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By STEVEN NALLEY
Lee Ann Williamson has been part of her father Cecil Williamsonâ€™s ministry since she was 11 years old.
Lee Ann said her earliest memory of the ministry was moving at age 11 from the Mississippi Delta to Starkville, where her family became the administrative arm of Christian World Missions.
â€śWe would sit on the floor and attach labels to newsletters distributed all over the Southeast to tell people about what God was doing in this ministry,â€ť Lee Ann said. â€śThe other very vivid memory that I have is that when I was about 12 years old, my dad started taking me with him for revivals, and I started to sing and be with the young people in different meetings.â€ť
On Saturday this Fatherâ€™s Day weekend, Cecil instated Lee Ann as his successor as executive director and evangelist for Christian World Missions in a ceremony at First United Methodist Church.
Cecil said he would continue to serve the ministry in other capacities, but he is retiring as its leader. He said the ceremony was a celebration of his 40 years in evangelism, his 50 total years in ministry, Lee Annâ€™s 25 years of ministry, and the nearly 80 years he has lived.
â€śIâ€™m just so blessed to have someone coming along behind me that I know will keep this ministry going as God would have it go,â€ť
Cecil said. â€śWe considered others, but we came down on the best, and we decided to stay with that. Sheâ€™s a Fatherâ€™s Day gift, period.â€ť
Lee Ann said she considered her gift to be the celebration on Saturday, with friends and family coming to thank Cecil for his ministry and praise God for his ministryâ€™s success. She said she doesnâ€™t consider relieving her father of CWMâ€™s leadership to be a Fatherâ€™s Day gift.
â€śI feel like Iâ€™m getting the gift, I can tell you that,â€ť Lee Ann said. â€śItâ€™s a privilege and an honor to be asked to do this and to be entrusted with what God has done here.â€ť
Christian World Missions has missions in Africa, India, Russia and the Philippines, and Cecil said the organization had helped establish about 1,000 new churches around the world. He said CWM supports pastors at these churches for three years after they are established, and while some struggle, others become mega-churches.
Before becoming executive director, Lee Ann served as associate director, and Cecil said she is more than ready.
â€śI know her gifts, and sheâ€™s a great evangelist in her own right,â€ť Cecil said. â€śShe has a heart for keeping the ministry going. She loves the people that we work with. She, probably more than anyone else, knows the ministry from inside out.â€ť
Cecil said Lee Ann has a lot of creative ideas for ministry and is good at involving people in it. Lee Ann said her vision for the future includes a greater emphasis on ecumenical ministry, reaching out to other denominations, and using service to strengthen communities where CWM has already built churches.
â€śWhile I am deeply humbled by the opportunity and, some days, overwhelmed by the enormity of the ministry, I feel like with [Cecilâ€™s] counsel and the Lordâ€™s help, the ministry will carry on, and by Godâ€™s grace, the ministry will even grow,â€ť Lee Ann said. â€śI understand that these are big shoes to fill, but I had a great mentor. I started my ministry in 1981 working with my dad, and heâ€™s the one who really taught me what the work of ministry is all about.â€ť
Lee Ann grew up with three brothers, and Cecil said when she would sign her name, she would sign it three times to equal her three brothers. Lee Ann said she always had a special relationship with her father, but it really blossomed when she graduated from college and worked full time in the ministry from 1981-1983.
â€śUp until that time, I had been a little bit intimidated by my dad, but during those years I learned to talk with him,â€ť Lee Ann said. â€śWe probably drove in a car 35,000 miles per year together, just the two of us, and we really got to know one another and share each otherâ€™s hearts and learn to love and cherish that time.â€ť
Cecil said as Lee Ann spent more time in the ministry, her talent became apparent.
â€śWhen some one would try to get counseling from her, I would see her maturity and how well she dealt with the issues that people had,â€ť Cecil said. â€śI was pleased that God was giving her that wisdom and I was thankful for the blessings of the talent she had in singing.â€ť
Singing, Lee Ann said, was not just a means to ministry for her, as it was when she was 12. During those two years on the road, singing was a bonding opportunity.
â€śSometimes, just driving in the car, we would break out into song and sing along with the radio,â€ť Lee Ann said. â€śOne of the things weâ€™ve always loved to do together is to sing and just make music.â€ť