A Safe Place For Missionaries

Missionary to America Mark Junkans

“Missions is messy.” Even how we become missionaries. Take Rev. Mark Junkans for example. Mark, the son of a pastor, had drifted away from his faith, although he still considered himself a Christian. After highschool, he left his home in the Midwest for the surfer life in south Texas. His hair was shoulder length, and his behavior was not, shall we say, according to Scripture.  A comment from a friend caught Mark up short: “You are the reason I am not a Christian. You call yourself a Christian, but you do not act like one.” It was painful to hear, but it caused the young man to take stock of his life. In the back of “Surfing Magazine” he read an ad: “Serve God and surf” it said. It was an offer from the group “Youth With A Mission,” an offer to prepare and send young people to witness in Mexico.  He asked a local pastor what he thought – the pastor said, “Why not serve God here?” 

Mark now felt a desire to share the love of Jesus with Spanish speaking immigrants. He found out there were Hispanic outreach ministries in Houston, three to be exact. He approached one to volunteer, and found out it would be helpful if he spoke Spanish. He did not. (Remember, missions is messy). But he did play the guitar and one of the ministries needed someone to accompany the worship services. 

Mark studied hard to learn Spanish, found a job working with Spanish speaking construction workers and rented a room from a Spanish speaking family in a Mexican neighborhood of Houston.  To make a long story short, when the missionary at the church where he was working left, Mark was made a licensed deacon and asked to lead the church. It was then that the church took a nosedive. Messy! What’s next?

One time, no one showed up for worship. After forty minutes, though, one woman came and said, “Nobody here? Don’t worry. You were called to be here.” Then she left. This wise woman later would become Mark’s mother in law.

Mark Junkans persisted. He began an American Citizens Class, an after school choir, English as a Second Language class, a soccer club – all to make contacts with Hispanic immigrants. The church began to grow – but, since many of the new members were immigrants, they were mobile. They moved around the city, closer to work, or to school, or to better living conditions. It was then that the missionary realized he had to change. He was working the ministry as a church, while what he needed to do was to think of his congregation as a mission base. A base from which to form missionaries. 

Another group, one in Dallas, had already embarked on such a mission. They created a mission society called LINC, Lutheran Inner City Networking Coalition.  The aim was to put in place a sacred space, a safe place, to form missionaries for the city. The group would provide a “bubble” to protect missionaries, using new techniques to identify, equip and support those who could begin new communities of faith. It would be a bivocational model, independent of outside subsidy – supplying a support system and an official cover for missionaries. Because different cultures require different approaches to ministry, the training would be sensitive to the needs of individual groups. 

Mark says, “In the past we would require people to dress and sing like us, to adopt our culture, instead of contextualizing worship and ministry.”  A Bible Institute was started as entry level training. Those who were successful at the Bible Institute would be ready to enter a preseminary Ethnic Institute of Theology, where they would work as vicars under the supervision of ordained clergy.  One of the side results, unexpected at the start, was the supportive network that developed among missionaries from different ethnic backgrounds.  The leaders and the network, according to Mark, “fan into flame a passion for leaders to reach their communities with the gospel, and then equip other leaders to bring the gospel to their home countries, to go back and be trainers of leaders in their countries of origin.”

Missions is messy. It was messy when a baby was born in a stable, when He ministered among and confronted the wrong ideas of entrenched leadership. It was even more messy when He hung on a cross. But the Lord has a way of bringing victory out of defeat, life out of death, missionaries out of wayward daughters and sons. 


    1. Thanks Dr. Buckman – and we praise God for Christian Friends of New Americans. May God continue to bless your vital mission.

  1. Mark has been a blessing and an inspiration for me and my family for almost two decades, very instrumental in my own formation as a missionary and church planter. Thanks for having such a great heart for our Hispanic people and sharing Jesus with so many of us.

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