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Meryl Esenwein

Crafting relationships in Africa
"The Lord has given me this one life, and only what’s done for Him will last."
By Rachel Elwood, Staff Writer, 2014

Just as an artist turns simple colors into a treasured painting, God blended the many facets of Meryl Esenwein’s life into a work of art. Meryl’s father died three months before she was born. Her mother’s godly example, together with Spirit-anointed messages in church, camp meetings, and Junior Prayer Band meetings, convinced Meryl to live her life according to God’s plan.

As a student at Asbury University, Meryl studied French and art. During her junior year, she attended the national Prayer Band Convention, where she met LeRoy and Gene Little, World Gospel Mission missionaries to Burundi. For the first time, she became genuinely interested in missions, and when she heard that an artist was needed in Burundi to illustrate Christian literature, she applied to WGM for missionary service. “Time is so short,” she wrote on her application. “People are dying without Christ—lost forever. The Lord has given me this one life, and only what’s done for Him will last.”

Meryl served from 1966 to 1985 in Burundi, where she worked at the print shop using her artistic abilities; doing layout, design, and illustration work; and proofing and co-editing a Christian magazine. She also traveled with evangelism teams to hold weekend youth meetings, often showing the Jesus film in remote areas. In 1987, she went to Tanzania, where she taught English and Bible in a high school and at a Bible institute and also taught Theological Education by Extension. She continued her work in children’s ministries and Vacation Bible School, and she served as field secretary.

In 2000, Meryl transferred to Uganda to work with youth and church ministries. Throughout all her years in Africa, she loved talking one-on-one with people and building lasting friendships, always pointing them to Jesus. She shared her Savior with everyone, whether it was a maid at a hotel where she was staying, a viewer at a Jesus film showing, or a woman carrying water by the side of the road. She was well-known for her engaging chalk talks in which she would tell a Bible story or a story from Africa while creating a chalk drawing illustrating the story.

In 2002, Meryl returned to the United States to care for her stepfather and mother. She later returned to Uganda and then retired on August 31, 2007, after 38 years of service.

Meryl loved beauty and creating lovely things with her hands. Her gentle, caring spirit drew people of all ages to her, and she loved each one. Second Corinthians 4:18 (NIV) testifies of her life: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Meryl truly fixed her eyes on the eternal, and we rejoice that she is in the presence of her Savior today. She passed away on October 31, 2014. WGM joins with Meryl’s family and friends in celebrating her life and service to our Lord.

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