Judith Firebaugh Perez
(1944 – 2023)
On Friday, June 16, 2023, Rev. Ron Roy, World Missions Ministries Regional Director for the Gulf of Mexico Region, received word from Monterey, Mexico that Rev. Judith Perez had transitioned to her heavenly home the day before, Thursday, June 15, 2023.
As many of you know, burial customs and traditions vary globally. A funeral service (known in Mexico as a Velada—an open service for anyone who wants to attend) was held on Saturday afternoon with a private memorial service for invited guests on Sunday. Rev. Roy was able to attend to represent the IPHC’s missionary family and speak at the Sunday Memorial Service.
We join with Judith’s family in Mexico, and here in the United States, in mourning and celebrating the remarkable life this lady of great faith lived. She was, without a doubt, one of the IPHC’s most beloved missionaries.
Since traditions differ outside of the U.S., it is only fitting for Judith’s obituary to reflect that.
The best person to tell her story is Judith herself. In 2020, Rev. Larry Meadors, World Missions and Evangelism Director for the IPHC Appalachian Conference, and a select group developed a booklet honoring the Appalachian Conference missionaries who had served as field missionaries from 1920-2020 entitled, A Century of Sending – A compilation of missionary stories, 1920-2020.
The following excerpt is how Judith tells her story:
Growing up in Natural Bridge, it was always exciting when missionaries visited the church, but little did I know that one day I would be living out the beautiful song which June Carter and Floradell Baldwin sang so joyfully: “Beyond the river, the Rio Grande…”
As many of you remember, I was married to Rev. Gerald Atkinson for only 13 months when the Lord took him home. I have said that if I had known the end from the beginning, I would have married him still because in those difficult months, Mom and Dad Atkinson and I were a team to make him know that he was loved and cared for to the end.
My father, Lee H. Firebaugh, passed away four months before Gerald. So, I returned to my home place at Natural Bridge…taught 5th grade, and was active in the local church. Cliff Turpin was promoting “Youth in Missions” and a trip to Mexico in which we traveled to many of our IPHC churches. I was greatly impressed because in every church the pastor was a graduate of Emmanuel Bible School in Monterrey.
So, returning to Natural Bridge Elementary to continue teaching…soon it was time to sign a contract for another year. By that time the Lord was dealing with my life and “rustling my nest” of comfort… greatly impressing me that He had a work for me in that Bible School. How would I explain that to my mother and family?
The time came when I knew it was a reality, and one morning at the breakfast table I announced that it was a definite calling from the Lord! My mother objected and reminded me that I was working for the Lord at NB! It was so spontaneous when out of my mouth I told my mother that if she didn´t give me her blessing to go to Mexico, then maybe the Lord would have to send a whale to Natural Bridge to take me there. Obviously, she understood and gave me her blessing!
In September of 1971, I left for San José, Costa Rica, to enroll in a specialized Language School and for one year diligently studied Spanish. The EXTRA which the Lord provided is that I boarded with Cadell and Vera Ashford. I also gleaned from resident missionaries: the Parkers, the Dickinsons and Charlene West. What a treasure of insight concerning being a missionary! I traveled with the Ashfords and Parkers on weekends to many churches in Costa Rica…great adventures which I will never forget!
In September of 1972, I was ordained by Rev. Bernard Underwood at the Natural Bridge Church. My family bought me a VW station wagon and I followed the Ashfords on the trip to Monterrey…and of course, they continued their journey to Costa Rica!
My companion and mentor in Monterrey was veteran missionary, Floradell Baldwin. What a world of knowledge and experience I gleaned from her until she had to leave the field in 1982.
The joy of all these years of ministry: Emmanuel Bible School in Monterrey! This has been a real challenge and I know that the Lord sent me there. This school has been the seedbed of the majority of ministers in the East Mexico Conference. Also, it is a joy to know that some of these graduates are active in IPHC ministries in the U.S.!
I could not close without reminding you that the Lord blessed me with a wonderful Mexican husband…Rubén Pérez, who also has used his talents of design, art, and teaching at Emmanuel. I became the mother of three wonderful children and now we have four grandchildren.
Regretfully, we have not been able to visit churches in the USA as in years past because Rubén needs hemodialysis three times a week; the cost of these treatments is extremely high in the U.S.! However, we keep in touch and are very excited over the participation of groups from the Appalachian Conference who have experienced the great joy of visiting a missions field. We welcome you, also, with arms open wide!
Judith Firebaugh Pérez – April 21, 2020
At the 29th IPHC General Conference, July 27-29, 2022, in Jacksonville, Florida, World Missions Ministries honored and thanked Judith for her outstanding service to Christ and the International Pentecostal Holiness Church as a career missionary for the past 50 years by commissioning missionary, artist extraordinaire, Rev. Linwood Berry, to paint a portrait of her. Judith’s daughter, Mrs. Haylee Perez graciously accompanied her to the U.S. for this special presentation.
Judith went to Monterey in 1972 to teach in the Emmanual School of Theology in Monterey, Mexico, which has since prepared hundreds of pastors, ministers, evangelists, and Christian education workers. I told her at the WMM banquet where we made this special presentation to her with over 500+ guests in attendance that, in my opinion, she was irreplaceable!
Judith will be deeply missed by her IPHC family and, in particular, her missionary family, and on their behalf, I send our deepest condolences to Judith’s family both in Mexico and here in the U.S.
On behalf of IPHC’s World Missions family,
Bishop J. Talmadge Gardner
Executive Director, IPHC World Missions Ministries
Legacy Portrait: Judith Perez / Till Death Do Us Part
Artist/Missionary Linwood Berry’s notes regarding the inspiration for the painting are below:
This painting was commissioned by IPHC World Missions Ministries to honor retiring missionary Judy Perez, who has served with distinction in Mexico for over 50 years.
Legacy portraits attempt to convey more than the likeness of the subject. I try to capture significant moments and images that relate to the story of the honoree.
In this painting, two significant images were used as reference photos: one from 1972 when Judy was a newly arrived single missionary in front of the Emmanuel Bible Institute in Monterey, Mexico, and the other shows Judy with her late husband, Ruben, in a tender embrace.
Concept/title: Until Death Do Us Part, lifetime commitments, kept promises, and covenant relationships are increasingly harder to find in the 21st Century. These qualities are exemplified in the life of Judy Perez. She arrived in Mexico in 1972 with an earnest desire to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in missionary service. She would remain there for the next 50 years. To be sure there have been challenges and struggles. No doubt, many times she could have found an excuse to seek a new assignment or more comfortable circumstances. She has stayed on the course.
The life of a missionary is not easy. In fact, you need a clear sense of God’s call on your life and the faith to know that His faithfulness is greater than our own. He has a provision for every need, be it financial, emotional, or spiritual. “Faithful is He that calleth you …”
Monterey, Mexico can be a difficult assignment. In fact, in 2022, it has elements of real danger. Judy qualifies as a brave missionary hero, although I am sure it would never occur to her to see herself that way.
She met Ruben in Mexico. They married and shared life and ministry together until his recent departure to be with the Lord.
Most of the photos of Judy I received show snapshots of Judy and Ruben together. They are always smiling and often holding hands. Beautiful relationship. Then there is the Emmanuel Bible Institute and its students. This was also Judy’s great love.
Judy’s legacy demonstrates the faithfulness of God. She encourages me to stay the course, to go all in, and hold on faithfully to the one who called us. Jesus has prepared a unique place for each of us. For Judy that was Monterey, Mexico. There in that place, He provided everything she needed.
A final observation: I have titled this painting “Until Death Do Us Part” because all we have to give is our lives. But Jesus’ commitment went beyond His life and death. His resurrection and ongoing intercession continue. This is true legacy. So too, Judy’s missionary service will outlive her lifetime through the pastors, leaders, and lives she has touched.
Thank you, Judy. Thank you, WMM, for the honor to learn from Judy as I made this painting.
Linwood K. Berry Artist/Missionary 20 July 2022.
From the Field…
By June Carter Canavesio, retired IPHC Missionary
Judy Perez was loved and admired by all the Mexican Pentecostal Holiness Church people. When her daughter announced her departure to Heaven on Facebook, there were so many responses that it was impossible to read all of them. I read many and wept as I read them. Their love was without boundaries. I have translated two of them that especially touched me, both written by former superintendents of the Northeast Mexican Conference.
Today, without a doubt, a great lady has been taken up to the Kingdom of God. She was distinguished among us, having a heart for Mexico, for the church, and, above all, for education. Her works were and continue to be innumerably great, for she was not only an untiring warrior, but she was also a wife and a dedicated mother. She was a great friend, sincere and loyal. Her loyalty was recognized in her untiring ministerial and pastoral labors. She was a true missionary, recognized by all. The list could go on and on, but now her turn has arrived to pass from her labors, from battles and pain, to appear before her Maker, receive peace and quietude, and join the great celestial choir for all eternity.
In life, she was a servant, and a letter of appreciation could be sent to her for being involved in our lives and receiving from her our formal ministerial training. And through her and her husband, we received generous help and opportunities according to our necessities. Thank God for having given us the joy and the privilege of having an angel among us.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” 2 Tim. 4:7
Moises Sandoval, former Northeast Mexican Conference Superintendent
It has seemed good to God, in His holy and perfect will, to call to His presence Sister Judith Perez, giving her a welcome, saying to her: “Well done, good and faithful servant; I will place you over much: enter into the joy of the Lord.”
May the Divine Holy Spirit Comforter be with the Perez family; our family is with them.
Felipe Ponce, former Northeast Mexican Conference Superintendent