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Karen Duncan

Serving in leadership in Kenya and on the Support Staff
"Karen’s heart has always been for the salvation of those she interacted with."
By Kateland Vernon, Staff Writer, October 2019

Karen Duncan’s call to missions came not once but three times. First, she stumbled across a Bible verse regarding missions. Soon after, she unintentionally opened an encyclopedia in the college library to a double-page feature of Kenya. At that point, she was fairly certain God was trying to tell her something, but missions didn’t line up with her goal of being a physical education teacher. So she prayed, “If you can just tell me one more time, then I believe I’ll know exactly what you want me to do.”

Several months later, Karen was walking through the administration building when she came across a bulletin board highlighting the need for doctors and nurses at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya. She stood staring at it in shock for a while, during which time a teacher came up behind her and asked, “Is God trying to talk to you about something?” Karen couldn’t deny God’s will for her life any longer. She knew what He wanted her to do.

In 1977, Karen and her husband, Terry, answered God’s call and moved to Kenya to serve at Tenwek—Karen as a nurse and Terry as the head of maintenance. After four years, they had settled into life at the hospital, but they then received a surprise. They were asked to relocate to Kenya Highlands Bible College in Kericho, Kenya. Terry would be the business manager, but Karen wondered how she could use her nursing skills at a college. God answered that question before the phone call even ended. The college had a desperate need for a medical clinic, and Karen was tasked with setting one up.

If setting up a clinic wasn’t challenging enough, Karen would soon receive another difficult mission. She joined a team of women who traveled by helicopter to the northern mountains of Kenya to deliver immunizations to the Pokot women and children. These people lived in locations so remote they couldn’t be accessed by land vehicle, and the team sought to bring not only medical supplies but the Word of God to them. Only a year after joining, Karen found herself in charge of the ministry, a fulfilling role that lasted for the next twenty years. What had begun as a change full of uncertainty quickly developed into an extremely rewarding season of ministry for the Duncans.

In 1995, Terry took on the role of Field Director, which came with a change in scenery: the Duncans moved to Nakuru. They then moved to Nairobi in 2006, when Terry became the Regional Director for Africa. In 2013, after the couple’s four children (Robert, Brent, Tiana, and Teresa) had graduated and spread out across the globe, Terry retired from the mission field. It was time for the Duncans to return to the States.

Terry and Karen were fine with moving back to the U.S., but they weren’t quite ready to retire completely. They asked where they could find a need to fill and discovered new joy in the role of overseeing WGM retirees. Together, they faithfully called, wrote, and visited retired missionaries and staff. When Terry went to be with the Lord in October 2018, Karen continued the ministry, saying of missionaries, “You retire, but not really.”

Serving alongside Terry, Karen was a mentor and encourager, friend and prayer warrior for missionaries. She offered advice, listened patiently, and cried and laughed with missionaries as they processed experiencing life in Africa. Karen gave wise counsel, prayed diligently, taught well, and is loved by those with whom she ministered.

Regardless of her specific role, Karen’s heart has always been for the salvation of those she interacted with. When she felt discouraged in their ministry, Terry would tell her, “You have to plant the seed and keep on watering it, and one day, somebody will be able to harvest it.” Whenever she and Terry weren’t sure what their next step in life would be, they clung to Genesis 28:15: “I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” God repeatedly confirmed their call to Africa through His Word and the words of others. Terry often felt the Lord telling him, “I will open my way up, step by step,” a promise that helped him and Karen trust His plan throughout their lives.

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