Dr. Frank Jenista. Photo credit: Scott L. Huck/Cedarville University
by Sue Miholer
June 11, 2007
After 25 years as a U.S. diplomat, Dr. Frank Jenista '68 came to Cedarville University to serve as professor of international studies. The following article about his unique life and skills is reprinted with permission.
Frank Jenista was just another missionary kid back in the 1950s. But who knew that in the summers of 2001 and 2002, God would have this uniquely prepared man in the precise place he would use him during those two summers?
Although Frank was born in California, he grew up in the Philippines, where his parents were missionaries.
Frank went to Cedarville College (now Cedarville University), a Christian college in southwestern Ohio. That’s where I met him and introduced him to my sister, Barb. He went on to graduate school and married Barb in 1970. After earning his doctorate in Southeast Asian history from the University of Michigan, he began his career with the U.S. State Department in 1975. Although he served briefly at embassies in Japan, New Zealand, Indonesia, and Uruguay, most of his twenty-five-year diplomatic career was spent at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, working in various capacities.
Frank was a great asset to the U.S. in the Philippines since he knew the three major dialects—Tagalog, Ilonggo and Ilocano—and the culture. When President Clinton was in the Philippines for the 50th anniversaries of various World War II events, Frank worked with the president’s speechwriters to incorporate things that would be appropriate to mention at the different sites in the Philippines. Frank knew what would “play in the provinces”—the turn of a phrase, or mention of an event, that would strike a chord in the hearts and minds of the listeners.
Frank is well-liked and respected in the Philippines. Not only did he write a book about the history of the country, he also contributed to another one that examined the economic and social impact of the American presence in the Philippines. That book cited all the non-military ways—including the weekend clinics the military doctors had established and the Little League programs the servicemen had organized—the Americans had benefited the way of life for the average Filipino.
Outside of his official duties, Frank and Barb also ministered to the missionary community in the Philippines in many ways. Their home was an oasis for missionaries, some who just needed to get away for a day or two. Because Barb could shop on the U.S. bases, she often surprised missionaries with items like corn flakes and chocolate chips—items they couldn’t get in the local markets.
In 2000, Frank retired from the Foreign Service. He and Barb moved to Cedarville, Ohio, where a professorship awaited him in the international studies program at Cedarville University. The State Department allowed him to retain his security clearance, with the anticipation of using him during summers to fill in for vacationing personnel at the embassy in Manila.
And so it was that in the summer of 2001, Frank was assigned to the U.S. embassy in Manila for six weeks. If you’ve read In the Presence of My Enemies
, by Gracia Burnham and Dean Merrill, you know that in the spring of 2001, the Abu Sayyaf, a radical Muslim terrorist group in the Philippines, kidnapped several people, including missionaries Gracia and Martin Burnham.
Frank was part of the meeting when the American ambassador invited the heads of the mission agencies in the Philippines to the embassy for a meeting to outline U.S. policies related to ransom demands—which the Abu Sayyaf were making. The ambassador was pleasantly surprised to find that many of the personnel from the mission agencies already knew Frank. Some had grown up with him in the Philippines. And what a relief it was to the missionary community to have one of their own in an official position at the embassy—someone who understood how they felt—during this crisis. God had his uniquely prepared man in his place at his time.
In the summer of 2002, Frank was once again asked to serve at the U.S. embassy in Manila, but this time for just three weeks. During that three weeks, Martin and Gracia Burnham were shot. Martin died at the scene and Gracia was evacuated to the U.S. Embassy. When Frank met her, Gracia had just come through thirteen months of being dragged around the jungle. She and Martin had survived sixteen battles between Philippine forces and the terrorists during that time. But it was in the seventeenth firefight, fought in the middle of a jungle downpour, that Martin was shot dead beside her. Gracia also took a bullet through the leg.
Frank was there to minister to Gracia, both as a fellow believer and as an official representative of the United States government. (She mentioned Frank by name in the first draft of her book but had to cut that and several other details in the final version.)
Despite her own physical and emotional trauma, Gracia was the epitome of God’s grace under pressure, thinking always of others rather than herself. She refused to leave the Philippines until she was able to speak with the children of Ediborah Yap, the nurse who was killed in the same firefight as Martin. Gracia wanted to tell Ediborah’s children how much their mother loved them—something the two mothers had talked about during their months of captivity.
The believers on the embassy staff nicknamed her “Amazing Gracia.” Her spirit and strength won admiration from amazed Americans and Filipinos alike–among them Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Frank and others at the embassy helped make the necessary arrangements to get Gracia back to the States to rejoin her children, who had been escorted back to the States soon after their parents’ capture.
An old hand at holding press conferences, Frank was with Gracia at her departure press conference. And he knew that when she got back to the States, she would be inundated with requests for interviews. Along with other embassy personnel, Frank advised her to guard her privacy, granting interviews on her own timetable, instead of feeling pressured into personal appearances. Frank and the others knew she needed time to reconnect with her children, whom she hadn’t seen in over a year, as well as heal physically and emotionally.
Every time I reflect on how Frank’s life and Gracia’s intersected, I am in awe at how God, in his marvelous timing, uniquely prepared Frank to be God’s man at God’s time in God’s place.
We never know when God, in his incredible equipping and timing, will put one of us in his place “for such a time as this.”