By Engage on Oct 11, 2011
Floyd T. Cunningham has been president of Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary (APNTS), in the Philippines, since 1983; he also is professor of History of Christianity. Cunningham shares about his missionary experience in this Engage profile.
Engage: How did you first recognize God’s call to be involved in missions?
Cunningham: I came to APNTS on a four-year specialized assignment, not expecting to make this a career, and without a “call” to missions. After being here two years, I felt that this is where God wanted me, and that this is where God was using me, so I applied for career missionary status. My sense now is that God’s calling is to ministry, and the “where” of it makes me a missionary, and the “what” of it makes me a teacher – but it’s still the general call to ministry that is most important.
Engage: What is your favorite aspect of what you do in your present assignment?
Cunningham: The favorite parts are in teaching subjects such as Nazarene history and polity, and the doctrine of holiness, and to sense in these classes, on special occasions, the presence of the Holy Spirit speaking to each one of us.
Engage: What are some of the challenges that you face in carrying out your work?
Cunningham: The challenge is to build a Christ-centered and Christ-modeled community in this place of multi-cultural diversity made up of students from Kenya, Ethiopia, Russia, India, China, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Korea, and the USA as well as the Philippines. To model Christ, we are reaching out to our own immediate community. We are attempting to embody Christ in the particular place that God has located us. This is a very poor community, so we are challenged to create means of interrelationship.
Engage: Please share a story of a significant event or moment that has happened in your current assignment.
Cunningham: APNTS is a child-focused school. Not only do we have academic programs (graduate certificate and diploma, MA, and PhD in holistic child development), but on any given day you will see children playing around campus – children of students, staff, and faculty, from various countries. Right now, children from Kenya, Papua Guinea and India play alongside children from the Philippines.
A couple years ago, E.J., the 5-year old son of two of our staff members was a bright, out-going, friendly face among the children playing on campus. He was a little boy that our students volunteered to babysit. He became ill, and his mother thought it was the flu. After a couple days, she took him to a doctor, who diagnosed E.J. as having diphtheria. Within a week, E.J. died.
The death was quite a trauma to the community. Because of the contagiousness of diphtheria the department of health demanded he be buried within three days. We visited this little house in a squatter community where E.J. lived. Students, staff, faculty from various countries walked down the muddy pathway to his house two afternoons to hold services for him, erecting a tent with rice sacks right in front of his house on the muddy pathway. Who was E.J., that all of these folks from so many places would be mindful of him, the neighbors wondered. But [this child was] precious to us, and precious to Jesus, who never pushed children away, but welcomed them to himself.
Engage: How do you maintain a close relationship with God in the midst of the demands of missionary service?
Cunningham: I guard an hour each morning for reading Scripture and prayer. Whenever I’m not called to be somewhere else, I enjoy the fellowship of one particular local church where I have friends and which treats me as its own member.
Engage: What are the rewards of what you do?
Cunningham: There is just a peace in sensing that I am in the one place in the world that God is able to use me. There is joy in seeing how my former students are involving themselves in the Kingdom around the world. There is great anticipation with every incoming student.
Engage: What are some aspects of the culture where you live that you have come to love or embrace?
Cunningham: Some of the food, such as sinigang (a kind of soup), ampalaya (a kind of bitter vegetable) and calabasa (squash/pumpkin). I enjoy establishing friendships and relationships.
Engage: What do you like to do for fun?
Cunningham: I try to play tennis once or twice a week. Occasionally, bowling.
Engage: What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
Cunningham: That I have a sense of humor. Some people think I’m shy. Actually I just don’t like people. Some people think I drink too much coffee. But without caffeine I’d have no personality at all. (Apologies to David Letterman for these jokes).
Engage: What advice would you have for others exploring a possible call to missions, or embarking on their first missionary assignment?
Cunningham: Cross-cultural ministry really enables you to look at yourself as well as your culture. Establishing relationships cross-culturally is amazingly fulfilling and interesting. Each day in another culture brings something new.