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Nancy Butler

Retired Missionary to USA: Southwest Ministries
"Why not?"
By Kateland Vernon, Staff Writer, February 2022

When Nancy Butler and her husband, Art, were asked to serve as missionaries on the American Indian Field (AIF), their answer was, “Why not?” This hadn’t always been Nancy’s attitude toward being a missionary, though. She knew from an early age that she wanted to be a teacher or a nurse, but when she received her calling to missions as a fifteen-year-old at a church camp, she was hesitant. “That’s when God really laid it on my heart to be a missionary,” she recalls, “and I didn’t want to be.” She obediently said "yes," hoping that God would change His mind. Instead, He changed hers.

After five decades of ministry, Nancy’s view of missionary life changed drastically. She reflected on her years of service with great joy, remembering fondly the people she was able to work alongside and, more importantly, those she was blessed to serve. She summed up their time as missionaries with 1 Thessalonians 2:8 (NIV): “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

Nancy and Art grew up within a few miles of each other in Indiana, but they did not meet until college at Indiana Wesleyan University, where they both majored in education. Nancy had grown up in a Christian home and was interested in full-time Christian service. They were married on August 19, 1967. While Art finished his degree and worked full time, Nancy taught third grade and completed her master’s degree in education at Ball State University (Indiana).

In the summer of 1971, they experienced their first taste of missions while teaching at a Christian academy in Puerto Rico. When they returned to the U.S., they sought God’s plan for their lives and received confirmation that their next step was career missionary service. They made themselves available to WGM to be placed wherever there was a need for teachers. In 1973, Art and Nancy arrived on the American Indian Field to serve at Southwest Indian School in Phoenix, Arizona.

Nancy’s first assignment at SIS was teaching first- and second-grade students. Soon after their arrival on the field, though, Nancy heard about a need for kitchen workers. She agreed to help for a short while, but said with a laugh, “My six weeks lasted twenty-one years.” She found herself not just a helper, but in charge of the cafeteria, a role she grew to love. The other members of her kitchen team became another family to her, as did her students.

When SIS closed in 1998, Nancy and Art weren’t sure what the future held and even questioned whether they should apply for a different field. God led them to Hebrews 6:10, which says, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” He soon revealed a new area of service for them; in 2000, the couple became involved in the development of Southwest Indian Ministries Center (SIMC), which would be home to a new camp program. Over time, the ministry grew from a week-long program to three separate weeks of programs for children ages first grade through high school. The camp ministry even spread to southern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico.

Serving on the AIF taught Nancy many things. She loved learning from those in her community, especially those who had a different view of time than she did. One day, she recalls, she and Art received an unexpected visit from a Native couple in the morning, an occurrence that was common in their home. Instead of viewing the guests as an inconvenience, Nancy was grateful for the blessing of time with them. She loved the opportunity to open her home, especially as a place where they could hold important conversations. By ten o’clock that evening, their guests were still there. Before they left, the couple told Nancy and Art, “We want to get back to the Lord.” The four talked and prayed together, a precious time that made any change in plans that day completely worth it for the Butlers.

Throughout her time on the AIF, Nancy was known for her practical advice, specifically to young wives and mothers. She frequently shared her simple formula for meal planning—meat/protein, carbs, soup/sauce—and continued to share it and other advice during retirement. More importantly, though, Nancy was generous with the spiritual wisdom she gained over the years. She urged others not to let their busy schedules keep them from spending time together, but rather to keep their doors open.

After serving at SIS as teachers for many years, Art and Nancy continued to reach out to Native Americans, often around a dinner table and many times with games. They had three sons—Stephen, Scott, and Shane—and two grandsons—Joshua and Zachary.

In 2008, Art semi-retired but continued to serve in alumni ministries, working to stay in contact with former students and their families. Art was a beloved member of the American Indian Field missionary team and a father figure to many people of all ages. His love for people was evident in every person he interacted with as was his devotion to his Lord and Savior.

After Art went to be with the Lord in 2016, Nancy remained active on the field for several more years. She may have retired from official missions work in 2019, but she didn't want to “grow old or grow up.” She kept in touch with SIS alumni, visiting as often as she could. She also spent the first several months of 2020 in northwestern New Mexico to fill in for another missionary on homeland ministry assignment. Her bold sense of adventure was unmistakable, and she said, “Who knows where I’ll be this time next year?”

On January 19, 2023, the Lord called Nancy home, and she is now experiencing the joy and the fullness of His presence.

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