“Life is not boring.”
Ken and Marilyn Blake laugh together as they say that, thinking back to more than 50 years in the ministry, including over 30 serving as missionaries overseas. For their dedicated service to the call of God on their lives, they are the recipients of the 2023 Hall of Faith Award.
Both Ken and Marilyn Blake were students at Central Pilgrim College, though their journeys to Bartlesville were quite different. Ken, originally from Fresno, California, felt God’s call on his life at a Billy Graham Crusade when he was 14 years old. A Wesleyan evangelist spoke in Ken’s church and recommended to him that he attend a denominational school. He eventually chose Central Pilgrim College, where he studied religion.
Marilyn grew up on a farm in Kansas, and she knew since she was a young girl that she wanted to be a missionary. After growing up in the Wesleyan church, the choice to go to Central Pilgrim College seemed obvious. With the mission field always on her mind, Marilyn chose to study nursing. She attended her final year of high school at Central Pilgrim and then took her pre-nursing courses at the college before finishing her degree at a nursing college in Texas.
The couple met during their college years and a relationship developed. Only one problem – Ken felt the call to ministry, but not necessarily to the mission field.
“I thought, well, this isn’t going to be a very good marriage,” he said, “with her overseas somewhere and me here.”
But the couple was engaged before Marilyn went to Texas to finish her schooling. She graduated in June of 1969, and the couple was married ten days later. Ken still had one year left, and Marilyn served as the school nurse at Bartlesville Wesleyan College.
Answering the Call
After Ken finished his degree, the couple moved to Oregon, where Ken earned his M.Div. and D.Min. at Western Evangelical Seminary. They pastored a couple of different churches during those 16 years, and all three of their children were born.
During a Wesleyan convention, Ken was part of a group that was asked to pray about whether God was calling them overseas. After the meeting, he asked Marilyn, “How would you like to go to Europe?”
Once he convinced her he wasn’t talking about a vacation, the couple took the leap of faith and prepared to move their family. In 1988, they moved to Munich, Germany, becoming the first Wesleyan missionaries in continental Europe. They planted a church in Germany during these early years.
“We were told when we were bringing our three children, who were 8, 12, and 14, that our chances of survival with our family intact was zero,” Marilyn said. “And yet, we were already on our way. Our things were packed when we were given that statistic. And I remember just crying because that’s not what you want for your children.
“And God said, ‘Just hold on. Walk with me. Keep holding my hand, and we’re going to make it.’”
Fast forward to today, and all three of the Blakes’ children serve in international ministries.
“That was our prayer,” Ken said. “Even before knowing we were going to a mission field, we prayed that our children would have a heart for the world.”
In 1993, the Blakes moved to Russia to help missionary teams that were involved with training schoolteachers. While there, they founded the Vladimir Bible School and oversaw the planting of churches in multiple Russian cities. The couple spent 12 years in Russia before returning to the United States. They moved back to Germany shortly after that, and they still reside there today, though the work has changed.
A New Way to Serve
In 2014, they retired from Global Partners, but they were asked by Munich Christian Fellowship, a small international church, to consider staying as pastors. The Blakes had been involved with the church before, so it seemed like a natural fit.
“We joke that when we were young, God called us to take the Gospel to the nations. Now that we’re old, God brings the nations to us,” they say with a smile.
Munich Christian Fellowship has had members from more than 30 different nationalities over the years, so the Blakes continue to experience new cultures while being able to minister to people seeking Christ.
“I’ve always viewed myself as a pastor,” Ken explains, “and it’s just different ways of pastoring.”
In recent years, they have seen their ministry shift as the pandemic shifted church services online. When shutdown orders came, they had little notice to move church services to Zoom. Ken officiated a wedding over Zoom during the lockdown as well.
One word came to mind for both Ken and Marilyn when they learned they were set to receive the Hall of Faith award: humbled.
“I don’t think we’ve done anything extraordinary,” Ken said. “We’ve just tried to be faithful to the Lord.”
That faithfulness has taken them all over the globe – from Bartlesville to Oregon to Germany and Russia, and the impact of their faithfulness will echo on. For now, the Blakes are taking it a year at a time, continuing to serve as pastors of Munich Christian Fellowship until God leads them to whatever is next.
“If someone had told us when we were in Bartlesville that we would end up living in Europe and Russia, we would have never believed it,” Ken said. “But to think what opportunities God has given us to minister in Europe is just amazing. We’re still amazed at times that God would use us.”
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.
The Hall of Faith honor is awarded to an alumnus who is currently or has been in full-time, long-term Christian ministry and has demonstrated faithful, consistent service throughout that time. The Blakes will be honored at Homecoming 2023.