Tom and Ellen Dunbar


Retired Missionaries to Paraguay
“Go with a Sense of Adventure”
By Rachel Elwood, Staff Writer
September 2013

“Mission work is a spiritual battle. Go into it with a sense of adventure but with your eyes wide open. Go for it with all your gusto!”

During their 34 years of service as missionaries with WGM, Tom and Ellen Dunbar certainly had their share of adventures and battles. Throughout their time ministering to people in Honduras, Mexico, and Paraguay, they stood firm knowing that God had led them to each place.

“Anything that might be looked on as a sacrifice simply isn’t; the Lord has given us more than we could ever imagine,” said Ellen.

Tom and Ellen met while students at Cascade College in Portland, Oregon. Tom had grown up in rural Washington state, and Ellen was raised in Oregon City. Tom accepted the Lord as his Savior at the age of 15 and was sanctified three years later. Meanwhile, Ellen was raised in a Christian home and knew even as a young girl that she wanted to serve the Lord full time. During college, they both felt a gradual conviction that they were supposed to do missions, a calling that was confirmed when Tom went on a short-term trip to Chihuahua, Mexico.

Ellen completed her nurses training while Tom worked on his degree in religion and seminary courses. They applied to WGM a month before their June 1957 wedding. The leadership asked them to first take on a pastorate to get some practical experience in ministry. In 1959, they were accepted and sent to Honduras, by way of Costa Rica for language training.

“I was so excited to finally be there,” Tom said. “I had this romantic notion of missions and expected the country to change overnight, to turn to the Lord right away. It wasn’t quite like that.”

Their first home was in a small village where another missions organization had started a clinic and done some evangelistic work. Tom worked with local believers to build up a congregation. For Ellen, managing the clinic was a stretching experience. “In nurses training, we were told not to diagnose or prescribe medication, but that was what I had to do there!”

After returning to Honduras following furlough, their next adventure took them to Escuela El Sembrador, where they served as directors of the school while Don and Twana Hawk were on furlough. Tom later served as the director of Tegucigalpa Bible School and the Theological Education by Extension (TEE) program. Ellen took on the role of treasurer and served in that capacity from then on.

“I really enjoyed it,” she said. “I decided later that was my calling, not nursing! I just liked working with details and I’m a little bit of a perfectionist.”

They took a leave of absence in 1976 to pastor a church in Portland, Oregon. In 1983, they returned to WGM, this time to serve on the Mexico border in McAllen, Texas. They were involved in field leadership, evangelism, and the TEE program. Under Tom’s direction, the church gained a vision to expand south into Central Mexico, where the church is flourishing today.

In 1994, they went back to Honduras where Tom served as the field director and Ellen again was the treasurer. They also hosted the many volunteers who came to Honduras every year.

Tom never saw himself as a leader, and he relied heavily on the Lord for wisdom. “I just said, ‘Lord, if that’s what I’ve got to do, help me.’ I didn’t like administration at first, but I came to feel comfortable with it. I think my role has been more peacemaking and pulling people together. I feel the Lord used us to bring things together enough to have a visionary come in and take over.”

By then, Tom and Ellen were close to retirement age. They had thought they would finish their missionary careers in Honduras. But when a need came up for a field director in Paraguay, Tom and Ellen accepted and embarked, once again, on a new adventure. They officially retired in 2002.

They settled in Iowa for six years, “but God’s country kept calling us,” and they have lived in Chelan, Washington, ever since. Tom and Ellen have returned to Honduras several times, volunteering in the guesthouse and ministering to pastors. Now, they are working on starting a ministry to Hispanic people in their own community.

Tom and Ellen have five children, 13 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Three of their children were born on the mission field, “The best place in the world to raise a family!” Tom enthused.

“That’s right,” said Ellen, “We have no regrets whatsoever.”