Earl and Gladys Mosteller, pioneers in "the regions beyond"

Doing missions well: Missionaries in the past who shaped today's global outreach efforts

Number 12 of a dozen mini-essays in Engage magazine

Needed: Missionaries to pioneer where the Church is minimally present or does not yet exist.

We need missionaries who dream about "the regions beyond" (Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 10:16) and who push the Church to go there. Nazarenes Earl and Gladys Mosteller were that type of frontier missionary.

photo of missionaries Earl and Gladys Mosteller

In 1946 the Mostellers, who both graduated from what is now Northwest Nazarene University, went from the U.S.A. to Cabo Verde, a group of Portuguese-speaking Atlantic Ocean islands. The Church of the Nazarene had been planted in Cabo Verde 45 years prior to the Mostellers' arrival. Their role there was thus that of strengthening and enlarging an existing group of churches.

After a dozen years, the Mostellers transitioned to pioneering in brand-new areas. Over the next thirty years, they helped the Church of the Nazarene enter Brazil, Portugal, and the Azores

Earl Mosteller (1918-2015) was well-suited for initiating work in new areas. He and Gladys (1917-2016) seemed happy plowing new ground. A big man with a huge handshake, Earl flourished out on the growing edge. Future national leaders seemed attracted to him and he to them. Fortunately, Nazarene global missions leaders recognized the pioneering abilities of Earl Mosteller and they kept him and Gladys in frontier assignments for the last three decades of their missionary career.

There were unique challenges in each place where the Mostellers pioneered the work of the Church of the Nazarene. However, the three world areas did have one thing in common: All three are Portuguese-speaking.

Brazil, where the Mostellers spent 15 years, is the world's fifth largest country. When the Mostellers moved to Portugal, they left behind Brazil's huge rain forests and its tremendous ethnic diversity. Portugal was much, much smaller and far more monocultural. The pervasive spiritism of Brazil was replaced by Portugal's European post-Christian culture.

As the church sank roots into Portugal and began flowering there, the Mostellers were asked to pioneer Nazarene work in the Azores. Having spent their rookie missionary years in one Atlantic Ocean island group, they were to spend the last seven years of their missionary career in another Atlantic archipelago.

In those three world areas which the Mostellers pioneered, there are today more than 125,000 members of the Church of the Nazarene. That is way more Nazarene members than existed in 1958 in all the world outside of North America when the Mostellers went to Brazil!

Around the globe, a large portion of the expatriate missionary force is resourcing and enlarging established national church organizations. Such ministry is vital to carrying out the Great Commission. Indeed, those missionaries working where the church is well established are helping national churches transition to full partnership in global outreach so that Christian missionaries will indeed be going from all six continents to all six continents.

Earl and Gladys Mosteller, on the other hand, represent a much smaller group of frontier missionaries who are planting the Church where it is not yet present. Six thousand distinct people groups, many of them very large, have no viable church planting movement within them. To reach those groups, we need more missionary pioneers like the Mostellers.

Discussion questions

  1. What is meant by "the region beyond" and why is it important for missionaries to go there? How did Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 10:16 inspire Earl and Gladys Mosteller?
  2. Why are pioneering missionaries such as the Mostellers important for global outreach efforts, and how do they differ from other types of missionaries?
  3. What are some of the challenges missionaries face when pioneering work in new areas? What unique challenges do you think the Mostellers faced in each of the three places where they pioneered the work of the Church of the Nazarene?
  4. Why might it be a good thing to have a mix of expatriate missionaries with some resourcing established national church organizations and others pioneering new areas where the Church is not yet present?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

"The desire of missionaries to share the gospel with others around the world impacted, and still impacts, my spiritual journey. Their stories and experiences motivate and encourage me." -- Jacob D., Nazarene Bible College student

Another missionary pioneering in the regions beyond was Herman Gschwandtner who helped start Gospel outreach in Eastern Europe and South Asia

More mini-essays in the "Doing missions well" series

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