By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Acteens, the missions education group for girls in grades seven-12, turned 50 years old this year.
To kick off the celebration, Woman’s Missionary Union brought together former Acteens to reflect on the past and look to the future on June 7, just prior to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention which will be held in Birmingham (the home of WMU) June 10-12.
The gathering was specifically for all women whose lives have been impacted through Acteens in their teenage years, as well as current and former leaders of Acteens, according to Heather Keller, missions consultant for Acteens and a Tennessee Baptist who grew up in the Acteens program of First Baptist Church, Bolivar.
Vickie Anderson, executive director of Tennessee Woman’s Missionary Union, is a product of Acteens and she affirms its value.
“For 50 years Acteens has given girls the opportunity to participate in and learn about missions, to develop their gifts and leadership skills, and to be mentored and encouraged,” she said.
“We celebrate the past and embrace the future as Acteens continues to influence and change lives as teen girls encounter missions in new and fresh ways and respond to God’s call in their lives,” Anderson added (see her column on page 5).
Acteens is especially important to Beverly Emerson, a member of Germantown Baptist Church in Germantown. “We are a three generation Acteens family,” she said proudly. Her mother was an Acteens leader; Beverly was a member and later an Acteens leader and her daughter was an Acteen.
“Acteens molded young girls, me included, and taught us to be women who loved the Lord and to serve,” she said.
Sue Puckett-Jernigan, longtime Acteens leader at Indian Creek Memorial Baptist Church, Smithville, noted that Acteens positively impacts the lives of teenage girls.
She recalled attending the funeral of one of her early Acteens and was about to leave when a middle-age woman called out to her and asked if Puckett-Jernigan recognized her. After a moment, she did and the two women had a nice conversation, she said. “But the thing she said to me that really touched my heart was that she was the person she was today “as a result of Acteens and my caring.”
Keller can relate. “I am a product of Tennessee WMU,” she affirmed.
“Acteens gave me an opportunity to see the world and begin to understand how much the world needs God,” she said. “Through our weekly meetings, I heard stories about missionaries serving all over the world.
“I learned about the joys and heartaches they faced and prayed for them on their birthdays. Our group visited the mental health hospital in my hometown and hosted birthday parties for the teenagers there,” said. “We sang in nursing homes, raised awareness for missions offerings and hosted Backyard Bible Clubs. Through Acteens, I quickly realized everyone needs to know they are loved.”
Keller observed that “because of Acteens and the way I was nurtured by my family and home church, I heard God’s calling on my life at the age of 16. While I was sure of my calling to share the story of missions and a passion for missions, I had no idea that God would direct my steps to national WMU. I am so thankful for First Baptist Church, Bolivar, and Tennessee WMU for everything they did to help prepare me for this season of my life.”
While some may believe that Acteens and other Southern Baptist missions organizations are not relevant today, Keller strongly disagrees.
“Girls see and hear the same message over and over in social media and from their friends: outward beauty is perfection. With the world at their fingertips, teen girls today have more pressure to fit an unattainable standard than I ever did as a teenager. Acteens gives girls a place to belong, but more importantly, helps them focus on what is important in their daily walk: sharing Christ with the world.
“In Acteens, we teach girls to serve those in need and to share Jesus as we serve. This generation of teens is looking for ways to impact their community and their world. When girls come to Acteens they realize they can impact their world through their use of social media and their connections within their own communities,” she noted.
“By taking the time to show today’s girls how they can apply the Great Commission to their own lives, Acteens leaders can empower girls to share God, make disciples, and live in a way that will draw others to Christ,” Keller stressed.
“Acteens has never been more relevant,” she affirmed. “This generation (Gen Z) is looking for ways to authentically change their world. Acteens gives them the tools to change their world for Christ.”
Keller challenged Tennessee Baptist churches to continue to see the importance of Acteens and to offer it to teenage girls.
“By offering Acteens, churches are telling girls that God can and will use their lives to make a difference. Girls see that living a missional lifestyle is what God expects from believers. And they impact their schools and community in powerful ways because of what they are experiencing,” Keller said.
She observed that countless grown-up Acteens have related to her that they learned how to love their world because of what they experienced as an Acteen. One is a judge, several are professionals, a few are homemakers, some are teachers, others are still figuring out life, Keller said.
“But the one thing they all have in common is that God spoke to them through their time and experiences in Acteens. Tennessee Baptists speak into the next generation sharing Christ with the world when they support Acteens in the local church.”