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Don and Norene Hohensee

Retired Support Staff
"The Devil Didn’t Defeat Burundi"
By r, s, October 2014

“There were times when we were discouraged and things weren’t moving forward; it seemed like we weren’t accomplishing what we had set out to do,” related Don Hohensee, World Gospel Mission retiree (Support Staff). “I prayed, ‘God, you’ve got to help us!’ He gave us peace that we were where He called us, and we were doing what we’re supposed to be doing.

“And later, great things happened in the church. In five years, the church doubled in membership with 40 new churches and preaching points. People were coming to know the Lord.”

Don and Norene’s eventful service in Burundi was a far cry from their humble roots in Montana and Washington, respectively. Don’s father died when Don was a child, and his mother raised him as a single parent. In the seventh grade, Don was working in a grocery store to earn money for his clothes, and it was in the basement of the store that God began speaking to him about missionary service. At that time in rural Montana, it was unusual to study beyond the eighth grade, but Don knew God had called him to ministry, and he worked his way through high school and was able to attend Cascade College (Oregon).

Norene grew up on a dairy farm and attended a local Methodist church. A missionary from Colombia spoke at the church, and Norene felt a tug on her heart toward missions. In high school, she was active in Youth for Christ and started a Bible club at her school. Her first contact with WGM was at a camp meeting, where missionary Maxine Moss was speaking. Maxine took a special interest in Norene, encouraging her to answer God’s call. She stayed in touch with Norene for years afterwards.

Don and Norene met at Cascade College and were married in 1961. Don went on to study at Western Evangelical Seminary (Oregon) while Norene taught the second grade. While in seminary, they applied to WGM, indicating an interest in serving in Africa. They were appointed to Burundi, a small country in central Africa. They arrived there in 1965 after eight months of French language study in Belgium (Burundi had been a Belgian protectorate).

Don served primarily in evangelism: church planting, helping run Vacation Bible Schools, youth work, and youth camps. Later, he trained pastors and lay leaders in TEE (Theological Education by Extension), where he and others would teach theology and pastoral care in various locations. He also served as field director. In addition to raising and homeschooling their four children—Susan, Bryon, Sheila, and Bruce—Norene taught sewing classes, entertained guests, and was involved in women’s Bible studies and fellowship meetings.

The 1970s brought great change and turmoil. Tribal conflicts escalated and the nation was gripped with a horrific genocide in 1972. Don and Norene lost friends and co-workers, including several pastors, in the violence. In addition, the political climate became unfriendly toward religious organizations. In 1979, Don and Norene were expelled from the country, along with dozens of other missionaries.

After pursing further education at Fuller Theological Seminary (California), Don and Norene took a hiatus from WGM, returning to Western Evangelical Seminary. From 1980 to 1992, Don taught at the seminary and Norene did substitute teaching and then worked as an instructional aide for learning disabled children, at one time developing a curriculum to teach English to children from other countries.

In 1992, Don was invited to serve as vice president of International Ministries at WGM’s headquarters. Norene worked in the Church Ministries Department for one year, then became an assistant in International Ministries, where she focused on facilitating special events and was able to travel with Don. Under Don’s leadership, Ukraine was opened as a field and WGM joined with Churches of Christ in Christian Union in serving in Papua New Guinea as well as the Caribbean (St. Croix and Grenada).

“We loved working with the missionaries on the field and meeting Christians all over the world,” Don said. “It was a blessing to interact with believers from so many parts of the world.”

“I remember sitting in an airport as we were about to head out to Ukraine, and I said to Don, ‘Can you believe the Lord is letting us do this?’” Norene said. “It’s amazing what the Lord lets you do when you’re obedient!”

Don and Norene retired in 2006 after 41 years of service, and they now serve as pastors to retired missionaries who live on the West Coast. They have also returned to Burundi several times, where Don has taught at Light University. On one trip, they met the great-granddaughter of the first pastor ordained by WGM in Burundi. He was killed in the 1972 genocide, but his great-granddaughter is carrying his legacy on by being a strong believer in her community.

“The work has continued and grown,” said Don. “The devil didn’t defeat Burundi!”

Don also serves as dean for Pacific Evangelical School of Ministry (Oregon). Don and Norene live in Oregon City, Oregon.

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