Missionary profile: David and Sylvia PotterBy Engage magazine on February 18, 2013
David and Sylvia Potter are serving as missionaries in the capital city, Port Vila, of Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific, on the Asia-Pacific Region. They began in 2003. David is principal of the South Pacific Nazarene Theological College, on the Vanuatu campus. He is also pastor of the Black Sand Church of the Nazarene, and filling in as the Vanuatu district superintendent for the time being. Sylvia serves as mission treasurer and is leading a Wednesday night Bible study. From 1992 to 2003, David served as principal of the Nazarene College of Nursing, and district superintendent of Mid-Ramu in Papua New Guinea for six months. They have two children: Wesley is 24; Jeffrey is 26 and engaged to Kristen Merki; Joel, 29, is married to Rebekah and they have three-year-old twin daughters, Dora and Sylvia; Engage: How did you first recognize God’s call to be involved in missions?
David: I felt the Lord drawing me to be involved in his mission in the world through missionaries, teachers, and pastors that shared in our local church. I was 5 years old when I said a preliminary, “YES!” Kids can make important decisions!
Engage: What is your favorite aspect of what you do in your present assignment? Share any relevant stories to illustrate this.
David: I love to see our Nazarenes in Vanuatu grow and mature in the Lord. Sometimes it is like watching fruit grow, something that is almost imperceptible. Looking back, however, it thrilling to see the dramatic and profound changes in maturity and their increasing Christlikeness.
Engage: What are some of the challenges that you face in carrying out your work? Share any relevant stories to illustrate this.
David: Sylvia scheduled a treasurers’ workshop for all the district treasurers. In spite of reminders, no one showed up! It was discouraging! Two hours later, however, nearly everyone showed up. Even after 20 years of missionary service, we still have not adjusted to the difference in “time orientation.” The inconsistencies of this difference make it difficult to plan and organize events. Perhaps “event orienation” would be a better way to describe it.
Engage: Please share a story of a significant event or moment that has happened in your current assignment.
David: Purchasing land in Melanesia is often an impossible or, at least, a very difficult thing to do. In February of 2013, after the District Advisory Board’s negotiations with three “chiefs,” we have been able to purchase an extendable 75-year land lease for a half acre of land. This will be a future site for a District Center for all the Nazarene churches in Vanuatu. We are praising the Lord again and again!
Engage: How do you maintain a close relationship with God and your family in the midst of the demands of missionary service?
David: Sylvia and I have personal times of prayer in the morning. We also, weekly, enjoy listening and participating in a worship service from Bethany First Church of the Nazarene through their CD ministry. We share in “family devotions at the breakfast table and then a time of extended prayer together at our bedside. We open our heart before each other and before the Lord with the people and concerns of the day; then talk to our heavenly Father anytime, anywhere with “thought prayers” throughout the day.
Engage: What are the rewards of what you do?
David: Relationships and friendships. As we grow in our relationship with the Lord and with each other, our fellowship increases. This is one of the most wonderful rewards of our missionary labors.
Engage: What are some aspects of the culture where you live that you have come to love or embrace?
David: We recently participated in a wedding that embodied many interesting cultural aspects: the creation of “laplap,” their national dish; the “heaving up” of the bride price (pigs, cloth, island dresses, baskets, and mats); and a variety of other cultural celebrations.
Engage: What do you like to do for fun?
David: Kayak on a lagoon or rent a catamaran for an hour or two. Visiting “The Summit,” a botanical garden on the top of a very large hill overlooking Mele Bay. One Nazarene visitor to Vanuatu paid for us to go on a zipline with incredibly scenic views. On a day off, we may take a mat, pack a picnic lunch and a game, and spread the mat out at the beach – playing, resting, reading and wading.
Engage: What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
David: Sylvia and I have been registered nurses for over 30 years; well at least we were, until we let our licenses lapse. This has opened up many opportunities of service and usefulness. Although we are now responsible for the training of pastors and those in ministry, the Lord continues to utilize our background to be a great benefit for the maintenance of our own health, as well as the health of those in our congregations.
Engage: What advice would you have for others exploring a possible call to missions, or embarking on their first missionary assignment?
David: Prepare. Move in the direction the Lord leads. It was 18 years from the time I applied to Nazarene Global Mission (1974) to the time I went out as a missionary in 1992. In between, there were Work & Witness trips, Impact team, nursing training, spiritual development, training at Nazarene Theological Seminary, and ministry was happening all along the way. So don’t sit and wait. Do the next thing the Lord tells you to do. Life and ministry are happening now, not just in the future. Ask the Lord, “What do you want me to do today?”