By Sharon Mager
The International Mission Board (IMB) appointed Joseph “Joe” Blandeburgo and his wife, Elizabeth, members of Ogletown Baptist Church (OBC) in Newark, Delaware, as career missionaries to the Philippines at a virtual IMB Sending Celebration on Feb. 3, 2021.
A native of Delaware, Joe has attended Ogletown Church since he was ten, where he received teaching, discipling, and encouragement from OBC’s Pastor Curtis Hill, Sunday School teachers and other mature Christians. After his high school graduation, he attended the University of Delaware (UOD). He became involved with the Baptist Student Ministry (BSM) and was discipled by Blake Hardcastle, who was then serving as UOD’s Baptist student minister and BCM/D’s Collegiate Ministry Consultant. Joe became a student leader and later worked as an assistant to Hardcastle. Joe also met his wife Elizabeth at BSM meetings.
The Trip of a Lifetime
Hardcastle and others encouraged Joe, early in his collegiate life, to consider missions — perhaps take a summer mission trip — but Joe, a finance major, didn’t seriously consider the idea. “I had no real interest in doing that. I had my own plan of how to stay on track. In my junior year, I was going to get a summer internship in the business world,” explained Joe. God caused Joe to reconsider.
“Basically, the Lord somehow got my thoughts to change,” he remembered. Joe agreed to serve for a two-month trip to the Philippines with the IMB’s Nehemiah Teams. These teams utilize students between the ages of 18 and 29, who work alongside career missionaries and other global Christians in cross-cultural missions.
Joe, along with his college roommate and now brother-in-law Matt Jones, worked with missionaries, traveling in boats on the Oras River and sharing the Gospel as the Holy Spirit led. They also assisted in implementing church planting strategies both in the country and around the world.
Both young men saw people turn to Jesus. They witnessed first-hand the power of the Holy Spirit.
“We saw some fruit that summer. People were baptized. I had really thought that God couldn’t use me to do something like that. God used our team to further His kingdom, which was amazing to me and captured my heart. I didn’t have a passion anymore to have a business career and increase myself in that way. I just had a passion for being a part of what God is doing globally — it is way more exciting. People think missions work is a sacrifice, but I think those who aren’t involved in missions in some way are those who are missing out,” Joe said.
The Philippines trip also profoundly impacted Matt Jones. Jones testifies that the trip “changed my life.” He now serves on Ogletown Baptist Church’s missions committee, overseeing international missions.
Elizabeth Feels the Call to Missions
Joe and Elizabeth married in 2013. A UOD graduate with a degree in chemical engineering, Elizabeth grew up in Connecticut and attended Christ the Redeemer Church in Southbury. She was working during the summer while Joe was in the Philippines. As she prayed for Joe that summer, Elizabeth began to ask “Lord, when is it my turn to go?” She realized that God was giving her a desire to be a “goer,” and not just a “sender.”
After Joe returned from his trip, he and Elizabeth prayerfully decided that they wanted to minister together through the IMB’s journeyman program, doing the work Joe did in the Philippines. Their goal was to work on the same river with the same group. But that door closed and another opened.
After vetting and preparation, the couple was just weeks from heading to the Philippines when their plans changed. The IMB was going through a streamlining of their strategy in 2015 and the Blandeburgos’ expected position was no longer available. There was, however, another position open in a different area of the Philippines – one that would oversee the Nehemiah Teams and allow them to be involved with the mobilization of Filipino Christians to plant churches and take the Gospel to the world.
Joe and Elizabeth enthusiastically passed through that open door and served for two years. “This was God all the time,” Joe emphasized. “It was very clear from the start that this was the team that we were supposed to work with and this was the work that we were supposed to do.”
As a result of the journeyman experience, the Blandeburgos knew God had called them as career missionaries and they arranged their lives in a way that would allow them to return to the field as career missionaries with the IMB. Joe worked part-time at the UOD BSM and attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, full time and online, to get his Masters of Arts in Intercultural Studies. Elizabeth worked full time as a scientist and got her seminary requirements online to apply with IMB.
When they deploy, they will go back to the same area where they ministered together during the journeymen program, working with the same team. This time, they’ll have their children with them, two-year-old Benjamin and nine-month-old Ellie Rose.
OBC Member Vernon Wittenbach said, “The amazing thing with Joe and Elizabeth is that they know the people they’ll be working with. To know that, going on the field, is a big plus.” Wittenbach and his wife Pam worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators and partnered with the IMB serving in Central Asia. The couple has had over a decade of international missions experience and understands the challenges and the joys. Vernon was appointed an IMB trustee in 2020. He shared that he and Pam enjoy chatting with the Bladeburgos, sharing thoughts about international missions. “It’s always good to talk to someone who has the experience of being on the field for a while,” he added.
Reflecting on his years of missions work, discipleship, and study, Joe said his understanding of missions was transformed. “When I thought of missions, I thought Matthew 28:16-20 — the Great Commission. But every book in the Bible is about God giving His glory to all the nations. He has always had a heart for the nations.”
Elizabeth said she and Joe want to encourage young people. “You don’t have to wait until you are older to be involved in missions,” she explained. “God can use you now. That’s eye-opening when you are between 18 and 20, sharing the Gospel, and you see God work.”
“Short term missions, like Nehemiah Teams, are usually gateways to long-term missions,” Joe said.
“Nehemiah Teams taught us to be world Christians — a Christian who takes global Christianity seriously,” he added. That may mean going as a front-line-worker, giving financially to support missions, praying, or locally working to welcome people from other nations and sharing the Gospel with them.
Joe said that since 2004, 25,000 people have deployed on Nehemiah Teams throughout the world and about half have committed to being long-term, cross-cultural missionaries, while the others committed to being engaged in missions from home. Elizabeth said even if a fraction of those who made those decisions followed through on their commitments, God’s kingdom would be expanded.
The Blandeburgos said they are eager to work with Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) churches and encourage missions. They expressed gratitude towards those who have given to the Cooperative Program through the BCM/D and to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering that supports missions. They are also thankful to those who have poured into them through the years – their families, OBC leaders, and BSM leadership.
Joe and Elizabeth are hoping to deploy by spring, depending on COVID-19 restrictions and precautions.
Read about Matt Jones’ experience with Nehemiah Teams and the impact of Baptist collegiate ministry in here.