Gwen Kovac is a retired missionary who calls Timberline Church home. The following is part of her story about a lifetime of service … and the faithful supporters whose giving and prayers made her ministry possible. (Yes, we know this post is longer than our usual blogs, but Gwen’s story is huge and amazing! It’s worth reading to the end as a challenge to all of us about what God can do through obedient hearts.)
Missions has been part of Gwen’s life for as long as she can remember. Her parents strongly supported missions and often hosted missionaries in their home. Even as a child, Gwen felt drawn to Spanish-speaking people. At the age of 16 or 17, a visiting missionary talked about unreached tribal groups in Alaska and being obedient to God’s call. Gwen remembers her heart breaking for the unreached in a greater way, surrendering to God’s lead, and even giving her month’s paycheck in the offering.
On her 21st birthday in 1966, Gwen headed to Matagalpa, Nicaragua where she would teach choir, music, typewriting, and English to community members at the Bible school. The following year, she worked with John and Lois Bueno in San Salvador, El Salvador. While she returned to the United States to continue her studies and later taught in Loveland, she still made multiple trips to Central America, Mexico, and even worked for a month at a coffee house ministry in Spain.
In 1989, she sensed God’s leading to go to Guatemala first as a missionary associate and then as a fully appointed missionary in 1993. From her base in Guatemala City, Gwen worked with 18 schools across the nation to develop curriculum and train teachers before branching out to develop a dental program and open a counseling center. In 1999, Gwen transferred to Lima, Peru to help establish a Christian educational program but her responsibilities expanded to include serving as a youth pastor, teaching in the Iquitos Bible school, conducting seminars in churches across Peru, and hosting evangelism and medical teams from the United States.
However, she became increasingly burdened for the isolated pastors, congregations, and unreached tribes in the Amazon jungles around Pucallpa in the eastern Ucayali province, a 24-hour bus ride from Lima. So, in 2002, Gwen moved to Pucallpa and over the next eight years, she planted the first Assemblies of God church among the Shipibo tribe and worked with leaders to organize and maintain an extension Bible school. (By the time she left, there were at least four new churches and over 40 Bible school graduates.) She also established relationships with the local people while assisting with construction efforts in primitive areas, digging water wells, church planting, developing feeding programs and ministries for children, organized compassion outreaches for teams from the United States, mentored pastors, trained teachers, and twice even pastored problematic churches to restore unity.
For security reasons, Gwen moved to southeastern Peru in 2009. With the help of nationals, she planted the first Assemblies of God church among the Uros. In June 2010, God opened the door for her to return to the Ucayali province. She retired from full-time missions in June 2011 and returned home to Fort Collins.
While Gwen witnessed many physical healings during her years of ministry, her greatest joys came as people experienced reconciliation with God and each other. She also led nationals in taking the gospel to five neighboring tribes. Others have called her a trailblazer in education, pioneer missions, church planting, and evangelism with her dedication to God and love for people as a living illustration of Christ’s love and sacrifice.
But in Gwen’s eyes, she couldn’t have done any of it without the prayer and financial support of others. As she said, “I have been the blessed upon blessed as a beneficiary of mission’s giving by my home church Timberline, many wonderful friends and relatives, plus supporting churches throughout Rocky Mountain District, New Mexico, Idaho, etc. It is such an honor to know that people believe in God’s call upon your life. Many people gave an upfront one time offering, and many gave faithful monthly pledges for years. Over these many, many years, people have said that they were praying and God impressed upon them that I needed help financially.”
Gwen recalled one time when she ran out of money and didn’t even know it because she hadn’t had time to read the financial report that came by snail mail to the jungle. “It was a shock to my system to be below -0- in funds. I had been using my own savings to finish constructing the beautiful structure of La Esmirna. Well, God knew our needs before I even asked. A pastor in Colorado Springs wrote telling me how that we were going to raise these ‘matching funds.’ What’s that? Needless to say … his church and Timberline made the matching funds, and this frightened missionary knew again … God supplies our needs.”
“I might add that the La Esmirna prayer team and I had spent many different moments in fasting and prayer plus one all night vigil praying about this problem before the incredible Colorado Springs pastor and Timberline solved the financial problem. I had never realized how important it is to the people to have a decent church building until then. The community looked with more respect and trust upon the church people. The water well that we dug helped bring water into the community and that was a source of the River of Life, the healing to a conflictive area of Pucallpa.”
Gwen also discovered there were benefits to being a full time Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) missionary. For instance, the Rocky Mountain District Women’s Ministries helped with offerings to buy appliances. Gwen said, “During the majority of my mission years, I traveled. Of course, I was super grateful for the material blessing of a dryer, refrigerator, and a propane stove, but a washer was always my favorite appliance. Maybe I was weird but I would hug the washer and pray a prayer of blessing on those wonderful women for thinking of my needs. ”
One other tremendous material blessing as an approved missionary of AGWM was the provision of a vehicle provided through a commitment by the youth of the churches of each district. Gwen said, “The Rocky Mountain District provided the 1999 Mitsubishi that served me well in Peru from 1999 to 2011. It was my one and only Speed-The-Light car. This ‘misionero’ (what the Peruvians called her car) was kept in top condition and used mostly for ministry reasons in the jungle, the big city of Lima, and the high mountains of Puno. Thank you, Timberline youth, for your part in providing this car that was an identification for me. No matter where I lived, the people always knew where I was and my car became a statement of what we did. Before I left in 2011, I asked if we could sell it to Pastor Daniel. And in 2014 when we went back to the highlands (read the trip report here), we were honored to ride in my former car.”
Seeing financial and material provision was an incredible faith builder for someone who was uncomfortable mentioning her required monthly budget, usually set by AGWM. While it was Gwen’s responsibility to raise those funds, the money belonged to the mission to be used with good stewardship. “It wasn’t always easy making out the financial reports, but if one has finances, then one can train pastors and leaders in the Word, build and roof churches, dig wells, buy boats, give Bibles, etc. I always tried to live as safely as possible but use extra funds left over from housing or other expenses to supply the Bible school funds and so on.”
Gwen sometimes received letters from supporters saying that they weren’t able to continue giving. “I remember the first letter. I was devastated and cried. Then, I got up and wrote a letter of thanks for all that they had already done and blessed them. Sometimes the donor had miracles and could continue to help out, and sometimes I never heard from them again. But, the sure fact was that when one donor would leave, God would bring miracles from people that I had never met or even heard of.”
Gwen sees giving to missions in four different ways:
- Instantaneous. Like as a teenager when she gave to help the unreached tribal groups, she gave without thinking about it. People without Christ who had nothing compared to what she had? An instant decision to help.
- Fun. Like a spurt that makes her heart burst with the desire to just bless someone and may be an answer to that person’s prayer. Gwen recalled times when someone in a visiting group would say, “I just want to bless so-and-so. Is that okay?” Usually Gwen already knew the person’s need and was blessed to see God at work through the generosity of others.
- Serious giving in response to an appeal or need. Gwen recalled a time in February 2011 when the Ucayali River region was inundated with flood waters and many folks lost everything. Using funds from Timberline and supporters, Gwen bought disaster food supplies and sent people up the dangerous rivers and passable roads. But when she brought the need to the attention of others in the regional church, she was soon inundated with finances and bags of clothing.
- Commitment giving. This might be in response to an appeal, but usually involves giving on a regular basis with a pledge to or through an organization that requires stewardship and accountability with the funds.
Beyond financial giving, Gwen was blessed by the commitment of others to pray. “One lady told me that she prayed for me three times a day. When Mom and I visited her home, she showed us my pictures and how she kept me lifted up to the Lord all of those many years. Traveling during the different itineration times was difficult and tiring but it was so exciting to meet supporters who not only gave offerings, but they were praying for Guatemala, for Peru, for me, for my Mom, and so on.”
Gwen Kovac’s lifetime of service was made possible by her obedience to go … and the faithful support of others to pray and give so that she could stay.