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South American missionary leads people to Christ through caring

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Just before Hebert Palomino went overseas as a missionary, he received some advice he’ll never forget.

“Remember that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Those were the words of C.W. Brister, a pastoral care professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where Palomino then was a doctoral student. In the nearly 12 years since he heard that comment, Palomino has seen for himself the truth of his mentor’s words.

As a missionary trained in family counseling, Palomino has shared Christ’s love with hurting people in South America while helping them cope with some tough traumas of life — terminal illness, death, failed marriage, attempted suicide, sexual abuse and more. Through the ministry of pastoral care, Palomino has led many lost people to a Savior who can heal their brokenness.

“As missionaries, we don’t go overseas to indoctrinate people, to make them believe as we believe,” says Palomino, a missionary of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. “Our first priority is to help them come to know the Lord, to let them see the incarnational presence through our care for them, to let them see that there’s something in us that makes a big difference.”

Palomino, a native of Cali, Colombia, has done exactly that since he and his wife, the former Karen Hickman from El Dorado, Kan., were appointed missionaries by the International Mission Board in 1989. They served first in Trujillo, Peru, and later transferred to Asuncion, Paraguay, where Palomino was a family counselor at the Baptist hospital and a professor of pastoral care at the Baptist seminary.

Later he served nearly three years as an IMB member care consultant, traveling across the board’s Eastern South American region to counsel with missionaries and their families. Currently, Palomino is a missionary-in-residence at the International Mission Board’s home office in Richmond, Va., where he is using his family counseling background to help the board’s office of mission personnel select new international missionaries.

Throughout Palomino’s missionary service, God has used his counseling skills to open some amazing doors for sharing the gospel — especially during his years in Paraguay.

At the Baptist hospital in Asuncion, for example, Palomino led Paraguay’s first heart transplant recipient to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Another door opened when Palomino was invited to appear regularly on a live, national television talk show, “Good Morning Paraguay. Callers phoned in questions about family issues, which gave him many opportunities to speak about his faith on the air.

Through the talk show, Palomino got to know the owner of the television station, the daughter of General Andres Rodriguez, a former president of Paraguay. She invited the missionary to meet with her father, who then was dying of cancer. Palomino’s specialty is counseling terminally ill patients and their families.

During the meeting, Palomino led the ex-president to saving faith in Christ, just a few weeks before he died following cancer surgery. At the family’s invitation, Palomino also counseled with them during their grief and shared the good news of Jesus Christ.

He continued to counsel weekly with Rodriguez’s widow until the Palominos returned to the States last year. At Mrs. Rodriguez’s invitation, the Palomino family will visit again in her home during a mission trip to Paraguay this summer.

“The door is wide open. I don’t know what the Lord is doing in their lives,” Palomino says of the ex-president’s family, “but He’s working.”

Meanwhile, God is at work using Palomino in a new avenue of ministry at the IMB’s home office. Palomino currently implements and interprets psychological testing of missionary candidates and works with candidate consultants — IMB staff members who guide candidates through the missionary appointment process — to help them determine a candidate’s readiness for the rigors of missionary service. He guides consultants in how to address family of origin and other psychological issues with their candidates, sometimes advising that candidates seek counseling before moving forward in the appointment process.

“When we talk about psychological, emotional issues, it’s important to understand that we as human beings are unpredictable in so many ways,” says Palomino. “Sometimes we see great candidates with great potential, with no major psychological issues, but once they go to the field, something happens with them, and they don’t make it. And we say, ‘What happened here?’ But sometimes there are candidates you’ve got a bunch of question marks on, and you wonder if they’re going to make it. But by the grace of God, we see folks who come from very dysfunctional backgrounds who adjust quite well to the field.”

Looking at the whole picture, “I can see that the Lord is working in all this appointment process,” says Palomino. “But at the same time, it’s important to understand that there are some issues future missionaries need to address here in the States before they go to the field to do what God has called them to do. Because under the tension of language and cultural acquisition, many of those issues — like grief or problems with their family of origin — are going to pop up sooner or later.”

In his new assignment at the IMB, Palomino also is doing research on adult children of alcoholics, since “more and more of our missionary candidates are coming from dysfunctional backgrounds, especially families with alcoholism,” he says.

Palomino is working to determine how best to help those candidates — before they go overseas — to address the issues they will face on the field.

“Our goal is to prevent the sending of missionaries who have unresolved psychological issues,” says Palomino. “We want to equip our future missionaries in such a way that they can go out there and do what the Lord has called them to do — and to be as effective as they can be for the kingdom.”

    About the Author

  • Mary E. Speidel