Mission Begins Young

Myron couldn’t imagine himself a missionary, but God could.

Even though as a boy I’d read all the stories Eric B. Hare wrote, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I could ever be a missionary myself.  None of our relatives had left the country, and I didn’t personally know anyone who’d been so adventurous,”  remembers Myron Iseminger, the current executive secretary of the Middle East & North Africa Union (MENAU) based in Beirut, Lebanon.

It was the late 1970s when Myron’s older sister, attending Walla Walla College (now WWU), declared she was taking a year off to go to Japan as a volunteer English teacher. Although Myron’s father was a pastor and their family was deeply involved in ministry, the very idea of students serving a year in a foreign country in the middle of their education seemed impractical and unnecessary to his parents.

“But I watched curiously from a few years behind her and noticed that she hadn’t been gone long before they were sharing her stories everywhere and were very proud of her,” says Myron.  After a year in college as a theology major, Myron proposed his own mission experience, but not to the Pacific Islands where most of his classmates went.  He was fascinated by the endless stories of two friends who had ventured to serve in the Middle East.  The decision to follow them would steer the rest of his life.

“I thought it would be really neat to experience the Bible lands.  Besides, I thought it would give me some helpful ministerial experience,” admits Myron.  “But I received much more; that year my worldview began changing.  I saw another culture, another way of thinking.  I went to my students’ homes and listened to their stories, saw their personal grief.  I began understanding life from another person’s perspective.  I realized it is easy to judge groups of people until you meet them one-on-one and come to love them.”  It was a year of personal reflection.  “That was when I began sensing the call to long-term service for God overseas.”

At the time cross-cultural pastors did not appear to be in high demand, but he concluded that as long as the world church budgeted funds for mission, finance officers would be needed to manage those funds.   When he returned to college, he added a second major, in business.  It was another early, critical turn that would determine the direction of his life.

The advice a church leader shared with him also weighed on his mind:  If you want to serve in a foreign country, make sure the girl you marry shares that same vision!  Candace, his wife, had never been outside the United States when they married.  “But she was willing,” Myron observed.  Together they waited for a job opportunity overseas.

But most assignments require experience.  While he passed years passed working in pastoral and administrative positions in North America, Myron often wondered if he would ever serve the world church outside his own culture.

One day, a General Conference officer passing through the conference office where he worked as an assistant treasurer, approached him, “In a year or two we’ll have an opening for a treasurer in the Middle East.”  It was a small dream in the future for him and Candace.

But to their surprise, a couple of months later, the same officer stopped by again.  “We have an opening right now, are you ready to go?”  Myron asked for time to pray about.  The answer was jarring, “Well, yes, pray.  But we need your answer now!”

Their response defaulted to their dream, “Yes!” they both responded that same day.  Within months they were settling into an apartment in the Egypt Field office.  It was hard work but rewarding.  “I enjoyed being on the frontline of mission.  I liked contributing where there were limited resources.  I enjoyed seeing the difference I could make, even though it was challenging.”

That mind-set put him on a journey that has led him and his family around the world on numerous short term mission projects, and as associate treasurer of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division in the Philippines, then as the liaison for Asia from the General Conference Secretariat, followed by a return to the Egypt Field as president in 2018, and now in MENAU leadership as executive secretary.  It all seemed impossible to a little boy captivated by Eric B. Hare’s stories, but he can testify,  “If we’re open to wherever God needs us, He works out our life direction much better than we could ever plan it.”