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Friendship’s Mother Sanders influences, inspires

Her many contributions as a member of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church have earned Wilma Sanders, 89, the title of mother of the church. Pastor Rayfield Jefferson said of Mother Sanders, “She is held in the highest esteem.” (Submitted Photo)

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Wilma Sanders and her husband lived in Denver, Colorado until 1960, when they moved to Roswell.

Arriving here, Sanders was hired to be part of the Levi Strauss & Co. team, which ran a plant in Roswell at the time and was known as the world’s largest brand-name apparel maker.

She at first worked for $1.10 per hour — but when she retired after 30 years, she was supervising a section of 183 employees.

She has long been a member of Roswell’s Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. Sanders said, “Although we came in the 1960s, it was a decade later that I became united with the church. At that time, there was no minister, and then this man came from Carlsbad by the name of O.C. King and was installed as the pastor … He was an amazing person.

“He was our pastor for 28 years, yet never moved permanently to Roswell — he made that trip back and forth for all those years. Being that he was gone a lot because of the travel, we learned how to be self-empowered and keep the church running smoothly when he was gone.”

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That spirit has continued, as the work church members perform in the community attests. One example is their food distribution program.

“Our church is in what’s called the Jerusalem District, which is made up of churches on the east side, going towards Hobbs,” Sanders said. “There is also the New Hope District, which covers the west side of the state … What happens is, the food goes to Las Cruces and we have someone from Roswell, along with various other churches in both districts, go there, pick up the food and bring it back.” People can sign up and volunteer. Sanders said, “We have had a lot of help. There was even one man who offered to rent us a U-Haul to bring the food from Cruces.

“Right now, however, because of some issues, there is no particular set distribution date. But if you have someone who perhaps doesn’t know about the program, we will have a way of getting the food to them in order to help.”

The church, at 1220 Johnson Road, also served as a site for COVID-19 testing last year, with church members helping out.

“The Health Department set it up,” Sanders said. “All the health workers were there, but we were on hand to register them for the testing and so forth.”

The church youth director for 18 years, Sanders is a supporter of the church’s Youth Enrichment Program.

“It lasted nine months,” she said, “from the time school started until it was out, and every Saturday for nine months we helped the kids. It was a great program for young people.”

Sanders, 89, is a mentor. She’s done so much for so many that last year she was given the honorary title of Mother Sanders.

Friendship Pastor Rayfield Jefferson and his wife, Carolyn, came to Roswell almost three years ago. Sanders described them as “unique people who most definitely lead by example,” citing a number of ways they’ve helped others and encouraged church members to do the same.

Jefferson said the honor “mother of the church” was bestowed upon Sanders for a number of reasons.

“The mother of the church is led by the Holy Spirit, modeling grace and faithfulness, imparts wisdom and Godly counsel, and nurtures and encourages all,” he said. “Because she exemplifies all the aforementioned qualities, I, the pastor, led by the spirit of God, delegated the title ‘mother of the church’ to Sister Wilma Sanders. She is held in the highest esteem.”

Sanders was presented with a certificate on May 10, 2020.

She said, “Now, of course, I would not be Mother Sanders everywhere, but I am at Friendship. It’s a special place.”

Sanders described her approach to helping others.

“I like to give because the more you give, the more He gives to you,” she said. “That’s the way I am with the church, as well. I love to work with people. I have eight children and forty-nine grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And one day, when they look back and think about me, I don’t want them to think about somebody who just stopped living. That’s the way it is. I have a daughter in church with me, a brother who’s already 70 and a senior deacon…we were all given the same day, the same chances, when we were born. It’s what we leave behind that’s important.”

Sanders plays a large part in many families, including the church’s congregation. She said that Friendship is not just a church, it’s a movement — one that’s driven by a desire, expressed in its motto, to come together to help, to give and to support.

“But that doesn’t mean just within the four walls of the church,” she said. “I believe the motto comes into play more once you leave the building.”

Sanders said when she teaches young people, she asks them, “‘What are you going to give, and get out of this day?’ I have always said that whenever I leave, I don’t want to leave anything undone. So I try to use up all of my time doing something for someone else.”

And on this Mother’s Day, Sanders plans to make and distribute cakes — to moms who deserve to be rewarded for their hard work.

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Amy Lignor Special to the Daily Record