With destinations spanning most of the continents, 10 Presbyterian mission workers ― eight under the aegis of Presbyterian World Mission and two representing Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-related agencies ― are here this week for orientation before their deployment overseas in coming weeks.
The Rev. Myoung Ho Yang and Ji Yeon Yoo are going to Hong Kong, where Yang will teach liturgy and sacred music at the Divinity School of Chung Chi of the Hong Kong Christian Council, one of the PC(USA)’s partner churches in China. Yoo will study Chinese languages and, she says, “build relationships.”
Yang and Yoo met while working at a bank in South Korea, married and then came to the United States so Yang could attend seminary. “It has long been our desire to be part of the proclamation of the Gospel,” says Yang, who grew up in a Christian family. “When my father became Christian, my grandfather removed him from the family genealogy,” he says, “but my mother always encouraged me into ministry.”
Yoo grew up Buddhist, but since becoming Christian as a young adult, says, “I want to give my life to God and share the love of God with others.” Yang says his teaching goal in Hong Kong is “to equip future ministers in China to share the love of God.”
Sook Nim and Don Choi are giving up a comfortable life in the San Francisco Bay area to serve in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, where both will teach ― Don at Duta Wacana Christian University in national issues and interfaith dialogue, while Sook Nim will apply her artistic skills to teach art as well as English.
Don, a fourth-generation Christian whose family roots trace back to North Korea, comes out of a successful career as an engineer in the computer industry. Saying his life has “not been a straight line career from a cradle Christian to this call,” Don says, “nothing beats the satisfaction of finally getting your product out to market, but God has given me a heart to work with people ― my focus has shifted.”
Sook Nim describes her life to this point as “soccer mom and art teacher,” but says mission service has been a dream of hers “for more than 10 years. I have a beautiful art studio overlooking San Francisco Bay and I wondered ‘Why give all this up?’” But she has prayed she keeps hearing God’s voice “insisting that I go. I keep hoping God would forget he told me this, but he didn’t.”
Jenny Valles remembers when, at age 11, “terrorists” came to her remote village in Peru “and took away many children. Then my father was paralyzed in an accident and I was so angry, with so many questions.” But she also remembers her mother always saying that “God is always present.”
At age 16, Jenny went to the Peruvian capital, Lima, for school and there became involved with Joining Hands Against Hunger-Peru, a ministry of the Presbyterian Hunger Program in that country. “I have learned so much about Peru and the United States,” she says, and will soon begin serving in team ministry with her husband Jed Koball ― also a PC(USA) mission worker ― as site coordinator for the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer program in Peru.
“God is present in this moment and in my job,” Jenny says, adding that she always tries to remember her mother’s advice: “Don’t forget to smile!”
Sharon and Lynn Kandel met in Juba, South Sudan, in 1980 ― Sharon was the daughter of missionaries posted there and Lynn had given up his truck-driving job to join Wycliffe Bible Translators and was sent to South Sudan.
“I was Christian but not part of any church,” Lynn says of his truck-driving days. “One night when I stopped to get fuel at a truck stop, an attendant cleaned the outside AND the inside of my windshield ― I took it as a sign that God was helping me see more clearly.”
Sharon says she always wanted to do mission work. She served in Tanzania with the Mennonites until the money ran out. “I came back to the U.S. and prayed and only 19 years later I heard about this position in South Sudan and applied. We’re excited to be going back to where we met 34 years ago.”
Sharon will be serving in education and reconciliation ministries in the war-torn country. Lynn will be serving in construction, building renovation and logistics.
Dr. Barbara Nagy, a pediatrician, is extending her service in Malawi, where she began serving at Nkhoma Hospital in 2003, having previously served 14 years in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo).
“Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world ― basic needs are difficult to meet,” says Nagy, noting that she became a Christian while praying with other teenagers for an end to the Vietnam War more than 40 years ago.
Nagy’s work as a public health consultant with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian focuses on maternal health. “Maternal death threatens children,” she says, with one in 10 Malawian children not surviving to school age. During her decade of mission service, Malawi’s maternal death rate has declined 75 percent and the mortality rate of children under 5 has declined 85 percent.
“Perceptions of Malawians are changing,” she says, “and I’m so thankful for this.”
Kendall Cox is serving as director of education with Living Waters for the World (LWW), a ministry of the Synod of Living Waters that partners with communities around the world to install and maintain basic water filtration systems.
“Picture this,” she says, “you get up in the morning very thirsty, turn on the water tap and what comes out is brown with all kinds of things floating around in it. This is the reality for 768 million people around the world.”
Cox, who previously served in Botswana with the Peace Corps, adds that “not only is the water not safe, neither is the journey find safe water, a chore which falls mostly to women and children. One gallon of water weighs eight pounds. LWW seeks to lighten that burden.”
LWW supervises installation of the water purification systems ― there are currently 641 systems operating in 25 countries ― and trains teams to maintain them and also includes basic health and hygiene training in its partnerships. “God is at work in the world through this ministry,” Cox says.
The Rev. Andy Smothers is traveling to Zambia through a two-year fellowship sponsored by New York’s Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church to train lay pastors ― a critical need in that country as the church grows far faster than the supply of ordained pastors. He will serve through the Theological Education by Extension (TEEZ) program in Kitwe, a PC(USA) partner institution there.
Smothers says he was first drawn to mission service 20 years ago and eventually served short-term stints in Haiti and Ecuador. “Throughout my career I have felt the tension between overseas and congregational ministry,” he says. “The call to Madison Avenue gives me both,” he says of the fellowship, which includes one year with the congregation and the year in Zambia.
Smothers leaves Aug. 30 and says he is looking forward to teaching Zambian lay leaders “education appropriate to the contexts in which they will serve and service appropriate to their gifts.”