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'Miracle baby' and pastor Israel Painit answers God's call to missionary service

Pastors and other leaders take time for a group photo during a mission summit held in August 2019. General Secretary Thomas Kemper joined the group for the event; he is pictured in the center.
Pastors and other leaders take time for a group photo during a mission summit held in August 2019. General Secretary Thomas Kemper joined the group for the event; he is pictured in the center.

Returning to the Philippines from an EarthKeepers roundtable in Liberia last year, the Rev. Israel Painit (Advance # 00779Z) heard that three young adult missionaries had been detained by the government in his homeland.

Suddenly, Painit realized he could no longer ignore God’s nudges toward missionary service.

“Their ordeal,” he said, “impelled me to discern more” about becoming a missionary. He decided that if non-Filipino missionaries “were advocating for peace and justice, used by God to defend rights and help poor people in Mindanao, where I live, why could I not be a missionary, too? I decided to become a missionary.”

Painit’s journey toward missionary service actually began decades earlier.

As an infant, he narrowly escaped death in an accident that killed his grandmother and a brother. To transport their harvest, Painit’s parents loaded a bamboo raft with almost 100 bags of corn and several animals. The raft hit a huge rock in the middle of the river and somersaulted.

As Painit’s mother handed her seemingly lifeless baby to people on the shore, she exclaimed, “If you can save him, it would be a miracle!”

“When they baptized me,” he said, “they named me ‘Israel,’ so that when I grew up, I could become a pastor and lead people.” This miracle – literally a second chance at life – motivated Painit to pursue the ministry at age 16.

Because of the critical needs in his home country, Painit never imagined being a missionary anywhere else. “But God has a way of calling people to be God’s hands and feet in places where we are needed most,” Painit said. He was assigned to another part of Southeast Asia.

Painit was a pastor for 25 years, including six as a district superintendent. He directed a mission center that focused on alleviating poverty and served on his annual conference Board of Church and Society. After receiving a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in public administration, he was invited to participate in Global Ministries’ EarthKeepers program.

“Those roles,” he said, “taught me to be a risk-taker, engaged and responsive.” During his years as a district superintendent, the Kidapawan massacre in 2016 put his episcopal area into the limelight. “With my varied experiences,” he added, “Global Ministries maybe found me fit to lead a mission initiative in Southeast Asia.”

He considers his current situation “promising, with potential to expand because only 2% of the population are considered Christians. Motivation to do mission,” he believes, “should come first from the leaders as we inspire people to embrace change and possibilities.

Painit admits that, initially, he was overwhelmed by his “gargantuan” new role. Still, he said, “I cannot discount the fact God has prepared me for the job. To put it simply, I am enjoying my ministry and putting to heart my commitment to advance the work of Christ in this place. As a result, we celebrate every triumph that God bestows.”

excerpt from a story by Barbara Dunlap-Berg, freelance writer and editor for Global Ministries.

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