Bernice Bunkowske, 81, of Nashville knew at the age of 10 that she wanted to be a missionary. Born and reared in Missouri, she was inspired by a book featuring the life of a lady missionary who helped to change the culture of the area where she lived through God’s grace, lots of prayers, courage and hard work.
While reading the book, Bernice was convinced that God was leading her on a similar path. While she was in college, her future husband, Eugene, was studying at a nearby Seminary to become a minister, never considering the mission field per se. They became acquainted at church. Courtship followed with later marriage.
Members of the Lutheran Church, the couple was asked to serve as evangelistic missionaries in Nigeria in 1960. Their second assignment was to help establish a hospital. Another challenge: The Yala tribe had no written language; Eugene saw an opportunity to further serve God and the local people through his studies in linguistics to develop an alphabet.
As Bernice tells the story…God’s providence brought an educated Yala man of the area – Ferdinand – to help Eugene. They made a good team….taking local words and developing an alphabet. First was translating Jonah because the locals embraced multiple gods; next Hebrews because they believed in animal sacrifices. Christians know that Jesus is the true sacrifice for the remission of sin and for salvation. Next was the Gospel of Mark followed by the entire New Testament. Bernice said Yala believers in Nigeria now have both The New and Old Testament to study the fullness of God’s Word with its eternal promises.
While I interviewed Bernice, I also spoke with her son Walt who grew up there. He said, “It was a happy time in my life… as a boy having friendships with the native children, attending boarding school and playing sports, especially soccer.” Walt noted there were some adjustments for him getting acclimated to life in the United States when his family returned in 1982.
Bernice said her husband was then asked to establish missionary training at the seminary level to help equip those going abroad with The Gospel. He passed away in 2018 while the family lived in Minnesota.
I asked how she got to Nashville. She explained, “Daughter Nancy lives in New Mexico, daughter Barbara in Asia, son Walt lives with her…and the youngest son, Joel, is an attorney in Nashville whose specialty is Music Law.”
Joel encouraged his mother and brother to come south leaving the cold winters of Minnesota for the relatively pleasant four seasons of Tennessee…and to be closer to family. She agreed.
Ralph E. Vaughn