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Family serving in South Sudan

Steve and Gina Wintermantel and their four children planning extended missionary stay in Africa

By Ed DuBois

The Steve and Gina Wintermantel family is willing to serve as missionaries in South Sudan for an extended period of time.  Not many families are able to do that, and now several church congregations, one in Buffalo, Minn., one in Milwaukee and one in Kansas, are providing encouragement, financial support and prayers.

Steve is currently the pastor of adult discipleship at Buffalo Covenant Church, which he said has been incredibly supportive.

"We are making a four-year commitment, maybe longer.  We'll see," Steve said.

"We need to think about the kids and college," Gina added.

"In the Bible, Jesus said to go and make disciples.  We are willing to go," Steve commented.  "Where much is given, much is expected.  The Lord is calling us to go."

"It's a step of faith," he added.  We don't know how we will be received, but it took 20 years for us to get to this point.  Maybe we have gifts and abilities that could help."

The children, who range in age from 10-15, will be giving up a lot, Steve acknowledged.  There are no sports teams and activities that are commonly available here.

"We trust they will have many other different experiences," Steve said.


Proposed in Kenya

The Wintermantels have lived in Greenfield about five years after arriving from Milwaukee.

Gina had gone on her first mission trip to South Sudan in 1999.  War in Sudan created terrible hardship.  Gina returned in 2001 to help with relief efforts for six months.

She said South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011.

The story about how she met Steve is almost as interesting as her African experiences.  Steve was living in Kansas, and Gina was in Milwaukee.  After they met, Gina suggested one day, "Come and see why I love Africa."  So, Steve went along on a ten-day mission trip to South Sudan with a teaching team.

"He proposed in Kenya during a timeout from the mission work," Gina recalled.


'I have a son you should meet'

They had met through Steve's dad.  Gina is a veterinarian, and she spends considerable time working for the Christian Veterinary Mission (CVM) organization.  In fact, about a quarter of her time is spent working at Corcoran Pet Care, and three-quarters of her time is spent working for CVM.

Gina had crossed paths with Steve's parents when they were all serving together in Orlando, FL during a weeklong mission-training event.  Steve's dad was helping transport young people from the airport.  (Steve mentioned that his youngest sister and her husband are missionaries, too.)

After getting to know Gina, Steve's dad commented, "I have a son back home you should meet."

Later, Steve was attending a church-sponsored gathering at Camp Courage, which is near Maple Lake, Minn.  He figured Milwaukee was not that far away, so he decided to use a pay phone and call Gina.

"My dad said we should meet," he recalled saying to Gina.

The circumstances were a bit odd, but Gina must have liked what Steve had to say.  Steve ended up driving to Milwaukee to get to know Gina a little better.


Met the king

Gina had grown up in Chicago, and Steve had grown up on a Kansas farm before studying four years at a seminary in California.  Apparently, their mutual interest in serving God brought them together.

Serving in South Sudan is going to be rough.  The country is only slightly smaller than Texas, and you need to get around on dirt roads.  Vehicles often get stuck.  Steve said Toyota Land Cruisers are very popular there, and they are all equipped with snorkels to help get through flooded areas.

Gina mentioned she and Steve traveled to South Sudan in 2003, only eight months after their first child, Hazel, was born.  They have a picture of Hazel sitting on the king's lap.

Hazel is 15 now, and the other children are Abraham "Abe," 13, Josiah, 11, and Cyrus, 10.


Malnutrition worse than ever

Together through prayer, the family asked, "What is God calling us to do?"

Well, they learned a while back about a new team being put together for a trip to South Sudan, and last March, the whole family served with CVM in South Sudan during a ten-day stay.

"We then asked the Lord if we should go long-term," Steve said.

During the trip last March, Steve and Gina saw malnutrition like they had never seen before.  The country has no economy, and violence between factions and tribes continues.

Steve and Gina have much to offer.  Steve is eager to work with youth and young adults (because they are more open to new ideas).  He seeks to engage young people and help them find ways to improve conditions.


An egg a day

Gina is anxious to help get more protein in the South Sudan diet.  Many children have distended bellies due to protein deficiency.  Gina would like to help raise chickens and establish an egg hatchery.

"Just one egg each day (for the children) would make a huge impact," Gina said.

A major cultural difference would need to be overcome.  The Sudanese would rather eat chickens than eggs.

Steve is planning to study tropical agriculture in Florida before the family departs for Africa.

He and Gina mentioned the rainy season in South Sudan lasts from April to November, and the dry season includes times when the temperature gets up to 110 degrees.  Air-conditioning is not available.  In fact, most of the country has no utilities.  You need solar panels to get electricity.


Hazel going to school in Kenya

Steve said the plan to live four years in South Sudan has been received with varying degrees of acceptance and enthusiasm among the Wintermantel children.  The boys, Abe, Josiah and Cyrus, are being home-schooled.  Hazel will be attending a boarding school in Kenya, which will be about two flights away in a small aircraft.

The national language in South Sudan is English, not Arabic.  That should help get ideas across and help engage the young people.

Gina has much experience working abroad.  Through her work with CVM, she travels once or twice a year.  She has mostly traveled to Africa and has also visited India.


Sharing at church Oct. 1

She said the family will be sharing about their upcoming move to South Sudan during a gathering on Sunday, Oct. 1 at 9:30 a.m. in the Buffalo Covenant Church.  All are welcome.

What they are setting out to do is quite uncommon, and many people are getting behind them, providing encouragement, financial support and prayers.

"The Lord is calling us to go," Steve said.

Their departure is tentatively planned in July next summer or early August.

They are making a leap of faith.  They are uncertain how it will turn out, but they have gifts and abilities to offer, plus a willingness to go and help.


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