Joel Burkum – 2017 Distinguished Alumni Recipient

Joel Burkum was introduced by his lifelong friend, Rich Milliken, and given the award by Jerry Beckenhauer, who represented the Nebraska Christian College Alumni Association.

Joel is the husband of Penni (Emrich), father to Taylor (wife, Paige), Graham (wife, Tara), Gabriel (fiancée, Mary Jane) and Perry (wife, Jill). Joel and Penni have four grandchildren (Nikolai, Rockwell, Harrison and Westley). He is the son of Lowell and Dixie Burkum. Joel is a 1981 graduate of NCC with a BA in Pastoral Ministry.

Nebraska Christian College has been a part of our 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient’s entire life. Here are some of Joel Burkum’s reflections on the impact NCC has had on his life ……

“Nebraska Christian College was one of the largest-contributing factors to my decision to enter Christian ministry and missions full-time.  As a boy, I spent countless hours at NCC’s Park Avenue campus in Norfolk.  My dad (Lowell Burkum) was the music professor at the school, and we lived just a block away from all the exciting campus action.  One of my great joys and inspiration was the privilege of our family’s hosting a great number of missionaries and speakers who visited the campus frequently, and often, my house.  I sat in awe of these missionary “greats” as they shared their first-person stories of God at work in their countries. Being at NCC-sponsored or hosted events allowed me to see missionaries up close.  They became my heroes.
One especially big inspiration came from a non-traditional Korean student named Mansoo Lee, who visited our home often.  Mansoo exposed my family to the language, music, food and culture of Korea.  He introduced me to Modern Art (being a good modern artist, himself).  He shared harrowing stories about being a Christian in a hostile environment.  Once, when threatened at gunpoint to renounce Christ or die, he replied, “How can I deny him with my lips, when he is Lord of my heart?”
As a student at NCC, I was impressed with the amazing amount of talent and wisdom bundled up in the faculty of our little college.  Not only were these teachers smart, they were passionate about the Gospel.  So many great professors with Christian integrity, a sense of urgency and a great ability to teach and inspire students to get out into the field of missions and evangelism for Christ.  Seeing their passion and devotion provided a continual nurturing of my desire to learn and then “get out there in the world and DO something for Jesus.”
Having grown up around NCC and then going to college there, I can see the impact NCC has made on me and on the world over the years.  I can’t imagine how different my life would be had I not had NCC as such an integral part of my life.  I am grateful to NCC on so many levels, from happy childhood experiences and exposure to real Christians, to New Way Singers as a high school student, to meeting my wife :), to sitting under the tutelage of gifted teachers and being challenged academically, as well as “evangelistically.”  I thank God for what NCC has done in my life.”

While honoring Joel at the Homecoming evening, it was noted that Joel’s wife, Penni, should be recognized as well for her support and care of their family while Joel has been serving the Lord in so many positions, including long trips overseas. Take a look at the amazing things God has accomplished through their lives.

  • Served with Deaf Missions as graphic artist and video producer
  • Preached at the Capitol City Christian Church for the Deaf
  • Part of the original team at Deaf Missions that started the “Omega Project,” a monumental undertaking to translate and capture in video the entire Bible in American Sign Language.  Now called “The ASLT” or American Sign Language Translation, this project is near completion of the first edition of the entire Word of God in ASL.  This project has sparked interest in several other countries which are now translating the Bible for deaf people into sign language.
  • Wrote, produced and directed “The Finger Food Cafe Show,” a Christian video program for “families touched by deafness,” along with friend and co-writer, Marshall Lawrence, of Elkhart, Indiana. 
  • Through Joel’s experiences with Deaf Missions he met many people with whom he worked on other projects, including his dear friend DeAnn Sampley, of Bakersfield, CA.  Joel and DeAnn had worked together on several video projects for deaf ministries.  One day in late 1992, Joel received a call from DeAnn Sampley that changed his life.  She had called to ask Joel to travel to Romania to make a video of her church’s missions trip to work at an orphanage in Bucharest from which she and her husband, Michael, had adopted a deaf boy.  Joel agreed to make the video, thinking it would be a one-time trip to Romania.  But, seeing the conditions of orphans and abandoned children on that first trip, Joel felt called by God to return to Romania to serve the suffering and neglected children.  After months of constant references to and retelling of stories about Romanian orphans, Joel’s wife Penni said that he must have contracted “Romania-on-the-brainia,” because he just couldn’t shut up about those kids.  In 1995, Joel and friend Walt Blankenship, founded For God’s Children International (FGCI), a mission designed to “provide hope, dignity and love in Jesus’ name for God’s precious, hurting kids in Romanian institutions.  For the next 10 years, Joel worked at Deaf Missions by day, and out of his home doing FGCI work by night.  In 2005, Joel, feeling called to work more in Romania with orphan children, left Deaf Missions to work for FGCI full-time.
  • Joel is currently the Executive Director of For God’s Children International.  FGCI serves children, special needs adults and Roma (Gypsies) people in Romania and Moldova, Lakota Indian children in South Dakota, and operates a Bible Camp in Louisville, NE (Camp of the Good Shepherd) where it is hoped that FGCI will soon establish its international headquarters.
  • Joel makes three trips to Romania/Moldova each year.  FGCI has several programs and staff members serving children in Romania and Moldova, including NCC alumnus, Eli (and Sheena) Davidson.
Jonathan Norton