West Unity’s Penny Crisenbery: A True Missionary From Rural America


Photo #1 Penny holding a baby on her mission trip to the Dominican Republic WEBBy: John Winright

Penny was born and raised in Spring Arbor, Michigan. She met her husband, Jeff at Spring Arbor College (now Spring Arbor University). They were married Sept. 3, 1988 and moved to West Unity in February of 1989 and have lived there ever since.

She has been actively involved in the church all of her life with a special involvement in youth and missions. She has served as a steward at her church for 25 years.

Her parents, Ed and Sharon Gerstung, divorced when she was in her early teens. Penny grew up with a brother, Paul, who was killed in a car accident in 1997 and her sister Tammy who lives in DeWitt, Michigan with her husband of 24 years and their 11 children, 8 of whom are adopted.

Her dad remarried when she was 19 and she has a sister Bethany, 23 years younger than her who lives in Holt, Michigan with her husband of 3 years and their 2 month old daughter, Archere. She also has a sister Stacey, 25 years younger that lives in Green Bay, WI with her husband of 2 years and they are serving in the ministry.

Her mom remarried when Penny was 21 and she has 4 step siblings.

Penny graduated with a degree in Biology and Exercise Sport’s Science and she currently works at the Fulton County Health Center in the Radiology Department.

The Crisenbery’s have a son, Ryan, who is finishing up his junior year at Spring Arbor University and is pursuing an education in Pastoral Ministries.

Their daughter, Karissa, is in her junior year at Hilltop and is involved in year round sports and the church youth group.

As a family, they have been a part of Living Hope Free Methodist Church in West Unity. They have attended and served at this church all of their married life. As a family they have been on a missions trip to a South Dakota reservation and Karissa and Penny have been a part of other short-term trips that their church has participated in.

Penny says,”I always had a passion for medical missions and for an opportunity to go out of the country. The doors opened for me to fulfill that dream when I had the privilege of going to the Dominican Republic to serve on a medical mission team.”

Each year Crossroads Church, in Wauseon, Ohio sends a team to serve at an established clinic down in San Juan, Puerto Rico the last week of February. This clinic was established through Solid Rock International (SRI) that is based out of Indianapolis, IN. The Crossroads Church has been sending a team down to this Dominican clinic for about 10 years.
Penny states that, “Last Summer a couple of people who knew my heart for medical missions had encouraged me to connect with Dr. Tony Uribes, a doctor at the hospital I work at, and a team leader for these mission trips. After attending an informational meeting in September, I felt the Lord was leading me to participate in this opportunity.

Within a month of sharing this opportunity via a support letter with family and friends, I had most of the monies needed to go. By December 1, I had all the money I needed to cover my expenses and even though people knew I had met my need, they continued to give. Because of the generosity of so many I was able to purchase much needed supplies for the guest house we stayed at, school supplies for Christian schools also sponsored by SRI and Spanish bibles. What I didn’t realize until I got down to the clinic was that they had run out of Spanish bibles and what I was able to supply filled a significant need. Another item I was able to purchase was a set of maps in Spanish. The maps teachers had been using at the schools were in English, so these maps again met a significant need for the students.”

“I also was able to use the surplus to sponsor a young lady in the 11th grade who had just lost her sponsorship for the Christian school and the amount I had was enough to see her through her graduation in May of 2016. What made this even more special was that I was able to meet her and her mom. Her name is Yafreisy Rameriz. ‘’

She continues, “We were a team of 19 people who left on February 19 and returned on February 28th. We had packed 39 military-type duffel bags, a few days before we left, with supplies to take with us. Because of the poor economic conditions of so many in the Dominican Republic, many are unable to obtain basic medical care. Through the clinic that SRI has established in San Juan, the people there have access to medical treatment. However, there are still many people in the outlying areas that do not have means and/or transportation to get to the clinic, so SRI has established these mobile clinics to go serve in the barrios (Spanish for neighborhood). Our team went to barrios as close as 30 minutes away to about 1-1/2 hours away. Clinics were set up in whatever empty buildings were available. These buildings ranged from a place with dirt floors and a tarp roof, to a school classroom. Our team was bussed to and from the guesthouse we were staying at in San Juan.”

A description of a normal clinic day is as follows: “We would meet at 6:45 a.m. for devotions and then breakfast. We would make lunches to put in a cooler for lunch and take two big containers of purified water. Most days we would leave the guest house by 8:00 a.m. We would arrive at our locations and get set up. While the medical team was getting the clinic set up, a Dominican pastor travelling with us would present the gospel message and give people a chance to commit their lives to Christ. The Spanish bibles would then be distributed to those who made that decision. Then throughout the day the pastor and his team would teach, preach and pray with those who requested more one-on-one time.”

Penny says, “These clinics were well orchestrated by the nursing supervisor, Nicole who is on staff at the San Juan Clinic and about 5 others also a part of the permanent staff through SRI. Once the clinic set up was complete at the barrios we served, the people wanting to be seen by the doctor would be given numbers and once the numbers were distributed, those would be the people we would serve that day. Thankfully there were very few people that were not able to be seen.”

“Those coming through the clinic would stop 1st in the triage area. A patient history was taken along with blood pressures, weights and glucose checks.”

“Those of us working in the clinic had translators and I was assigned a young college student by the name of Hector. Because I do not speak Spanish, he was a tremendous help for me as I worked with the patient’s in the triage area.”

“After the patient’s were seen in triage, they were then escorted to the area where they would be seen by either the doctor or nurse practitioner. The care given was basic and then vitamins, aspirin, Tylenol, ibuprofen and ointments would be prescribed for what was needed. The patient then would be directed to the pharmacy to pick up what had been prescribed for them. Many of the medicines these people received would take a large percentage of what little money they had. What seemed like a small amount to us was an incredible gift of generosity to these people.”

“While down in the Dominican Republic, we were able to appreciate the culture around us. We were able to take in some of the sights, history and people. We experienced a Spanish church service, the open market, a local softball game, the amazing cuisine and a visit to one of the schools supported by SRI.”

Other notes of interest, “Our team was led by Dr. Tony Uribes and his wife Natalie and his four boys, Orlando, Hayden, Carter and Isaac. We had four people that spoke fluent Spanish that went with us. Five of the team members went down to help with the beginning stages of a larger clinic that is being built. Team members consisted of Sid Siebert, Katy Simon, Mindy Brown, Andy Hatt, Jay & Carla Reber, Jesse Carter, Mike and Ellen Thompson, Paul & Sandy Oehrtman, and Daniel Hernandez. There was no hot water for showers and we couldn’t drink the water out of the tap. We had purified water provided for drinking and brushing our teeth. We were housed in a dorm-like setting with bunk beds and electricity.”

“Scripture that has encouraged me in being the hands and feet of Jesus are found in the book of Matthew:

Matthew 25:35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Penny says, “For me personally, I was humbled from every aspect of this trip. From the many people who supported this trip through their financial support and prayers to the people I was able to minister to and serve in the Dominican Republic, to the way God helped shift my perspective about what true blessings are. So many times we equate blessing from the material possessions we have. In Matthew 5 in Jesus’ sermon on the mount, He addresses what true blessings are and they don’t come from what we hold in our hands but rather what we hold in our hearts.”

When asked, “What did you learn about God, about people, and about yourself from the experience of your trip?” Penny’s response was, “There were so many amazing experiences. I will try and be brief, as I could write page upon page about my experiences in the Dominican.

The one-accord teamwork. I was the only “transplant” on this trip, as the other 18 team members were from Crossroads. From the 1st team meeting until we came home from our trip, I was embraced and always made to feel like a “family” member.

Watching a 90 year old person coloring for the 1st time. Watching as team member Ellen placed the crayon in his hand and guided his hand on the coloring page and his smile light up as he saw the page come to life with color.

The appreciation and gratefulness of the people we served. Though the communities had so little, they wanted to give and would bring lunch to the clinic sites. There were many hugs, smiles and kisses on the cheeks given by those that were seen at the clinic.

The pride of the people, and not in an egotistical way but through the stewardship of what they had. Despite the impoverished areas, the homes and lawns were well taken care of and people took care to look their very best. There was never a sense of entitlement or self-pity.

The moments when we didn’t understand each other’s language but were able to communicate anyway.

One of my favorite team moments was when we had gathered to pray and sing before clinic started. On this particular day we had chosen “Lord I Lift Your Name on High”.

Half the team’s voices were in Spanish and the other half in English, each voice singing out in such praise and adoration. There wasn’t a more beautiful sound on the planet at that time.

The interaction I had with the staff was incredible. I came to really appreciate Dane and Kari, Jeff and Kamanda, and Laura and Nicole. They are perfectly placed in the body at SRI.

The Gospel message being preached every day before clinic and the conversations and prayers that brought people into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Okay……just one more!! Each morning before breakfast Dane or Kari would share a devotional. One of the devotionals that Kari shared has truly impacted my perspective on blessings. She shared that many of the teams that would come down to SRI would make comments like, “we are so blessed to have the material possessions that we have; we are so blessed to have clean running water; we are so blessed to have medical treatment at our fingertips”……and the list went on making comparisons with our life in the US to life in the Dominican Republic. Kari then went on to share that she started processing these statements and asked herself, “Does this mean the people of the Dominican aren’t blessed?” Long story short, that devotional has totally redefined how I define blessings and has encouraged me to take a closer look at the Beatitudes.
One of the prayer requests I had for my family and friends while I was gone was to pray that God would use me in ways that impact others for eternity and change my heart in ways that reflect Him more. I really was profoundly touched by the generosity of so many people we served and appreciation expressed to us as a team and as individuals. They gave and received so freely, and not just material possessions. I was also impacted by the lack of a highly structured schedule/to-do list. There was so much freedom in a day completely structured around others and no room for me to place my plans as top priority. That is the one place I am really struggling with coming back to the “real world”. I want to be more spirit-led not Penny-centered. Yes, there are things that I need to do but I don’t want to be so structured and scheduled that I miss opportunities to give of myself every day. It’s so easy to serve the Lord when it’s convenient and to be obedient when it aligns with what our micromanaged schedules allow us. How easy is it to make plans and ask God to bless them rather than saying ‘not my plans and will but Yours, Lord?’ With a one-accord purpose, as in the Dominican Republic, it was so easy to serve and die to self. Now, being back home, it has to be an intentional decision every day. If we are not purposeful, our schedules will be dictated for us. I have been praying for the rest of the team to be mindful of our experience in the Dominican Republic and that, as they all get back to their daily schedules and lives, they won’t allow life to crowd out the places that God wants to meet them at, redirecting and refining those places that continue to draw them closer in their relationship with Him.”

As a writer, one certainly doesn’t need to add anything to this wonderful story of a very fine person living in the community of West Unity, as it is spoken in the above words of Penny Chrisenbery.

John may be reached at publisher@thevillagereporter.com

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