Kunkels take Gospel to Uruguay, Paraguay
By Allen Palmeri
Auguat 9, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY – Tim and Iracema Kunkel are missionaries on the move.
After 15 years in Uruguay, they came to live in Jefferson City this summer as missionaries-in-residence. When their furlough is up in July 2006, they will then head back to South America for a brand new challenge – the mission field of Paraguay.
“We’re going to be living 18 months out of a suitcase, and we don’t know if we’re going to rent, buy, or if anything will be available (in Paraguay),” Tim Kunkel said. “There’s really a lot of instability in our future, but it’s kind of exciting. We know the Lord will take care of all of that.”
The Kunkels hope to speak in 100 churches the next 11 months. On Sept. 7, they will speak at the Missouri Baptist Convention chapel service in the Baptist Building. Area pastors are welcome to attend. Tim Kunkel is available at (573) 635-8791 for those interested in booking the Kunkels and their youngest son, Steven, for a missions presentation.
“We talk about Uruguay, we talk about Paraguay, and we talk about missions in general,” Tim Kunkel said. “I just finished about a 16-page strategy document for the next seven years of where I want to try to take our team. It looks easy on paper. It’s hard to do.”
Focusing on church planting and theological extension training, he worked for years in the interior of Uruguay training indigenous pastors and starting a Bible institute. Two of these men, Raul Martinez and Tomas Moreno, are positioned to carry on the ministry, Kunkel said.
“I believe very strongly in training local men to be local pastors,” he said.
Iracema is a Brazilian whose grandfather, Ambrosino Mendonca, was one of the early converts of Southern Baptist missionary work in Rio de Janeiro. William “Buck” Bagby and Anne Luther Bagby, the first Southern Baptist missionaries to Brazil, helped plant First Baptist Church, Niteroi, in 1892 in the state of Rio de Janeiro, through the efforts of Mendonca and a few other founding members. The church is now known internationally with 7,000 members.
Iracema’s missionary work has revolved around ladies’ evangelism, the disabled and their families, and juvenile delinquent girls. She raised a daughter, Julia, and a son, John Glenn, on the mission field and has seen God touch many lives through her perseverance with Steven, who has autism. Like her husband, she is fluent in English, Spanish and her native Portugese, and is learning Guarani, the blended “heart” language of rural Paraguay. A special language known as Jopara is what most Paraguayans speak, Tim Kunkel said. Both said they are eager to learn the new dialect.
International Mission Board leaders approached the Kunkels in April to ask them to pray about taking on the challenge of helping to reach Paraguay, a country of 5.6 million people, with the Gospel. It did not take much to convince Tim, 47, and Iracema, 55.
“I had felt for about a year that what God had wanted us to do in the northwest part of Uruguay was finishing,” Tim Kunkel said. “I felt that we had come full circle and just felt that God probably had something else. I felt a certain stirring of the nest.”
Their assignment now is to reach the eastern area of Paraguay, which borders Argentina and Brazil and includes about 1.3 million people. Their goal is to plant 100 house churches in the next 4-6 years. To do that they will continue to walk in their calling as missionaries, gifted as they are to sleep on the floor and eat weird things, Tim Kunkel said with a smile.
“Spiritual family is a lot thicker than bloodlines,” he said, explaining his belief that to be a missionary is a spiritual gift. “If you can’t stand being separated from your country and from your kinfolk, you can’t be a missionary. You’d go crazy. We were 4½ years overseas this time uninterrupted.”
Scriptures like Matt. 19:29 keep them going. They have tasted some of what Jesus was getting at when he taught that those who forsake lands for the sake of Christ will receive a hundredfold blessing.
“I believe God does that,” Tim Kunkel said