Karen Joy Cunningham was born into the missionary family of Loren and Darlene Cunningham in 1968. Her mom and dad are the founders of Youth With A Mission – but as a daughter, Karen has her own personal call to ministry. From the time she was a little girl, it was obvious that she was gifted to teach children (or “keiki” in the Hawaiian language) about “God our Father.” She did this very naturally and informally all of her growing up years.
After graduating from high school, Karen Cunningham completed a University of the Nations (UofN) degree in Early Childhood Education at YWAM Kona, Hawaii. Since 1992, she has taught 3- to 5-year-old preschoolers not only at the UofN Preschool in Kona, but also at preschools in Hong Kong, England, Hungary, Romania, Singapore, Kenya and New Zealand. She has also helped to train and equip other preschool teachers in places like Egypt.
“Miss Karen,” as she is affectionately and respectfully known, has taught thousands of children during her career – one generation after the next. Some have grown and married and she is currently teaching their children, and their children’s children.
Loren and Darlene are always thrilled when their daughter Karen comes home with stories of her preschool adventures. One favorite story Karen tells is of the day a boy came to preschool wearing two bandaids. The child noticed that his friend got hurt and needed a bandaid too, so he told Miss Karen “I took off one of my bandaids and gave it to him.” Karen mused “I guess it’s the kindness that counts!”
In the UofN preschool curriculum, one unit talks about becoming followers of Jesus. At the end of that week, one boy in Miss Karen’s class prayed with the teacher from a different class to receive Jesus into his heart. He came back to Miss Karen and explained the experience to her like this: “My heart was asleep but now it’s awake.”