Karen Aileen Merkel 1943–2020 ….
Karen Aileen Merkel 1943–2020
Karen Merkel will be missed by many friends and family. Karen passed away at Los Alamitos Medical Center on July 24, 2020, of non-COVID related reasons. Karen was born along with her “womb-mate” Kurtis on June 18, 1943, in Bismarck, North Dakota. She said that it was fun growing up with a twin brother, giving “double-trouble” to their mother who often said, “What one twin didn’t think of doing mischievously, the other one did!” At the age of 15, while attending her second confirmation class at House of Prayer Lutheran Church in Bismarck, North Dakota, a miracle and a mystery happened simultaneously: Karen received Jesus into her heart as her Lord and savior, which truly was a miracle. When the pastor asked Karen to read the three Scripture texts in that confirmation class (Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 10:13-17 and Matthew 28:16-20), a mystery happened, and she immediately received a missionary calling.
After finishing her formal education which included Bismarck High School, Bismarck Junior College, Dickinson State College and attending Northern Illinois University and the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, she was ready to begin her missionary career, which spanned over 50 years. On March 31, 1968, Karen was commissioned at the House of Prayer Lutheran Church in Bismarck, North Dakota to serve as a Lutheran missionary in South America. She studied Spanish in Costa Rica, spent four years in Uruguay with the former Lutheran Church in America and nine years in Bolivia with the World Mission Prayer League.
In November 1976, at the age of 33, while serving in Bolivia, Karen was stricken with breast cancer, which resulted in a radical mastectomy that was performed in Bismarck. Four months to the day after her surgery, she returned to Bolivia with her chemotherapy in her suitcase. That year, she wrote a book about her cancer experience titled, “Jesus Can Put it all Together.” Karen worked five more years in Bolivia, and then, because of declining health, she returned to the U.S.
After doing parish ministry in Central California, Emanuel Lutheran Church in San Jose and St. Luke Lutheran Church in Sunnyvale, where she met her best friend, Sue Hutchins, Karen returned to missionary service in October 1987. She set up an office in Anaheim and became the Pacific Southwest (PSW) regional coordinator for the World Mission Prayer League (WMPL) for 30 years. At the time, Karen became a member of Grace Lutheran Church in Huntington Beach, where the beloved Paul Johnsen, a former missionary to Japan, was pastor. After moving to Leisure World in 2012, Karen often attended Redeemer Lutheran Church of Leisure World and enjoyed their Wednesday Bible studies. She was also honored to occasionally be invited to preach at Redeemer.
One of Karen’s favorite ministries serving as PSW coordinator was to travel around the world, visiting the work of the WMPL, ministering to and encouraging the missionaries. Her friend Sue was always her traveling companion, helping the missionaries and the nationals with their computer needs. In 1995, Karen was diagnosed with heart disease that included two open heart surgeries and a 45 minute cardiac arrest. By 1996, she was heading toward a heart transplant until she received a second opinion, changed cardiologists, and started a new regimen of medications and cardiac rehab. She never let her heart condition deter her from her ministry with the WMPL. Some of her favorite activities were nurturing her friends, preaching, visiting U.S. national parks, photography and watching baseball. Karen would ask you a question today: “Now that I am in heaven, who will take my place to share God’s love around the world? If not YOU, then WHO, if not NOW, then WHEN?”
Karen was preceded in death by her father, Chris Merkel; her mother, Esther Zeiszler; her sister and brother-in-law Marlene and Richard Mallett; her “womb-mate” twin brother, Kurtis Merkel, and her brother-in-law Ralph Eck. She is survived by her sister and brother-in-law Lorna and Paul Wohnoutka; sister Bernice Eck; her sister-in-law Lois Merkel; and her special friend Sue Hutchins. Her Service of Committal was held on Dec. 18, 2020 ,at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Sunnyvale. The service was held outside with social distancing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her ashes are stored in a niche of a columbarium at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Sunnyvale. A memorial service for Karen will be held at Grace Lutheran Church in Huntington Beach on Saturday, April 9, at 11 a.m. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the World Mission Prayer League at www. wmpl.org in memory of Karen