Jonathan and Lisa Bender Parker might not respond immediately to your emails.
They might be, for example, taking their friend’s Land Cruiser on the three-day, 1,429-mile trip from northern Mozambique to South Africa to get it repaired.
Since arriving in Mozambique in 2011 with New Tribes Mission, life has not always been smooth for Lisa – a 1982 Williamsport High graduate and Linden native – and Jonathan, who was raised in Brazil as the son of missionaries.
Lisa contracted parasites not long after they arrived at their new home. Jonathan needed his gall bladder removed last November.
Their personal challenges are nothing compared to those of the average Mozambican in the northern area they live in.
The northern cities of Mozambique still have yet to fully recover from civil war that lasted through 1992, and began after the country became independent from Portugal in 1975.
“There was a large influx of people moving from the country to the cities in search of employment, water, food, schooling, electricity and medicine,” Lisa said. “The poor literacy rate, disease, overcrowding and lack of jobs has only kept the poor poorer and the rich richer. Most food is imported and used clothing is sold at a high cost.”
Efforts are being made by the government to improve water drainage and roads, and a new hospital is planned in the Parkers’ city, but it will take more time to recover from “450 years of colonialism, civil war and disasters,” Lisa said.
“School funding is such that students get one book for one subject, and they do homework by visiting friends who have books in other subjects. It’s heartbreaking to see the filthy conditions they live in, and to know that thousands of them are in a constant state of hunger, sickness and despair – but that is why we are here, to bring the hope that God offers them through knowing Him.”
Jonathan and Lisa work at support tasks, like acquiring supplies, so fellow missionaries can stay focused on learning languages and translating the Bible.
Lisa also teaches ladies at their church, Emmanuel Baptist, to sew, bake and make craft items they can sell. The couple has “adopted” a few grandchildren in their time in Mozambique, and help babysit while parents have to go away for work and schooling.
A lifetime in missions
The Parkers are mission lifers: They met at New Tribes Mission’s Bible Institute, in Jackson, Mich., and married in 1983.
Jonathan had spent most of his life in Brazil. Lisa, the daughter of Larry and Carol Bender, attended Memorial Baptist Church from childhood.
“Miss Pat Johnson, a Bible Club missionary, was one of many who taught me the word of God and mentored me,” she said. “I started attending at age 3 and helped her into my 20s. Throughout my years there I was discipled and challenged to take God’s word to parts of the world where people had no access to the Bible.”
Many missionaries from the New Tribes Mission training center near Jersey Shore attended Memorial Baptist, and Lisa decided to join them. After training at the center, she continued her studies at the Bible Institute.
Jonathan and Lisa went to Brazil in 1988 with their two young daughters. Their son Nathan, 23, who’s now studying to be a counselor/missionary in Africa, was born there.
Jonathan taught Brazilians studying to be missionaries and Lisa worked at the Missionary Childrens’ Boarding School.
“We’ve often felt like we have been able to reach people and groups from dozens of countries, from training others to be missionaries,” Lisa said.
The Parkers transferred to the New Tribes Missions training center in Camdenton, Mo., in 1998, where they continued to teach.
Staying in the field
Seeing so much suffering does sometimes lead to frustration, Lisa said.
“Each day as I wake up and face the heat of the city, the smell of filth and garbage, the fear of malaria and 1,000 other diseases, the stream of beggars at my door and the nagging homesickness as I look at the pictures of my baby grand
sons, I remember the look of the 9-year-old boy when I entered the room with a birthday cake for him, or the light in the eyes of a friend when I told her I was able to get her a sewing machine. God offers truth and life and peace to every nation freely.
“I read a story about a man who was seen at the ocean’s edge tossing starfish back into the ocean. A passerby commented that it hardly seemed worth the man’s effort. To which the man replied, as he tossed another starfish into the sea, ‘It mattered to that one!'”
Sometimes, people ask what the Parkers’ family thinks of their work, how they feel about them being so far from home for so long.
“Our parents have spent a lifetime serving others, and have made it clear to us that we are not to come home on their account,” Lisa said. “Our daughter and son-in-law lead mission groups to various countries, and our oldest daughter’s husband just spent seven months abroad defending our freedoms. They certainly all miss us, but would never want to keep us from doing what God has asked us to do.”
The Parkers will return to America for six months starting in August and would love to share their stories with churches in the area.