Debby Akerman always dreamed about becoming a nurse when she was a little girl. But she never could have imagined how that dream would open the door to so many opportunities to advance the kingdom of God.
Growing up in Massachusetts with a mother who was also a nurse, Akerman realized from an early age that she wanted to be just like her mom. “I would see on her shelf her polished white shoes and her white cap,” Akerman recalled. “I just knew from my youngest years that that’s what I would do with my life.”
She followed her mother into the same profession by way of the same school. Both graduated from the New England Baptist Hospital School of Nursing in Boston.
Passion for missions
Her passion for missions also began at a young age. The church she grew up in focused on educating children about missions work. Through this, she was able to hear stories of and meet missionaries, many of whom would come to her house due to her father’s denominational work. It was through listening to a missionary speak at her church that she gave her life to Christ at just 8 years old.
After Akerman met and married her husband, Brad, they moved to New Hampshire — where he is from — and became involved with a Southern Baptist church. At this time, their daughter also became involved with the missions organization Girls in Action. Unfortunately, she didn’t like it.
“The teacher was just a substitute and didn’t really care about it,” Akerman said. Rather than quit GAs though, Akerman told her daughter that she should “persevere” in the group and that God would bring her a new leader. “Of course, God worked on me to be the leader!” Akerman said.
Her work with GAs and its parent organization, Woman’s Missionary Union, allowed her to see how missions fit into the church. She “began to see that God would not have me working all of my adult life — my career life — but that missions would be a part of it.”
In 2000, after serving as the president of New England WMU, Akerman and her husband retired to Myrtle Beach. The two of them joined Ocean View Baptist Church, and she began to use her nursing experience to lead medical mission teams. She also rediscovered her love for an organization she’d been involved with in New Hampshire: Baptist Nursing Fellowship (BNF).
After serving as the president of national WMU from 2010-2015, Akerman began to feel God pushing her toward BNF. “[The Lord] began to say to me, ‘You really ought to start a chapter of BNF’ … so I began to talk with some of my nurse friends. They all said, ‘That sounds like a great idea!’” Working with her friends, Akerman founded a BNF chapter in 2016 and was able to quickly grow it from just four members to over 20 nurses and other medical professionals.
The growth of the chapter caught the attention of the national BNF nominating committee. A year and a half into the chapter’s existence, the committee reached out to Akerman and asked if they could nominate her to serve as the president-elect of BNF. “I said, ‘Let me pray about that,’” she laughed. “The Lord seemed to be saying, ‘Yes, now is the time to do that.’ So I did.”
Akerman’s tenure as BNF president is not the first time a woman from South Carolina has served. The other South Carolina president was Polly Haigler, who served from 1996-1998. Even though she is only the second president to come from the Palmetto State, Akerman says that South Carolina has always been one of the more active states in BNF.
One of the main goals that Akerman has had for BNF is bringing in student nurses from Baptist schools. Many schools do have BNF programs and are successful at gaining new members. However, the bulk of membership is still from medical workers who are older and have more time on their hands. Because nursing is an all-encompassing field, it is hard to retain students after they graduate and move into their full-time careers and lives.
‘We need more Debbys’
A way that BNF has been hoping to entice younger members to stay is by offering more mission trip opportunities as well as continuing education programs. Continuing education programs provide nurses with more education on a specific facet of nursing. While there are a certain number necessary for nurses to take each year throughout their careers to maintain their licenses, the continuing education programs that BNF offers are unique in that they are all missions-related.
“If it’s not something that is going to help us with missions, then it’s not what we’re going to choose,” Akerman said. “That’s what we try to do — make sure that everything we do, everything we offer, has that gospel center to it.”
Akerman’s commitment to missions has served as an inspiration to others. South Carolina WMU Executive Director Laurie Register said in an email: “I’ve known and worked with Debby even before she moved to South Carolina. Whether serving as a GA leader, as national WMU president or national BNF president, Debby gives her all. She is a committed follower of Christ. She is an intercessor for missions representatives around the world, a creative conference leader, and a faithful friend. We need more Debbys!”