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Burnis Bushong

Retired Support Staff
"We Were Committed"
By Rachel Pyle, Writing Intern, Updated May 18, 2020

For Burnis and Thelma Bushong, their lifelong vision was to lead people to Jesus Christ. As a retired missionary with World Gospel Mission, Burnis shared that although the variety of ministries a missionary may do is wonderful, “The basic goal is to lead them to Jesus.” Throughout the years, Burnis and Thelma were dedicated and faithful to this goal on many mission fields.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Burnis grew up as the youngest of three boys. Thelma was born in East Liverpool, Ohio, and she was also the youngest in her family. Both accepted the Lord at an early age and were involved in their churches’ missionary societies during their teen years. However, neither felt the call to full-time missions.

They met during their freshman year at Vennard College (formerly Chicago Evangelistic Institute). They focused on Bible-based majors but felt strongly that they were not called to the mission field. Finally, Thelma received her call to missions during an evening church service. That night, she went to tell Burnis of her calling to missions (and to break off the relationship), only to discover a wonderful surprise. “She had tears in her eyes; soon tears were in my eyes,” Burnis shared, but they were tears of joy because he too had received a call that night. Three weeks later, they were engaged.

Burnis and Thelma married in June 1946, and in August, they started serving with The Churches of Christ in Christian Union, a denomination that WGM partners with, on the Texas/Mexico border. They stayed on the Texas/Mexico border for six years and eventually became directors of the field. During this time, their three children were born: Lois, David, and Robert.

In December 1951, the Bushongs were asked by WGM to serve in Honduras. “It was a whole new life,” Thelma shared about their first years in Honduras. They spent the first three years in a very remote area “back in the bush.” Burnis eventually became field director, and the family moved to the capital city of Tegucigalpa. Burnis also took on the responsibility as the director of Tegucigalpa Bible Institute and was part of the Evangelism in Depth campaign. Thelma taught school and served as hostess to the many guests coming in and out of their home.

In 1964, Burnis and Thelma moved to Bolivia to establish the Evangelism in Depth program in that country. They spent a year on the campaign, with Burnis travelling all over the country. During this time, they also conducted daily radio programs in Spanish.

After a successful year in Bolivia, Burnis and Thelma were offered positions at WGM headquarters, and they moved to Marion, Indiana. Burnis was appointed vice president of Field Ministries. “We felt it was the Lord’s will,” Thelma said about the switch to homeland staff. “Our ministry was expanding; we were helping all the missionaries.”

During part of their 25 years at headquarters, Burnis also taught part-time at Taylor University (Indiana). The busy couple was also active in College Wesleyan Church.

Although the Bushongs semi-retired in 1994, they took on a new responsibility as pastors to retired missionaries, and they travelled across the U.S. visiting WGM retirees. In 2001, Burnis suffered a stroke which caused them to officially retire after almost 50 years of missionary service.

The couple settled in Avon Park, Florida, where they were surrounded by friends and fellow WGM retirees. Health issues brought some struggles, so the couple moved to Marion, Indiana, to be closer to their children. Thelma passed away on November 11, 2014, and Burnis joined her in heaven on May 17, 2020. 

Burnis and Thelma never second-guessed God and His master plan. “We knew we were called,” Burnis said. Thelma quickly added, “And we were committed.”

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