A heart for youth goes global!


Cynthia Sundman is SIM International’s Ministry Point Person for Youth and Young Adults. On a recent visit to Malawi she spoke to Malawi Amoto

Cynthia Sundman has been working in Peru for 27 years, the last 15 with SIM. When she first started she was working with youth groups, but more recently she has been working in training youth leaders. However, a year ago, she had another change of direction taking on a more global aspect, as she was appointed SIM International’s Ministry Point Person for Youth and Young People.

For SIM International, Youth and Young People represents an age group ranging from 13-35 years of age and has the proviso that the people are not in University (Emma Brewster is the point person for people at University).

Three-country African tour

She recently undertook a three-country tour of Africa, visiting Kenya and Zambia as well as Malawi. While in Malawi she was keynote speaker at an event organised by SIM Malawi’s Youth Co-ordinator at which Pastors and their wives, as well as youth counsellors, from the Africa Evangelical Church (AEC) attended a seminar looking at how to disciple young girls.

“Looking at the role of girls, especially in the Church, is vital if we are going to develop female leaders for the future,” she said.

“I see in Africa a similar situation to South America, where the majority of church leaders are male. Not just in terms of pastors but youth leaders too. We need strong role models for girls to show that they do have value in the Kingdom of God and that Church and society value them for who they are.”

Cynthia with four young ladies who addressed a meeting of pastors, their wives and spiritual directors for youth in the AEC Blantyre Area

eet on the mission field

Cynthia took over her new role from Sean Marsden from SIM New Zealand. She sees her work in the first year as taking on what Sean had started, and this is what led to the visit to Malawi as he had built strong relations with SIM Malawi’s youth team in recent years.

“There has been a change in emphasis in the work,” said Cynthia.

“SIM International felt there needed to be a move towards having people with their feet on the mission field, and that is what I have had for over 27 years in Peru. Sean, whom I know very well, was excellent in his role but he came from a sending office background, and things can look different from that perspective.

New contexts

“I realise that the lens I look through in terms of youth work is very much one with a South American, particularly Peruvian, focus. I need to get up to speed very quickly in the African context as well as the Asian one and that is why the visit to Kenya, Malawi and Zambia has been so important.”

She has found in Africa some situations which young people face are very similar to those in South America; peer pressure and relationships to name but two. But she has also found some stark differences between the two continents.

“In Africa there seems to be much more pressure on girls to marry early,” she said.

“Not just that, but often they face arranged marriages. In South America dating is more common but girls are getting married much later. A girl married at 18 or so in South America is thought to have married early. Now, with more girls going to University and starting careers we are seeing marriages in a more ‘normal’ range of 20s and 30s.

“Often times in Africa the early marriage is because of poverty or because of a lack of mentors or role models to help the girls, or traditional societal pressures and practices. That is an area in which the Church can play a very important part by discipling the girls, showing that they are of great value in the Kingdom of God.”

Cynthia involved with ‘Camp Cris’ counsellor training in Peru

Eagerness for mission

Another difference is the eagerness of the youth of South America to get involved with overseas mission. Cynthia said that young people there are putting pressure on pastors to hold meetings and events looking specifically at overseas mission, so keen are they to get involved. And it is not just mission to other parts of Spanish speaking South America or the wider Spanish speaking world. Recently, young people have gone from Peru to serve as missionaries in Asia.

So Cynthia has a wide-ranging remit and a lot of information to gather to help her to deliver what SIM International is looking for. But this suits her as she is very analytical in her approach to the work she undertakes.

Prayer points

Cynthia would value prayer in the following three areas:

Discernment and wisdom opening doors and, if doors do not open, to stop knocking and let them go

How best to serve the needs of missionaries working with youth and young people and how best to guide the work

Guidance as to how best to develop new ministry opportunities

Networking vital

“An important aspect of this new role is networking with people, and helping them to identify the resources they may need in their work,” she said.

“I have to say that I may not be able to supply these resources but we can, at least, identify them! There is also an element of pushing on doors of mission areas and seeing which open. Those which open I will go through and work with those people. The doors which stay closed I will have to ignore – for now!

“In addition to this networking and resourcing role, I want to develop and encourage youth work, especially in areas where it may be weak or non-existent. We are compelled in the Great Commission to go into ALL nations and we see in Revelation the great crowd from every nation and tribe and tongue.

A long road ahead

“We have to make sure that we work with the young people of all these nations and that is what I should like to see happen. It will be a long road to travel and I am certain that I will not see it finished. But if we build up young peoples who are willing to step out as missionaries or strong leaders in their own context, then the work will continue; and that is my hope and prayer.”


Cynthia’s work is supported by SIM International project number 099632 Ministry Point Person for Youth and Young People


SIM Malawi’s Youth Ministry is supported by Project MW96658 Youth Ministry Capacity Building