When Janeece England became a Christian in fifth grade, she knew she wanted to be a missionary in Africa.
Between her junior and senior years at Kentucky Christian University, Janeece had an opportunity to intern with established missionaries in Africa for school credit. It looked like she was finally going to have her chance to be a missionary. But there came another opportunity Janeece couldn’t pass up.
The college organized a singing group that would travel and represent KCU in church camps and churches throughout the summer. It included a stipend intended to cover half of room and board. It was more money than Janeece would have made if she stayed home and worked. This ultimately influenced her decision to travel and pay for her education, instead of fulfilling her dream of going to Africa.
Janeece’s fifth-grade dream was waning.
Two days before 1973 and the beginning of her final semester, Janeece married fellow student, Steve England. Two months later, Steve was hired as the preacher of Surprise Christian Church in Surprise, Indiana. All throughout Janeece’s senior year, the young couple drove to Surprise on the weekends and ultimately decided to move there at the end of the school year.
From their new town, Janeece and Steve sought mission work from a variety of mission agencies, eventually landing near Bangladesh, India. However, it was a time of great political upheaval, and they were unfortunately not allowed to stay in the country. They returned home and accepted a pastorate in Salem, Indiana.
For the next 27 years, Steve and Janeece worked in two local churches. They often took church groups on short-term mission trips to help missionaries in Saint Crois, Mexico, Jamaica and India. Although it was mission work, it was not exactly what Janeece had dreamed.
And it was still not Africa.
Both Indiana churches in which the Englands served supported Ben and Karen Pennington, missionaries to Zimbabwe. The Penningtons knew Steve and Janeece wanted to be missionaries. So when it came time for their home assignment, they asked the Englands if they would go to Africa to help in their absence — similar to a substitute teacher. But as appealing as the offer was, Steve and Janeece would have to spend several months away from their church; it wasn’t a very feasible option.
It appeared Janeece’s dream of being a missionary in Africa was destined to remain unfulfilled.
Time to Retire?
After 27 years of faithful service, Steve and Janeece saw their tenure in local church ministry was coming to an end, but they were only 51 and hardly ready to retire. So, thanks to their long association with the Penningtons, they decided to go global.
The Penningtons were scheduled for another home assignment and again asked if the Englands were interested in relieving them in Zimbabwe. This time — 40 years after Janeece had first dreamed of Africa — the Englands could finally say yes.
The Englands originally thought it would be was a one-time shot — but it wasn’t.
“Two days before we were to board a plane to fly home (from Zimbabwe) in 2002, a fellow missionary in South Africa emailed Ben Pennington asking if he knew of anyone who could help with their work for six months while they were on furlough,” Janeece said. “And Missionary Relief Services (MRS), an independent agency, was born.”
MRS: A New Dream
There’s a lot on a missionary’s mind when he or she comes back to the States – things like continuing the ministry and keeping their home safe. That’s exactly what MRS does.
“MRS is a mission to the missionary,” Janeece said. “The main goal is to relieve missionaries not only of the physical duties on the field, but to perform those duties so thoroughly as to relieve them from worrying about the mission or the security of their house, car and other possessions during their absence.”
MRS is an independent agency overseen by the leaders of Saltair Church of Christ in Steve’s hometown. The agency is responsible for distributing funds which are supplied by various churches and individuals. But that’s just the scaffolding that made the Englands’ missionary work possible.
Because they thought their first trip to Zimbabwe was a one-time deal, they didn’t raise any permanent support — and still haven’t. They have completely relied on God to support their needs, and He always has.
“We never knew where, or even if, there would be another MRS assignment,” Janeece said.
They relied totally on God’s guidance. It was usually within the last two or three days of one assignment that another request would come in — sometimes resulting in back-to-back assignments. So many requests have come in that MRS is booked through 2021!
When fifth-grade Janeece England first began dreaming of being a missionary in Africa, she wasn’t picturing MRS. But she says it’s the way God planned it, and that’s always the best way.