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God accomplished a lot through Karen’s 33 years as an Encompass missionary to Africa. Her first assignment was in the Central African Republic (CAR) as an accountant for a team of 40 expats. She said, “When I got there, I remember going to the post office and sending a telegram to tell my US church that I arrived safely.” Civil unrest later drove her to Cameroon. In total, she spent 15 years in the CAR and 18 years in Cameroon. As time went on, she did less accounting and more teaching, and God ended up using her to help start the Charis Bible Institute in Cameroon, minister to Muslims, and teach in various capacities.
During her time on the field, Karen practiced an outreach strategy she calls “friendship evangelism,” which involves building relationships with people before bringing up spiritual topics. After getting to know someone, Karen would discern their spiritual condition and ask God to show her a way to relate their situation to scripture. For example, when she realized that one lady was living under a lot of fear, God led her to talk about how we don’t need to be scared because Jesus conquered death. Karen said, “You have to find something they’re interested in and already talking about. From there, you can ask if they’d like to hear more and invite them to a chronological Bible study.”
On public transportation in Cameroon once, Karen met a Muslim woman who had relatives who had taken in about 20 Muslim refugees from the CAR. Karen asked to meet them and they went right away to do so. Then what do you say, excited but unprepared? Karen stood in front of them and said “Hi, I’m Karen. I worked in the CAR, and I feel bad for what you guys had to go through.” Over time, she became friends with them, taught them literacy, and read Bible stories with them. Eventually one of the refugees named Mary* put her faith in Jesus and became the first believer in that group.
Another outreach strategy Karen uses is meeting people where they are. After her new friend Mary walked through all the essential Bible stories, she still had a works-based mentality… she thought she had to pray more to stay in good standing with God. Noticing this, Karen asked God to bring up the right scripture to speak to Mary’s mindset, and He led them to the thief on the cross. Karen said, “That really worked for her, because what did that man do? Nothing! He just believed.”
When Karen retired back to the States earlier this year, it was hard to leave Mary in Cameroon. The two women developed a genuine friendship, and Karen got choked up just talking about her. Karen said, “Pray for her because her husband is Islamic and sometimes threatens to put her out of the house because of her faith.”
Mary is just one of the many people God affected through Karen’s obedience—but He also used it to change Karen. With a chuckle, Karen said, “Don’t ask people about my temper when I first arrived on the field!” But God used her cross-cultural service to work in her own heart. She said, “I’m learning to be unoffendable and not let things bother me so much. Now I try to give people more slack and trust God to work everything out.”
Karen said, “I wish more people would consider becoming a missionary. The needs are still huge, and you don’t have to commit to 30 years.” Looking back on her career, she said, “Just seeing the way God worked in people’s lives made it all worth it.”
*Name changed for security