Joe and Ellen Kunkle


Retired missionaries to the American Indian Field
“Sharing Christ in the Highways and Byways”
By Rachel Elwood, Staff Writer
April 2014

Joe and Ellen Kunkle’s remarkable 44 years of service with World Gospel Mission began even before they became missionaries. Both grew up in missionary families; Joe in Bolivia and Ellen in the United States. In 1948, at the age of 5, Joe moved with his family to a remote village in Bolivia. The unspoiled Amazon rainforest was a perfect playground for the adventurous boy, but Joe’s parents were intentional about teaching him that he and his siblings were also part of the missionary team. “My parents made it clear we kids were missionaries, too; not just along for the ride!” he said.

In fact, it was those years growing up on the mission field that served as a major factor in Joe’s own call to missions, and he considers his childhood as part of his missionary service. While studying at Azusa Pacific College (California), Joe met Ellen, whose parents were also WGM missionaries at Fairhaven and Peniel Mission, urban outreaches in inner-city neighborhoods. When Ellen was a young child, her parents and Sunday School teacher led her to the Lord, and even at a young age, she knew she wanted to serve Him with her whole life.

Joe and Ellen became missionaries with WGM, serving in Bolivia for a combined 23 years, Paraguay for 17 years, and the American Indian Field most recently. In addition, they have done brief special assignments in Argentina and Peru.

Some of their favorite memories of ministry came from their early years of working with the Guayaro tribe in Bolivia. Ministry was not always easy with the close-knit tribe, and church growth was slow. After a revival meeting, they were thrilled to witness 40 people come to the Lord after several years of hard evangelism work. Soon after, a young neighbor visited Ellen. In the course of their conversation, the lady reached for Ellen’s hand and said, “We are truly sisters now.” For Ellen, it was a powerful moment of realization that they had finally been accepted as part of the Guarayo family.

While serving in Paraguay, they worked with national believers on the Mobile Evangelism Team, which used skits, music, puppets, and preaching to convey the message of the gospel. “I loved getting outside the walls of the church and sharing Christ out in the ‘highways and byways’ of Asunción, seeing people find the Lord who otherwise might never have heard the Good News!” Joe shared.

Since 2011, Ellen and Joe have lived in Casa Grande, Arizona, where they can be closer to their children and grandchildren. They continue to encourage Native American churches and pastors, and also help out at camps at Southwest Indian Ministries Center. Although they technically retired in 2012, they are both still actively assisting and encouraging Native churches in Arizona.

“Joe and Ellen are committed to sharing the love of Jesus, and ‘retirement’ hasn't changed that at all,” said Sandy Anderson, field director of the American Indian Field. “They still visit churches on the reservation, help with camps at SIMC, and minister to their children and grandchildren who live in the area.”

After decades of living far from family, they are happy to live closer to their children and grandchildren. They have four adult children, Jeremy, John, Amy, and Angela, and 12 grandchildren.