
spiritual needs and the urgency to share Christ are greater than
And, the truth be known, there are countless Annies who are
alive today - those who give their lives as passionate advocates
for missionaries and their efforts, who are praying without ceasing
and giving of their time and money to reach North America for
Christ. They are sacrificially involved in mission projects, but
to them missions isn't a short-term or long-term commitment
it's a lifestyle. They recognize that Southern Baptists are on
mission together, creating a synergy in partnership missions.
To the Annie of yesterday, Southern Baptists must say thank
you and continue to hold her up as a model of an on-mission servant.
But more importantly, we must join with the Annies of today in
reaching people with the never-changing gospel of Jesus Christ.
For further insight into Annie Armstrong, please visit www.anniearmstrong.com.
Two Major Thrusts
The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering supports NAMB's
two major thrusts: evangelism and church planting. An estimated
220 million people in the United States and Canada do not know
Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The agency provides assistance
to churches, associations, and state conventions in soul-winning
training; interfaith witness; and church and community ministries,
which include Alternatives for Life ministries and special
Southern Baptists are starting more than 1,700 new churches
every year, more than any other faith group. Yet, we still fail
to keep pace with population growth. NAMB provides resources and
strategies for establishing churches and missions among all ethnic
and language groups in the United States and Canada.
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