Dear Family and Friends:                               December 2008   

The events of this year compel us to listen harder than ever for angel voices announcing the Good News that the Christ of Christmas is alive and well, and that the values and goals of the Kingdom of God will ultimately prevail. The long and expensive election process is finally over, with the result that we personally had hoped for. However, the major problems our new Government faces at home are the most daunting in decades, while the on-going conflicts abroad cry out for “peace on earth, good will towards all.” In the midst of these many challenges, the message of the ‘Savior of the world’ is more relevant and hope-filled than ever. 

We trust that this has been a year of blessings for you and yours, and especially for those of you who have had to go through some deep waters. We look forward to hearing from you and catching up on your news. For us, it has been a year filled with joys, some sorrows, a few challenges and some wonderful opportunities. 

In late November last year, our treasured brother-in-law, Theo Bouwman, suddenly died in the Netherlands at the age of 59. Theo, struck with polio as a teenager, spent most of his life in a wheelchair. He was a great example of patience and perseverance, having worked as a librarian at the Free University in Amsterdam and having helped raise three tall sons. Renske was able to fly to Amsterdam to attend the funeral and to spend a few weeks with her sister, Hanna. The whole family misses him. Then in April, Renske’s Mom, Tina Greve, died in Holland, MI just short of her 90th birthday after having become increasingly frail during the last year of her life. Faced with some major challenges (like a four-year stint in a Japanese concentration camp in Indonesia and the loss of her husband at age 60), Tina lived a long life of faith and service. As a mother of five, a high school teacher, an active church member and a friend and mentor of many, Tina used her God-given gifts well. She too will be missed. We will also greatly miss our energetic cousin, Jim Karsen, who died in July in Grand Rapids, MI.    

On a happier note, most of our family, and almost all of the Hughes clan, gathered in Asheville, NC on Labor Day for the marriage of our son, Andrew, to his fiancee, Geniu’ne Bedini. Andrew and Geniu’ne had been courting for over three years, and it was a joy to welcome Geniu’ne (pronounced ‘Jeanine’) into our Karsen family. Unfortunately, Steve, Pelesia and the girls were unable to be there since they had returned to Korea in August to continue their ministry in Christian education, while Rachel (who continues to teach French in Pasadena, CA) was prevented from coming by the last-minute illness of daughter Lola. Phil came from Connecticut (where he had just landed a huge contract for his construction company), along with Seth (who continues to be quite the scholar as well as playing clarinet in his school band). We are now planning a Karsen Reunion in North Carolina for next July, and it looks like everybody will be able to make it. While in NC, we also enjoyed touching base with our old friends, the Bechtels, who had moved down there a few years ago. 

This year offered us some exciting short-term mission opportunities. In March-April, we spent five weeks in Indonesia where Wendell spelled the pastor of the Church we began in Bali for three weeks while he was away on vacation. It was wonderful to touch base with so many friends and colleagues again, to be able to be of service there and to visit the Church’s “Save a Village” mission project on the island of Timor. Then it was on to Medan, Sumatra where Wendell was invited to lecture at a local seminary, conduct a marriage workshop and preach two services at the Church we had served there during their 50th anniversary year. Since Renske had to return to the USA for her mother’s funeral, Wendell completed the final leg of this preaching/teaching mission on his own by flying to Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan (formerly Borneo). There, one of the Western Seminary graduates that he had mentored, and who is now the president of a theological school, arranged for him to lecture and preach. A special treat was to stop off in Suwon, Korea for a week to visit Steve, Pelesia and the girls in their new school setting on the way home. 

Then in September, Wendell traveled with a team from Holland’s Providence Christian Reformed Church to Uganda for two and a half weeks. The team built a building for a school that had been started by one of his Th. M. graduates in a remote area where there had been no Christian witness. The building will double as a school chapel and a church sanctuary to enable outreach to neighboring villages. Wendell did a little painting, but spent most of his time teaching and preaching. He had the joyous opportunity of visiting all six Th.M. graduates who had been his students at Western (all Anglicans), and they really put him to work. He preached at five services, spoke at three schools, taught a crash course in basic Christian doctrine, conducted a Bible study and visited the Uganda Christian University, an Anglican seminary and the new diocese where one of his students was just taking over as Bishop. He also got to see Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile River and the capital city of Kampala, with its enormous Anglican Cathedral. It was an eye-opening experience for him in that he saw firsthand the realities of life that people in most African countries are forced to cope with.        

As far as other travel was concerned, we spent ten days visiting Rachel and Lola, Renske’s family and the Silvieras in southern California in February, followed by two fabulous weeks in southern Spain at a timeshare in Marbella. Every other day found us in our rental car taking day trips to fabled places like Grenada, Gibraltar, Cadiz, Seville, Ronda, Almeria and Cordoba, and venturing by ferry over to Tangier, Morocco. Driving in Spain is not for the timid, but we made it safe and sound.  

In July, we drove to southern Illinois and enjoyed a great time in Anna with Steve, Pelesia and the girls, who were in the States on a two-month furlough, and with the Wilson clan. Then it was on to the Long clan in Greenville and finally to visits with friends in Peoria and family and friends in Wheaton.   

In August, we drove around beautiful Lake Michigan and were able to visit family and friends along the way. In Illinois, we enjoyed seeing Aunt Etta VanderBerg (now 95) in Downers Grove and the Baptistas in Wheaton, and participating in a Williamson family wedding in Peoria. Then it was on to Wisconsin and the Larsons in Sparta and the Petersons, nephew Ben Greve and the Longs in Three Lakes, WI. (That proved to be a  ‘homecoming’ for Renske whose family had many ties to Wheaton College’s Honey Rock Camp there). Next it was on to Michigan and the Kays in Glen Arbor and our cabin and Evergreen Chapel friends in Baldwin before finally returning home to Holland.   

In November, we did our usual trek south to visit family, friends and colleagues and to escape the front end of a Michigan winter. We stopped in Kentucky to visit the DeForests and Jackson County Ministries, in North Carolina to see Andrew and Geniu’ne, in South Carolina to visit our Hughes clan and in Illinois to spend time with our Long family and visit friends in Peoria and Wheaton. We also spent an interesting week in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula visiting Myan ruins and in Florida where we let our feet hang for a few weeks at timeshares enjoying the usual cycling, miniature golf, shuffleboard and (of course) Bingo. Come visit us and you can suffer through nightly slide shows of our travels! J (Yes, Wendell is still taking slides, but he is finally thinking of going digital). 

Our string of on-going reunions continued this year. Wendell celebrated his 50th class reunion at Wheaton College in May, as well as the 50th reunion of The Gospel-Aires, a team of six guys who represented the College for several years in the States and then in Europe during the summer of 1958. The group consisted of a quartet, a pianist and a speaker cum trombone soloist. We held 90 meetings in 70 days in nine countries and territories and visited four more. Some of us had not seen each other in 50 years, and it was a real joy to not only be together again, but to also be able to sing for a class program and for the class worship service that Wendell conducted. (The pipes were a bit rusty, but we still brought the house down). J Renske celebrated her 40th class reunion at Wheaton Academy in October. Since Wendell is also an alumnus of the Academy, we both enjoyed the reunion and the rest of the ‘Homecoming’ activities over that weekend. 

When we were home in Holland, we both enjoyed singing in the choir and being involved in Third Reformed Church’s prayer ministry and other programs. Wendell finally finished the first draft of what has turned out to be a magnum opus. He will now work on getting it in final shape, adding illustrations and hopefully getting it published. He also took time out to undergo a left knee replacement. He was grateful for a super recovery that had him ‘up and running’ within a few months. We both continued to enjoy gardening, entertaining guests, our Book Group and ‘Rock’ Group, a Marriage Encounter weekend and on-going hobbies, concerts and other activities. 

The closing paragraph in our 2007 annual letter can bear repeating in summing up 2008. “Yes, it was a another very full year – a year in which we were grateful for basically good health, a variety of experiences, a fist-full of celebrations and a flock of stimulating encounters with great people. We trust that you all had a good year as well.” 

A blessed Christmas and a hopeful New Year to you all.

           Wendell & Renske