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  • Dorothy Patterson

A Ministry Wife Who Keeps on Giving

From the moment I met Nancy Sullivan, I was awed by her vision and faithfulness to pursue what God put in her heart. When I learned that Nancy had worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, I was intrigued! When I heard her speak with great affection about her husband and children and grandchildren, I was blessed. She never suggested that being a wife and mother was not in itself a high calling, and to work out that calling in the midst of formal ministry in the local church and kingdom setting was clearly a joy to her. When I saw her exercise her giftedness in leading women in the local church and across the state of FL and throughout our Southern Baptist Zion, I was motivated to follow her example of woman-to-woman teaching. Especially did she make an impact on my life with her work in behalf of other ministry wives. She was a pioneer in realizing that women married to preachers carried many unique burdens and because of their overwhelming responsibilities needed to be encouraged and appreciated. There Nancy found her legacy niche!

In 1992, Nancy Sullivan presided over the SBC Ministers’ Wives Luncheon as president. During the year’s preparation for this event, she became aware of the overwhelming challenge to undergird the event financially, especially since there was no set stream of income. One of the sources for funding was the sale of tickets to the luncheon, but Nancy quickly learned that the money from ticket sales did not begin to cover even the most austere budget. Furthermore, she became aware and was burdened for the many ministry wives who could not afford the cost of a ticket for the luncheon! In fact, she believed that many of the women who most needed this annual time of refreshing and encouragement were kept from it by their limited budgets.

When God presents an assignment to a godly woman like Nancy Sullivan, her response is like that of Hannah, who upon sharing her desire for a son with the priest Eli heard him affirm that her petition would be granted and responded to the Lord, “Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.” And she joins Mary, the mother of our Lord who when faced with what seemed an impossible task from the Lord said, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38), believing what God said and determining to be obedient whatever the cost. These women from Scripture were faced with what seemed impossible assignments from the Lord, but each responded in obedience, with no thought for personal sacrifice—just the determination to be obedient. And so did Nancy Sullivan. When she started her divinely given assignment to establish a firm foundation for the SBC Ministers’ Wives’ Luncheon ministry, she was a lonely voice, but she used every platform God provided to present this worthy cause! Over the decades others joined her, and she lived to see her initial goal surpassed. I am praying that her death will increase this Endowment legacy!

Nancy immediately set her course to establish an endowment fund that would enable the luncheon during the annual SBC meeting to be affordable for every minister’s wife. She tirelessly promoted this project to everyone she encountered. She gave sacrificially herself, setting the example for all of us. Many individuals, churches, and other ministries responded across the years. The Executive Committee of the Ministers’ Wives’ Luncheon voted unanimously to honor Nancy with linking the fund to her personal legacy—The Nancy Sullivan Endowment Fund. The Fund was first managed by the Florida Baptist Foundation where her husband John Sullivan was then the Executive Director. During the last two years, this strategic Fund has been moved to the oversight of the Southern Baptist Foundation in Nashville, TN. I know that Nancy was pleased and delighted to see the formal structure of the Endowment expanded and its purpose made even more clear.

In 1999, Nancy Sullivan was honored by the highest honor given to ministry wives in the Southern Baptist Convention—the Willie Turner Dawson Award given by and during the annual Ministers’ Wives’ Luncheon. The award recognizes “a minister’s wife who has made a distinct denominational contribution beyond the local church and who is noted for her Christian character and service to others.” Across the years, Nancy was known as an effective mentor and counselor with her godly wisdom and prayerful guidance to women throughout the SBC. She was a gifted communicator and spoke to conferences and workshops as well. Her influence extended well beyond the local church and the state convention she and her husband served for so many years.

For me personally, Nancy Sullivan was a genuine friend—not merely a colleague because our husbands shared similar responsibilities in serving SBC entities but someone who cared about me and my family. She not only knew my name, but she shared my heart. I felt that we were kindred spirits! I could read every verse in the Bible about friends, and each would affirm that Nancy was my friend. She was a mentor, traveling down the highway of life and kingdom service ahead of me. Nancy often gave me godly counsel personally, and I enjoyed receiving her teaching and training by words and example. I would be honored to emulate her from our first meeting to our last encounter on this earth. She was a ministry partner to me. I loved her vision for the SBC Ministers’ Wives’ Luncheon and her determination to put the organization on firm financial footing not merely for now but for decades to come. She inspired me to do my part! I will have forever the legacy of Nancy Sullivan in my life and ministry! I have missed our times of fellowship in recent years during her illness, but I am looking forward to joining her in the heavenly court where we can enjoy fellowship and partnership once more—praising the Savior whom we both love!

For those of us—women and men, individuals and churches, and even other complementing ministries—who want to express our appreciation to Nancy and John Sullivan for their personal investment and faithful guidance over the decades not only to establish the Nancy Sullivan Endowment Fund but to facilitate its growth to more than $400,000 in 2017, now is the time to express that and honor Nancy so that her legacy grows even as she departed this life for the heavenly court! Her early goal was $300,000, but some of us have been praying that the Lord would honor her devotion by pushing that goal to at least $500,000! My husband has joined me in making regular gifts to this endowment. If you want to have a part, please send your gift to The Nancy Sullivan Endowment Fund, c/o the Southern Baptist Foundation, 901 Commerce Street, Suite 600, Nashville, TN 37203.


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