“God, you know I don’t like snakes.”
Marilyn was ten years old, gazing out with trepidation at the long—very long—snakeskin that the visiting missionary had rolled out at the front of the sanctuary. After he’d spoken, he asked the all-important question: did anyone feel God calling them to the mission field?
Marilyn certainly did. She says she was very aware of God’s voice that day. “Marilyn, I want you.”
And she wanted to go, but there was still one problem: the snakes.
“God. You know I don’t like snakes.”
But God kept tugging at her heart, and little Marilyn gathered her courage. “I knew I couldn’t tell Him no three times,” she said, “so I went down.”
Even though it would take decades before that desire to serve was fanned into flame, Marilyn Blake did eventually become a missionary. She and her husband, Ken (BWC ’70), have spent 32 years on the mission field in Germany and Russia. And wouldn’t you know? Through all that time, she’s never seen a snake outside of a zoo. God knows.
“I really had never established good devotional patterns, real earnestness about following the Lord, and that all took place in Bartlesville.”
Ken’s path to the mission field was a little different than Marilyn’s. He gave his life to the Lord as a child in Fresno, California, and felt the call to ministry at a Billy Graham crusade when he was fifteen. When a visiting Wesleyan evangelist later came to Ken’s church, he recommended that he go to a denominational school in order to gain connections with those he’d eventually work with. The choice? Central Pilgrim College—even though Ken’s high school guidance counselor couldn’t even find the school’s information when he looked it up.
For Marilyn, growing up in Kansas within the Wesleyan denomination, Bartlesville was the obvious choice. “To me, it was just kind of a given that’s where I would go,” she said.
She didn’t end up graduating from CPC—which became Bartlesville Wesleyan College while the Blakes attended—but she built a foundation in missionary nursing classes that allowed her to finish up at a nursing college in Texas. What she did gain at the school was two-fold: meeting Ken, and learning more about the faith she professed and had dedicated herself to. “I had never read through the entire Bible,” she said. “Needing to do that for Old Testament and New Testament Survey was a real revelation to me.”
After they met, Ken and Marilyn were intentional about their relationship, even in the early stages. They confessed their goal to go into ministry, but acknowledged that there was one key difference: location. Ken didn’t necessarily feel called to overseas missions, but he did feel called to be a pastor, while Marilyn’s desire to go out into the world was as strong then as it was when she’d first went to the front of the sanctuary at ten years old.
“I thought, well, this isn’t going to be a very good marriage,” Ken joked, “with her overseas somewhere and me here.”
But after prayer and some honesty, they took the plunge, getting engaged before Marilyn went to Texas to complete her schooling. They were married on June 29, 1969, ten days after she graduated. In fact, during Ken’s senior year at BWC, Marilyn served as the school nurse.
They immediately began praying a spiritual foundation for their future children, asking that they would have a worldview much bigger than who they were and where they were. They’d see this prayer answered in numerous ways over the years.
Bringing the Nations to Us
The Blakes moved westward after graduation for Ken to complete his M.Div. and D.Min. in Oregon. While there, they had the opportunity to pastor churches in Salem and Wilsonville. Eventually, that ticket overseas finally came; during a Wesleyan convention, Ken was one of a group of men asked to pray about whether God was calling them overseas to Europe. After the meeting, he asked Marilyn, “How would you like to go to Europe?”
“On our salary?” she responded? She thought he meant to vacation there.
But the seed had been planted, and the Blakes made the move to Munich, Germany, in 1988. They were excited, refreshed, and, they admit, somewhat unprepared.
“We were both very naive about what it meant to move to Europe,” Ken said. “Learned a lot of hard things.”
The transition was difficult, as all transitions are, and there were hard times in store for the Blakes. Certain medical emergencies later on in Russia—including evacuations and car accidents—proved trying, though these instances made Marilyn glad for her medical background.
“I was thankful for my training in that, that I was able to help the team members in those tough times,” she said. “When something happened, I would do what I could to take care of them.”
In 1993, the Blakes moved to Russia to help overseas missions teams involved in training schoolteachers. They ended up staying there until 2005 when they returned to the United States. But their heart was still overseas, and they soon returned to Germany, where they still reside today. In 2014, they retired as Global Partners missionaries, but they remain as the pastors of a small international church in Munich, Munich Christian Fellowship. Ken had begun helping out the church during the GP years, and it seemed like a natural fit to stay there.
“Instead of bringing us to countries, to nations, God is bringing the nations to us,” Marilyn said. Over 30 different nationalities have been represented at MCF through the years.
The church has allowed them to see lives radically changed through Christ, but there are challenges, too. “The most rewarding part and the most difficult part are the same,” Ken said. “The most rewarding part is seeing people come to Christ, develop, get married, have kids, and establish a Christian home. I love that. At the same time, it’s a difficult thing.”
The reason for this, he says, is that most marriages within their international community are cross-cultural marriages, which can often come with built-in challenges. “There’s real struggle there,” he said.
“Instead of bringing us to countries, to nations, God is bringing the nations to us.“
A Legacy of Faithfulness
While the Blakes aren’t sure what the future will bring, or how long they’ll remain in Germany, they remain confident and thankful for the legacy of faithfulness God has shown to them. They have three children, John, Matthew, and Rachelle, along with eight grandchildren. All three of their kids are involved in Kingdom Work in some way, providing the answer to their first married prayer. “That’s certainly the greatest blessing in our life,” Ken said.
They’re also thankful for the foundation they built during their time in Bartlesville, and especially for those individuals who took the time to mentor them. Both point to President Bonner and Chester Wilkins as key figures during their time as Eagles. Throughout their term on campus, they enjoyed the close-knit community of their peers and created lasting friendships that continue to this day.
“Even though I was saved at twelve and was in the church until I graduated high school, no one had ever really mentored me,” Ken said. “I really had never established good devotional patterns, real earnestness about following the Lord, and that all took place in Bartlesville.”
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