Miss Martha Brunner (born October, 29, 1931) is a missionary in Ecuador. She is known for establishing churches, a maternity clinic, a Christian school, and an orphanage in the Pifo valley.
Martha Louise Brunner was born in Pennsylvania. She was the third of Rev. Henry Brunner and Mary Luceta Brunner (Hunting)’s four children. Richard and Mary were four and three years her senior; and David 7 years her junior. Her father was an evangelical minister and an architect, traits which would prove invaluable to Martha later on in her ministry. Raised a preacher’s kid during the Great Depression, she learned the meaning of faith and trust in God at an early age. Growing up as a child, Martha was exposed to visiting missionaries, which fostered her desire to become one. That wish however, was repressed by her character: she was a shy girl, regarded abnormally withdrawn and unconventional; her sister and mom did most of the talking. As an adolescent, she became involved with several Christian organizations: attending weekly Bible studies, going to Jack Wyrtzen rallies in NY, HiBA clubs (High School Born Againers), and Keswick conferences. It was in a Bible study under the direction of Bob Moon, where Martha’s inclination to be used by God in spite of her social shortcomings was confirmed: “He (Moon) took us through the Bible showing how God used the foolish, the weak, the nothing, the least, to do great things for Him . . . It was Gideon, the least in his tribe and family, Moses who said he couldn’t speak, etc. . . Oh God, if using these types of people brings glory to You, then here I am – send me to the Mission Field.” Martha graduated from Perth Amboy High School, NJ at the age of 18.
Hard work and donations, sometimes from anonymous sources, enabled Martha to attend college. She studied pre-nursing for two years at Houghton College; followed by three years at Cornell University – New York Hospital School of Nursing, where she obtained her BS in Nursing.
Paving the Way
After obtaining her RN, Martha spent a year working as a public health nurse, another year attending the graduate school of Columbia Bible College, and another year working the medical-surgical floor at a nearby hospital. Her brother David, who listened to HCJB radio programs transmitted via shortwave, shared with Martha the need for nurses at a hospital in Quito, Ecuador. Martha’s first reaction: “Where is that?” She had the opportunity to meet with Hospital Vozandes’ founder Dr. Paul Roberts, in Philadelphia. A few months later Martha applied to be a missionary nurse with HCJB, and was accepted. She completed her missionary prerequisites doing internship assignments in Michigan; gathering financial support; and attending Spanish language school in Costa Rica, where she had the opportunity to stay with her sister, who was already a missionary.
After more than a year of Ecuadorian red tape, a work-restrictive courtesy Visa was granted. At the age 29, Martha along with four other nurses traveled to Quito, Ecuador. The year was 1959. Shortly after their arrival, former President Galo Plaza Lasso’s mother was admitted to Hospital Vozandes. At the behest of Galo, around the clock care was to be provided for his mother by American nurses. When informed by the hospital that the available American nurses were restricted from working, he saw to it that those nurses be given permanent Visas – Martha being one of them.
Ten months after working in Hospital Vozandes, Martha was assigned as a field nurse to Pifo, a small town 20 miles outside of Quito, where the HCJB radio transmitter towers once stood. The terrain was rugged; and aside of a bi-monthly visit from a doctor, Martha was the only medical personnel between Quito and the jungle. The one-room outpatient clinic did not accommodate for long-term stay; therefore patients received home visits from Martha, whose primary means of transportation was a jeep, horseback, or foot, depending on the terrain. Circumstances made for diagnosis and treatment under the most primitive and unsanitary conditions. As a result, a second room was added to the clinic, where inpatient care could be provided. The clinic grew to the point where HCJB provided Lucrecia, a nurse’s aide to help with the clinic.
Later on, when Martha would begin taking in kids to raise, a new clinic was built primarily focused on maternity. The clinic became one of Martha’s methods of evangelism: every mother and father that went through that clinic got to hear the good news of the Gospel.
While running the maternity at the transmitter towers site, it became clear to Martha that twin babies ended up with at least one unable to survive shortly after discharged due to impoverished conditions. After several such experiences, Martha’s heart was moved to consider raising a baby. The opportunity came when a mother, who had had a twin die from a previous delivery, arrived to the clinic expecting another set. The mother, in tears asked Martha to take one. Martha promised to take one if it was a girl. The firstborn was a boy; the second a girl. True to her word, Martha took in Rosa, her first child, to raise for the Lord. The year was 1964.
While on furlough in the U.S. shortly after Rosa was born, several churches suggested Martha should start a children’s home to save kids. After returning back to Ecuador, Martha put forth the idea to HCJB. She had already begun raising Ruth, her second child; however, it was not in HCJB’s best interest to begin such an endeavor. This became a struggle for Martha in trying to understand God’s direction. The decision became clear however, when at the age of 2, Rosa came to death’s door gravely ill with appendicitis. Martha, pleading for Rosa’s life on her knees, asked God that if Rosa’s life was spared, she would start a children’s home, even without HCJB. In spite of the odds, Rosa made it through surgery and recovery – property search for the new home was the first order of business.
Anita was added to the family, and shortly thereafter an 11-acre corn field was purchased from across town. Martha, Lucrecia, and four kids – David, being the latest addition, moved into a rented house right across the street of the new property while a new house was built. More kids were added to the family that same year: Luis and Tim followed by Carol, Steve, and Priscilla the following year. The new clinic and a seven bedroom two-story house were built onto the new property. The kids outgrew the house very fast when after a one and a half year break, more siblings were added for a total of twenty: Mark and Mike (twins), Alicia, Patty, Joey, Debbie, Christy, Becky, Danny, Susan, and Nancy. An eleven bedroom three-story house was added, along with a house for Lucrecia, a guest house, and a recreation building. Martha and Lucrecia had taken on the role of design and construction managers of the new buildings.
The kids grew up in a disciplined environment. A buddy system was used for the older nine kids, who were assigned a younger sibling to be responsible for. Weekend chores were assigned, along with a daily meal cleaning schedule. The day started out with a small devotional during breakfast, and ended up with a longer devotional in the evening, consisting of praise songs and a Bible story lesson. Martha used English at home when speaking; therefore all kids grew fluent in English and Spanish.
In addition to Lucrecia, several individuals and families from the U.S. and other countries provided help in the form of financial support, lending a hand, and adoptions of their own. Missionary families staying at the home, made for interesting logistics rearrangements, where at one time, all 20 kids lived in the bigger house, which had been turned into a thirteen bedroom home. Then there was June Wade, a single Missionary from Canada, who devoted herself to the home until her death. In addition, Martha arranged for the adoption of more than fifty babies to Christian homes in the U.S.
Rosa was the first to start attending school under the government school system. It soon became very apparent, however, that the educational standards were found lacking. As a result, Martha decided to hire her own teacher to begin teaching the kids. They started out in a makeshift classroom in Lucrecia’s home, which then evolved into the first building for a Christian school at the property. As Rosa progressed through her elementary education, the school grew as well, requiring the need for additional classroom buildings and teachers. Many of the student desks were built by Lucrecia, who had also taken on the role of carpenter. The school was the place in town where kids could obtain good primary Christian education. It became one of Martha’s methods of evangelism: all parents and students, many of which had been delivered my Martha, interviewed one-on-one with Martha, and were presented with the good news of the Gospel.
Management of the school started with Martha, and continued on with missionaries from Berean Missions, with whom Martha joined in 1980. All 20 kids attended the school, at least through elementary education (kindergarten to sixth grade). In 1984, the school began its expansion into high school, and at one time held over 470 students. Some of the brightest students came from the most impoverished homes; Martha’s way of reaching out to them was by making available some of her financial support in the form of scholarships.
Christian faith was an integral part of the family. Every Sunday all 20 kids piled up in a light blue 12-passanger van and headed over to a church in a nearby town 7 miles away: Iglesia Buen Pastor Yaruqui. The church was founded by Martha, and was one of the few evangelical churches east of Quito. Some of Martha’s teenage kids would usually lead the singing, while others would lead Sunday school classes, and at times, even preach. However, all participated in the makeshift choir with a special music selection.
There are countless people in Ecuador who have come to know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior through Martha’s ministry, known as “Amparito del Buen Pastor” – Refuge of the Good Shepherd: whether through the home, the clinic, the school, or the churches. In this respect, not only were eternal lives saved, but many homes and families were mended. All 20 kids have a unique story on how they became part of Martha’s family. All of them would have had their lives cut short soon after birth had Martha not intervened. All kids grew up knowing who their biological families were; and all biological parents felt indebted to Martha. Yet in Martha’s words: “I’m still foolish, weak, and nothing, and feel completely incapable for the job God has placed me in; however, I bank on His continued faithfulness and promises. Yes, Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”