There are times when things just happen! No explanation of reason or cause is readily evident. Witnesses and observers are left wondering how and why it happened. Their usual conclusion, “It just happened!” Palm Missionary Ministries, Inc. sort of happened that way. It was not planned by the founders at all. God just placed it in their laps.
About 1973, or thereabouts, Art and Barbara Patray moved their family to a small town in North Florida. A couple of years later, Frank and Marie Mikell were moving out of crowded Jacksonville to the rural hills of the same North Florida town, Keystone Heights (KH). The families were unacquainted at the time, even though both couples worked in Gainesville some 20 miles from KH. Patray also sold real estate part time on weekends in KH. Some twelve years later, PMM was founded by these two couples. And, many unusual things occured during the twelve years in order for PMM to “happen.”
Sometime in 1974, The Christian and Missionary Alliance, a denomination almost unheard of in those parts, planted a church in KH called Friendship Bible Church (FBC). Rev. Richard F. Hoover was the pastor. This is where the Patrays and Mikells met and soon became very close friends. Having a good bit in common, they even had weekly prayer times together as they prayed for their children, families, and church ministries.
To sit under Pastor Hoover’s bible teaching is to grow spiritually. God used this man to affect many lives over the years, but perhaps none as drastically as the Patrays’ and Mikells’. Being very enthusiastic about world missions, the C&MA church held annual missions’ weeks at which two or three C&MA missionaries would attend and speak. The couples were very drawn to missions and supported the cause any way they could. Each year, when the missions’ week was concluding, an invitation was always given for “young people” to give their lives to missions. There were always several who would accept the invitation, and many “young people” went out from FBC into mission work. There would always be another invitation to those “too old” to go, but who would give and pray so that the younger ones could go. Patray would always commit to that cause while wishing down deeply that he too could go. However, he was over 35 years of age at the time and that is considered too old for the mission field by the C&MA.
In 1979, Patray was working fulltime in his own real estate brokerage and building business. God had blessed his business and he was in the process of building a new office. One early Monday morning, while having his devotion before opening for business, the Lord visited Patray in a manner unlike anything he had ever experienced. His overwhelming presence left Patray weeping almost uncontrollably. He was neither visible nor audible but He clearly spoke to Patray. Having just concluded another annual missions’ week, at which Patray again committed to the Lord that he would do whatever He asked, he did not realize that God would soon Personally call on him.
Although the details of His visit are many and unique, suffice it to say that the Lord told Patray to sell his possessions and prepare for ministry at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. Being 40 years of age at the time with two daughters in High School, Patray thought “this cannot be! I’m much too old to start something with such impacting requirements and changes!” God replied, “Moses did what I asked at that age!” There was no further argument.
His emotions having somewhat subsided, Patray then called Barbara to tell her of the experience, to which she responded in tears, “Yes. He told me two weeks ago that He was going to require me to do something that I would not want to do. And right now I do not feel like I want to do this!” She did, though, and loved every moment of the experiences. They enrolled at TFC the fall of 1979.
Meanwhile, back in KH after Patray left for TFC, the Mikells continued to seek God’s Will for their lives, believing that He wanted them to devote their lives to His Service. Frank and one of Patray’s salesmen, Marshall Donaldson, kept the Real Estate office open for another year. Mr. Donaldson was also buying and selling a lot of real estate at the time. He became very good friends with both Patray and Mikell, and is a key player in the beginning of PMM.
The Mikells and Patrays continued to keep close contact always lifting each other up in prayer. A few months later the Lord led the Mikells to enroll at TFC the following fall in 1980. Both couples graduated in 1983.
After graduation, the Mikells were accepted by HCJB World Radio (now HCJB Globel) as candidates to work in Ecuador as medical missionaries. They began deputation almost immediately and departed for language school in Costa Rica early 1984. The Patrays became licensed with the C&MA and returned to work at FBC in KH for the next year. In late ’84, they were called to the Alliance Church in Daytona Beach where Pastor Hoover was the Senior Pastor. Although there was a great distance between them, the two couples still maintained close contact.
Two years later, in December of 1986, Marshall Donaldson again entered the lives of his former friends and associates wishing to donate a parcel of land to them for ministry purposes. Containing some thirteen acres on a lake with two rental homes, the property seemed ideal for use by retiring missionaries. Hence, Patray and Mikell agreed to set up a “ministry” for their future use, perhaps later in life. In the interim, the property was donated to the C&MA church in Daytona Beach. Patray was given the task of naming the ministry and he chose “Palm Missionary Ministries, Inc.” mainly because it was to be a Florida corporation.
The following year, 1987, Patray was sent to Southwest Georgia to begin a pioneer work helping to start a C&MA church. Not long afterwards, Mikell called from Quito, Ecuador and told Patray that he believed God had shown him what PMM was to become. He explained that for many prior years, North American missionaries from various missions in Ecuador had started several national ministries that became approved ministries of HCJB. This meant, among other things, that each national ministry could receive donations from supporters in the states, and also training and other help from HCJB. It was a good arrangement for all involved. However, HCJB was also having growing pains.
In late 1987 and early 1988, HCJB, Trans-World Radio, Far East Broadcasting and SIM were developing the radio-evangelistic thrust they called “The World by 2000.” Basically, they merged their broadcasting scheduling efforts so that all involved were using their broadcasting time as effectively as possible. HCJB was becoming more of an international mission.
HCJB’s changes also meant that the Ecuadorian national ministries had to find another US umbrella to work under since HCJB was downsizing their administration in Quito. Hence the nationals needed a new partner. This is when Mikell asked the Patrays to come to Ecuador to meet with national leaders to see if God intended for PMM to become the mission to help nationals. After the meetings, there was complete agreement that He did.
PMM’s first Affiliate, “Palm Ecuador,” was established in 1988 and was made up of several national ministries and individual missionaries and church planters. Almost simultaneously, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) approved PMM as a 501(c) (3) tax-exempt non-profit organization, the final hurdle before being able to provide tax-deductible receipts for donations. Miraculously, PMM was in business recruiting, training, placing and supporting nationals wherever the Lord called them. The rest is history. That is how PMM “just happened.”