Karen Kornmiller


Retired Missionary to the American Indian Field
“I’ll Always Be a Teacher”
By Kacey Heinlein, Writing Intern
July 2015

“I love teaching. I love kids. Most of all, I love my Savior,” wrote retired missionary Karen Kornmiller in 1972 when she applied for service with World Gospel Mission.

Karen was born in Logan, Ohio, in 1943. Although her parents weren’t Christians when she was young, Karen learned about God through her grandmother. While majoring in education at Ohio University, Karen began attending a Nazarene church. She was saved in November 1962. Soon after, she felt called by God to missionary service—specifically to Native Americans.

When Karen looked into the Church of the Nazarene’s missionary activity, she found they didn’t have any teaching ministries for Native Americans. Undeterred, she started looking at other denominations. The Churches of Christ in Christian Union, a sister organization to WGM, was able to point her toward WGM’s American Indian Field. At the time, Karen was teaching English and Spanish at Logan High School and working on her master’s degree in education. In April of 1974, she was given a full appointment to Peoria, Arizona, to teach at Southwest Indian School, a boarding school for Native American children.

“One of the challenges was learning how to relate to people of a difference culture,” Karen said. “I had never taught cross-culturally before. [The students] were a little more reserved. After you established a relationship, they warmed up to you.”

Karen taught English and Bible as well as serving as a dorm parent and eventually principal of Southwest Indian School and field editor for Call to Prayer magazine (now The Call). She recalled teaching a lesson about the gospels, for which she started by taking her eighth-grade class outside the classroom for a walk. “Now, I want each of you to write what you remember,” she told them. As they shared their stories later, they found that different students noticed different details about what they had seen.

“That’s how I introduced the gospels,” Karen said. “They all told the same story, but they were all told with a different purpose.”

Karen very fondly recalls teaching and is still connected to many of her previous students via Facebook. “I found more joys than challenges. I love teaching. I feel God’s given me a number of talents, but if I was put on earth for a specific purpose, it was teaching. I love engaging other people—the satisfaction of knowing someone’s learned something,” she said.

But with all her years of teaching, Karen couldn’t help but find she was also being taught. “I think the Lord has taught me that I needed him,” she said. “I still needed the Holy Spirit’s direction. I needed to trust in Him in all that I was doing. He called us to be faithful. I didn’t always see the results I hoped to see, but He just calls us to be faithful.”

After 23 years at the school, Karen had to trust the Lord’s leading away from the American Indian Field. “I felt that my ministry there was over. I felt that the Lord was definitely leading me to be close to my parents. I just knew that this was all on God’s timing,” she said.

Karen worked for WGM for three more years at Circleville Bible College (Ohio), leading the Student Involvement Center. “I was like the missionary-in-residence,” she said. While at Circleville, Karen led students on missions trips to Mexico, Argentina, and Paraguay.

After retiring from WGM, she went on to teach English at Hocking College (Ohio) from 2002 to 2013. Teaching was still enjoyable, but eventually it came time to retire. However, Karen’s retirement looks about as busy as some people’s careers.

“There are different seasons in life,” Karen said. “When you get into the seventh decade of your life, you know you’re coming up over the home stretch, and you want your life to count for the Lord until the very end.”

Karen is still making her life count by substitute teaching at Logan Christian School, leading fellowship time at her local senior center, teaching adult Sunday School at the Church of the Nazarene in Logan, sharing the gospel at a healthcare center with a Baptist women’s group, and editing WGM’s alumni newsletter. She also plays trombone in the Lancaster Community Band, plays accordion and dulcimer, and is active in the local historical society.

“It took a while to adjust to being retired and not teaching,” Karen said. “It was like I lost my identity. But I feel like the Lord helped, because I’m still doing that one way or another. I guess what I’ve learned from all this is that I’ll always be a teacher.”