Published May 2, 2013
Barbara Curnutt retired on April 30 after 15 years as director of Georgia Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union and Women’s Enrichment Ministries. The Curnutt years will be characterized as an era of growth across her department’s spectrum, ranging from a massive renovation of Pinnacle into a year-round conference center to building visibility of the presence of women in Baptist life.
During her final days in the office Curnutt talked about the last decade-and-a-half of her ministry among Georgia Baptists, why she decided to retire slightly early, and of her plans for the future.
Index: You joined the Georgia Baptist Convention staff in 1998, coming from a similar position with the Florida Baptist Convention. What challenges awaited you when you assumed your new position?
Curnutt: When I moved to Georgia, the women had been working tirelessly to retire a $2.3-million debt on the new lodge at Pinnacle, which was completed in 1997. Within that short span of time, the note had been reduced to $750,000. While the debt seemed insurmountable, the Lord enabled us to pay off the note in 2001 and launch a new Capital Campaign in 2003.
Through God’s faithful provision, we’ve been able to build six new cabin-lodges and a Wellness Center, transform our gym into a multi-purpose facility, enhance and improve our main lodge, and renovate the Chapel. And all of this was accomplished debt-free in the midst of the most brutal recession since the 1930s.
God loves Pinnacle! There are many who believe His glory resides there, and I am one of them. Only eternity will reveal the Kingdom significance of this small parcel of land and its worldwide impact.
Index: What are some of the things that have given you the greatest sense of satisfaction in your tenure?
Curnutt: My greatest joy has been serving alongside women of enormous faith and courage who have followed God fearlessly to the darkest corners of our world. Whether it meant prayer walking through Tibetan Buddhist temples and exquisite Muslim mosques or combatting the sexual exploitation of our children, Georgia women have never shied away from doing missions in hard places. The women truly have been an inspiration to me.
Our prayer ministry would be next on the list. Prayer has been the underpinning of all that we’ve attempted. Through our 12-year “Hearts Called to Pray” emphasis, we adopted three major unreached areas of the world and saw hundreds of women commit to pray daily.
Many made prayer journeys to one or more of these areas. We also highlighted the proliferation of non-Christian houses of worship in Georgia and called our churches to pray. This past year we launched “One in Prayer,” a new interactive website for women.
Another highlight has been the growth and expansion of our language and African American work. Last August we trained more than 400 language WMU leaders in two events. We’ve been blessed with outstanding African American, Hispanic, and Korean WMU leaders who truly are making a difference. I am so proud of Georgia Baptist women for hurdling language and ethnic barriers in order to do missions together.
I’m proud of our women for carrying the light of Christ into dark places. They have been willing to confront the human travesty of child sex trafficking in Georgia through prayer, personal advocacy, and our Child Safe Zone Hotel Project. They have embraced the needs of poverty-stricken Appalachia by leading mission trips and filling backpacks and they’ve met the needs of women across our state through Christian Women’s Job Corps.
Index: In your first interview with The Index 15 years ago, you mentioned that WMU is the missions conscience of the local church. Do you still feel that way today?
Curnutt: Yes, I do, because those involved in WMU comprise an informed, caring, and praying nucleus whose steady influence keeps missions on the front burner in the life of the church.
Index: Why is WMU important in Baptist life today?
Curnutt: WMU exists to help the church fulfill the Great Commission and to promote Southern Baptist work across the globe. The responsibility for missions doesn’t belong to WMU or the mission boards; it belongs to the church. Those who will take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, or stand in the gap providing support, are in our churches today. Without an ongoing plan of nurture and encouragement that WMU provides, our churches and Convention would be left with a serious vacuum.
Index: National WMU recently took over responsibility for Royal Ambassadors. What is the future of missions education?
Curnutt: I believe missions education is more important today than ever before. God’s commission to go into all the world has not changed, but I fear the average church member is losing sight of our missionary mandate. If we neglect missions education today, the influence and impact of the church will be greatly diminished tomorrow. We must renew our commitment to invest in our preschoolers, children, youth, and adults if we hope to be significantly involved in God’s great missionary enterprise.
Index: You are not quite at the traditional retirement age. We know you had a health scare a couple of years ago and underwent surgery and chemotherapy for lung cancer. Does your health have any bearing on your decision to retire early?
Curnutt: I am delighted to share that God has brought healing and I’m in excellent health. Certainly my personal journey with cancer sharpened my focus on the most important things of life, but my health was not a determining factor in my decision to retire early. The reason I am retiring is that I believe it to be God’s will.
Index: Will you be returning to your home state of Texas or remaining in Georgia?
Curnutt: I will go wherever the Lord leads me to do missions and ministry, but my current plans are to remain in Georgia and serve here. While I do plan to pick up tennis and golf again, I fully intend to stay involved in Kingdom work. I’m excited about the new chapter that God is unfolding and the opportunity to invest my days with those who don’t know Jesus.
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