It is often the case that spiritual impact cannot be accurately measured during the brief time humans spend on earth—that it is only in heaven’s embrace that the true extent of a life lived in service to Christ can be seen. This is certainly true with Eleanor Hunsinger (MWC ‘62), this year’s Hall of Faith Award winner.
Though she is humble in her response to the honor— “I’m just a plain old ordinary person, you know”—Hunsinger is incredibly well-deserving. She spent 22 years as a missionary nurse in Zambia, aiding the local people groups both medically and spiritually. When she retired to America in 1992, she left behind a vast legacy that can only be fully known on the other side of eternity.
Hunsinger grew up in Kansas, the daughter of pastors closely involved in the Wesleyan-Methodist denomination. When she was a baby, the family moved close to Miltonvale so that Hunsinger’s mother could take theology courses at the college there. They eventually pastored a church in Idana, nearby.
“We were around Miltonvale during my growing up years,” she said. “It was just kind of taken for granted that we’d go there for school.”
The call to ministry wasn’t necessarily a dramatic event in Hunsinger’s life; she had an interest in missions work due to the missionaries who would visit her church growing up, as well as the ministry biographies her parents kept around the house. She read all of them.
After graduating from Miltonvale High School, Hunsinger was faced with the choice of what to study at college. She chose theology—a trailblazing decision at that time.
“I thought I was going to be a missionary, so I should take theology,” she said. “I think there were six or seven fellows in theology class, and I was the only girl.”
But even during her studies, Hunsinger was hesitant to advertise her future goals. “At Miltonvale, they’d have mission conventions, you know—whoever feels called to be a missionary, go forward,” she said. “People would go forward, and they never became missionaries. And I just thought, I’m not going to go forward and say I’m going to be a missionary and then not go.”
During the last night of her senior year mission convention, Hunsinger felt the tug of the Lord, and she went down to the front of the chapel—but unlike some others, this wasn’t the end of her story. Later that year, she graduated, eventually going on to continue her education with a nursing degree, a bachelor’s degree from Goshen College, and a master’s degree from Wayne State University.
Sink or Swim
Right around the time that Hunsinger was preparing for the mission field, the Wesleyan-Methodist denomination merged with the Pilgrim Holiness Church, leading to an expanded list of destinations for which to send missionaries. Hunsinger was chosen to go to Zambia for what was originally a four-year term. “I had to get out an atlas to find out where Zambia even was,” she remembered. “I don’t think I’d ever heard of it before.”
Nevertheless, when she arrived in the country, she threw herself into the work, well-prepared for the rural environment by her rearing in Kansas. After only two brief orientations with various medical professionals on site, she was on her own.
“It was kind of a sink or swim type situation,” she said.
Over the course of her terms in Zambia, Hunsinger’s work took many different forms. Most of the time, she provided care from a stationary clinic, although teams would occasionally travel into rural areas to administer vaccines. One constant through the change? The challenging conditions and lack of traditional support. Sometimes, there were LPNs to help, but many times it was only Hunsinger working to address the varied needs of the local populations.
There are countless memories from this period of time, some good and some bad. She points specifically to certain doubtful maternity cases as being especially rewarding, situations where both mother and baby survived against the odds. But if you ask her, the medical work she did was only half the battle, as she also endeavored to work spiritually with the people.
This mission took many forms—teaching religion to a seventh-grade class, holding impromptu church services in the Zambian countryside, or leading Bible study with other mission workers. She was both planter and harvester, committed to Zambia and its people for the long term.
Hunsinger says that if you’d told the 29-year-old first-term missionary the future ahead of her when she first landed, she wouldn’t have been surprised. “I’m just the kind of person that goes with the flow. I went there, and this is it,” she said. “I didn’t really intend to quit anytime soon.”
After returning to America, Hunsinger took a number of home health jobs in the Kansas City area, before finally retiring to the Wesleyan Retirement Village in Florida. It was during this time that she started cultivating a passion for writing, joining a Christian writer’s group and traveling to conferences. During the pandemic, she published a novel about Jonathan, Saul’s son, and she’s working to add more titles to her name, most currently a novel about the woman at the well.
It’s a fitting end to a worthy life, as Eleanor Hunsinger has spent decades in service of the story of the Kingdom. It just so happens that now, she’s writing that story on paper.