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Nina Kunkle

Retired Missionary Doctor to Bolivia
"The Lord Blessed."
By Kateland Vernon, Staff Writer, May, 2020

Born in 1950, Nina Kunkle grew up in the jungles of Bolivia as the third of four children of pioneer missionaries John and Mable Kunkle. Throughout her childhood, she was heavily influenced by her parents’ goal of reaching unreached people with the Gospel. Though neither of her parents had medical training, many people in their remote rural area approached them for medical care. Since no hospitals or doctors were easily accessible, the Kunkles provided what care they could. These early experiences with medical needs led Nina to develop an interest in a medical career herself.

At first, her plan was to pursue nursing, but she thought, “If the Lord enabled, I could even go on to study to become an MD.” She attended Indiana University Medical School followed by a three-year Family Practice residency with extra training in the Obstetrics department. In 1983, Nina returned to Bolivia to begin her missionary work.

At first, her ministry involved providing medical care for those in rural areas without access to other options, much like her parents had during her childhood. “The Lord provided the funds to buy a four-wheel drive Toyota vehicle with a winch on the front, and during my first three terms…that’s what I drove out to the remote villages,” Nina recounts. Thanks to the Wings of Peace airplane ministry, she was also able to minister to even more remote areas that weren’t accessible by road. While she enjoyed this season of life, she had no idea that her ministry was about to change.

During Nina’s fourth term the church that she attended in Ascension was lacking a Bolivian pastor. The church approached Nina and asked if she would serve—temporarily—as their pastor. She prayed about it, unsure whether this was really what God would have her do and then returned to them to accept the position after having received permission from the WGM Bolivia Field Executive Committee. “The Lord blessed,” she states, “and He really helped me.” Pastoring wasn’t what she had come to Bolivia to do, but she was glad to serve the Lord and the people she loved. Nina served as lay pastor for a year until a Bolivian pastor became available.

Following this, the Lord began to speak to Nina about helping to get a church started in the village of Santa Maria about thirty miles north of Ascension. Unknown to her, God had also been speaking with the district president, Pastor Eliseo, and his wife, Doli, about the same need. When she shared with them what she was feeling, the three of them decided to prayerfully test what they all felt the Lord was leading them to do. They began driving to Santa Maria on Sunday afternoons to hold a Sunday school. It was necessary to ask permission from different people living in the village for permission to use their patios for the meetings. First, the meetings were mainly attended by children, but it wasn’t long before some of the parents started to attend, wanting to know what their children were being taught. The Lord began to bless, and several of the adults accepted Christ as their Savior. The attendance began to grow, and the Lord again blessed by providing a property, as well as the funds to purchase it and to build a sanctuary. They began having meetings Sunday morning and evening, as well as Wednesday and Saturday evenings.

In addition to their church-planting ministry, Nina continued her medical outreach. She began seeing patients regularly in Santa Maria, alongside Doli, who was a practical nurse. These visits provided an opportunity to build friendships with those who had not yet heard the Gospel, and they continued to use every chance to develop these relationships.

After spending the majority of her lifetime in Bolivia, the Lord finally began to tell her it was time for a change. Retiring from ministry was difficult for Nina, especially saying goodbye. Many she had cared for as patients from their childhood (and some she had even delivered). She’d been blessed to see them come to the Lord and grow in their faith. They had also been her students in Sunday school and youth group and were now grown and starting families of their own as leaders in their churches.

Nina counts these blessings as a highlight of her ministry, stating how wonderful it was “to see how I had been able to serve God and have a part in their lives.” It was hard having to leave these people she loved so deeply, but she was glad to see them stepping up to carry on the Lord’s work.

She also welcomed, on her return to the States, the chance to travel around the U.S. to thank those who had supported her throughout her many years of ministry, some from the very beginning. She is still adjusting to the culture here in the U.S. but is grateful as she looks back on all that she was able to do with God’s help during her time in Bolivia.

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