It all started with an email to Donald and Karen Vundhla: there is an Administrative Coordinator role in southern Africa and we think you would be a great fit.
The Vundhlas, preparing to enter their retirement years, were hesitant. “His first thought – and probably mine too – was, ‘That’s jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire!’” Karen recalls, laughing.
After retirement, Donald and Karen had already planned to return to Zimbabwe (Donald’s home country and where they first met while Karen served at the BIC Mtshabezi Mission in the 70s). They had even considered spending a year or two in voluntary service. But jumping into full-time ministry was an entirely different commitment altogether.
However, the seed was planted.
The more they prayed and sought God’s will, the clearer it was that Donald and Karen were meant to take this role. In May 2021, they packed up their home in Baltimore, Maryland, kissed their two daughters goodbye, and boarded a plane to begin a new chapter of life in southern Africa.
A Doorway to a New Culture
Since the Brethren in Christ first started sending missionaries over 120 years ago, the landscape of missionary service has greatly changed. Most BIC missionaries today have modern conveniences like reliable electricity and running water, and many are stationed in more urban or suburban areas. But some things haven’t changed. Relationships remain the heart of mission work, and humility and teachability create the foundation for sharing the truth of the Gospel in understandable, culturally appropriate ways.
Modern cross-cultural workers come from a variety of backgrounds and often use their professional training, skills, and experience to share the Gospel. The BIC U.S. World Missions team today includes teachers, engineers, professors, accountants, agricultural experts, pastors, doctors, and nurses. Professional skills provide a unique opportunity to integrate into new cultures in incarnational ways, and at times open doors that may otherwise be closed.
Nursing and Hospitality in Dearborn
Jenni* grew up in Pennsylvania and first sensed a call to cross-cultural ministry – specifically among Muslims and Arabs – while in middle school. This missional mindset directly impacted her college career. She first started studying psychology, but soon changed her major to nursing because “it was a quicker way into helping people,” she says.
Today, Jenni lives and works in Dearborn, Michigan, which World Missions identified as a strategic location for ministry in 2018. Dearborn is home to the largest concentration of Muslims in the U.S., and many of them come from lesser reached people groups in countries that do not welcome missionaries and Christian organizations.
Jenni serves as a Kingdom Professional, a missions-minded individual using their vocational skills to practically impact the community with the Gospel. She works at a local clinic and teaches the next generation of healthcare workers at a nearby university. While these professional roles allow her to care for people in practical ways, she deeply desired to build more interpersonal connections even closer to home.
Many of her neighbors are first- or second-generation immigrants, and Jenni is one of only a handful of non-Arabs in her community. When she first moved in, her new neighbors were somewhat warry of her. Building trust took time, but she kept waiting for the right doors to open. In a strange twist, the right door was her own.
As a homeowner, she started renting rooms to a couple of single women. One of these women was a Muslim refugee who had minimal resources and faced many challenges. Jenni worked hard to make sure this woman was welcomed and cared for, and the community noticed. Jenni’s hospitality had a ripple effect, earning her significant respect and opening previously closed doors within her neighborhood.
Jenni points out that much of Jesus’ ministry was simply being with people exactly where they were. “My job is to care for people,” she says, “and the Bible says that the kindness of the Lord will bring people to repentance.” (Rom. 2:4) Jenni’s prayer is that her faith, care, and kindness – whether in her home or at the clinic – will show others the way to Christ.
Administration and Mentorship in Southern Africa
Donald and Karen are putting their lifetimes of professional experience to work in their new administrative roles. Prior to their move to southern Africa, Karen was an oncology nurse, and Donald worked in business management and accounting. He also possesses a Master of Divinity, and together they have many years of ministry experience. “I should have known really that skills we acquire popup in unexpected areas,” Donald now reflects.
In his new ministry role, Donald walks alongside bishops and pastors throughout southern Africa. He helps them develop new leaders and wrestle with theological and spiritual matters as the church continues to grow. Thanks to his accounting expertise, he can also offer advice to conferences that are struggling financially. “My business and accounting experience has been invaluable in finding ways that conferences can financially weather these challenging times [of COVID],” Donald says.
Karen’s 46 years in nursing and management have translated to this new season of life as well. While she may not be working in the medical field any longer, she has a unique ability to observe needs, often beyond words spoken. She is also highly detail oriented. These combined traits are an invaluable asset as she and Donald continue to build relationships throughout the region.
While service in Africa may not have been part of their original retirement plan, the Vundhlas know that God still has work for them to do. “The past can be our training field for further ‘mission work,’” says Donald, “but we don’t retire from being Christians and following the paths God has for us.”
We serve a creative God who uses our passions and previous experiences to build his Kingdom. “When we look in our past,” Donald says, “we will see how the Lord prepared us for wherever we are today, and tomorrow.” He points to the examples of David and Moses who were both shepherds before God called them to lead the Israelites through particularly turbulent stages of their history. These great leaders of Israel reveal how God still uses the skills of his people to do his work in the world.
Donald, Karen, and Jenni can each attest to how God used their seemingly random prior experiences to uniquely position them to impact their communities. From helping church leaders deal with the realities of COVID-19 to caring for immigrants and refugees within the United States, their professional skills have enabled them to impact their world for Christ.
*Name changed and likeness not shown to protect ministry relationships.
This article was originally published in our 2021 Annual Report.