Meet Jake and Nancy Shenk
Since they first set foot in Zimbabwe in 1958, Jacob and Nancy Shenk have devoted their lives to serving the people of Zimbabwe. With a ministry spanning nearly six decades, Jake and Nancy have witnessed the Zimbabwe BIC Church grow to become the largest national BIC Church in the world, nearly 50,000 members. We were honored to have a few minutes to catch up with Jake and Nancy, who have just returned to the United States for home ministry.
Q: Hi Jake and Nancy! First, tell us a bit about yourselves.
I (Jake) was born on January 28, 1936, in Lancaster County (Pa.). Nancy was born on December 23, 1936, in Des Moines, Iowa. After graduating from Messiah College (Mechanicsburg, Pa.), we married on December 28, 1956, 60 years ago this month! We have four sons and daughters-in-law, ten grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. Three of our sons and their families have served in Zimbabwe with Brethren in Christ U.S. World Missions.
Q: Can you provide some context on the people you serve?
Zimbabwe is composed primarily of two tribes: the Ndebele and the Shona. Initially, BIC U.S. World Missions worked mainly among the Ndebele, but our ministry has since expanded to serve both tribal groups. Both groups are highly animistic in lifestyle and worship—the belief that natural objects like trees and rocks possess a soul or spirit. While these beliefs have provided a background for them to understand the Gospel, some have used it as an excuse to stick to their old ways. Overall, Zimbabweans are paternalistic with a closely knit family structure.
Q: When did you first sense a call to missions in Zimbabwe?
I felt a clear call to missions at an early age—about 10 years old. It was almost as if someone had spoken audibly, telling me that I was to serve in Africa. Nancy also felt called to missions at a young age, but didn’t necessarily sense a specific call like I did. In preparation to fulfilling our calling, we both attended Messiah College where we eventually met.
I graduated from Messiah College with a degree in Bible and a teaching certificate in general science. We left for Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) in November 1958. At that point, BIC U.S. World Missions was urgently looking for a Bible and science teacher for the Matopo Secondary School. Thus, we were sent to serve in that capacity as our initial assignment. Except for a few years during the War of Independence in the 1980s, we have served continuously in Zimbabwe since that time. Having thoroughly enjoyed the ministry to which God has called us in its many aspects, I would encourage young people to consider God’s calling in their lives. Doing the Master’s will brings great joy!
Q: How have your roles changed over the years?
While we have both served in many roles, our primary thrust has been to develop and raise church leaders. I (Jake) worked in many capacities toward developing church leaders. I’ve served as a teacher, mission superintendent, manager of church primary schools, church district overseer, national church treasurer, organizer and teacher for training church leaders in rural areas, BIC U.S. World Missions financial secretary in Zimbabwe, pastor, bishop, farm manager, and, most recently, as liaison between BIC U.S. World Missions and local church leaders in southern Africa. At one point, Nancy was purchasing manager and stock controller at Matopo Book Centre, a bookstore run by the Church and mission. She has also served in many secretarial roles throughout the years.
Several years ago, I wrote an Ndebele grammar book that has been used in all primary and secondary schools, as well as all the universities, in Zimbabwe. The ability to speak fluent Ndebele has opened many doors for various types of ministry for us here, both on a national and interdenominational level.
Q: What spiritual fruit have you seen develop since serving in Zimbabwe?
During our years of ministry, we have seen the Zimbabwe BIC Church grow tremendously. When we arrived in Zimbabwe, membership was just over 2,000. Following the War of Independence in the late 1980s, the Church began to experience rapid growth. Today, membership stands at nearly 50,000! The giving of the Zimbabwe BIC Church has also increased considerably. Overall, the local congregations have a greater sense of unity and acceptance of responsibility.
Q: How can we be praying for you and the people of Zimbabwe?
Presently, life for the ordinary person in Zimbabwe is very difficult due to the prevailing political and economic situation. In addition, Zimbabwe is experiencing a drought, and most people are struggling to find food to eat. So please pray that political leaders will have the motivation to make changes to bring political understanding and economic recovery. Pray that the Lord will send good rains and this season will bring relief and good crops for the people.
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