The staff of Baltimore's House of Ruth had better be prepared to do some carrying, because someone is going to have to help Anna Graham bring in three big boxes of disposable diapers.
Graham purchased the diapers back home in Waldo, Ark., and today joins about 2,000 women from across the country in a visit to Baltimore area day-care centers, nursing homes, hospices, shelters for the homeless, even a prison.
Some, like Graham, brought diapers. Others have cutlery, toiletries, children's books or writing supplies.
"They asked for diapers, so I brought them," Graham said. "Who knows? It might make a difference -- and we are called to make a difference."
Graham and her friends are in town for the national convention of missionaries of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. As do most members of the predominantly black, protestant denomination, they lead normal lives -- working and rearing children and grandchildren.
But, as members of the church's Women's Missions Society, they're also committed to help others whenever and wherever the need arises.
That commitment is expressed in the convention's slogan: "Called, Committed, Compelled to Serve." The missionaries convene every four years, and some 3,000 women are attending this year's gathering in Baltimore, which ends Wednesday.
Christene Chambliss, a WMU vice president, said a committee of missionaries from local chapters compiled the list of the 54 sites scheduled for visits today.
Each site provided a list of its needs, and the missionaries bought the supplies with their own money, she said. Sites include several city shelters, nursing homes, missions, hospices and the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women.
At yesterday's opening ceremony in the Convention Center, keynote speaker Zora Kramer Brown, said she shares the missionaries' sense of calling and commitment to service -- by educating black women about the dangers of breast cancer.
Brown is chairperson of the D.C. Breast Cancer Resource Committee, a volunteer organization that promotes early detection of the disease. Black women are more prone to die from breast cancer than are members of any other ethnic group, Brown said.
With a history of breast cancer in her family that goes back four generations, Brown said she had prepared herself financially and psychologically to begin treatment for the disease by the time it struck her 2 1/2 years ago, when she was 32.
"For my 18 nieces," Brown said, the question they ask is no longer, 'Will I be treated for breast cancer?' but 'When?' "
"Two and half years ago I made a commitment to God that if he brought me through my situation I would commit myself to whatever work he called me to do," Brown said. She said that calling turned out to be educating black women about breast cancer.
"Now your first reaction might be to say that the government should do something," Brown said. "And, as true as that may be, shouldn't we be doing something first to help the government help us? More basic still, shouldn't we educate ourselves to know what it is we want the government to do?"
"We must first educate ourselves -- our calling," Brown said. "We then educate others, our commitment. We must then assist those black women less fortunate than we -- our compelling reason to serve."