“From as far back as I can remember, I knew I would end up in Africa, but I didn’t like the idea at all, because I don’t like bugs and dirt, and I didn’t even think about the snakes.”
This was the introductory response to my recent interview with Marlys Kingsriter—the beautiful 86-year-old mother of three, grandmother of nine, great-grandmother of 26, retired missionary to Africa, and my new friend of whom it is an honor to share part of her story.
The thought of Africa was always within Marlys. She grew up in a mission-minded church in Minneapolis, was raised to follow God, and met Del Kingsriter at the age of 16. It was about the second or third date that Del stated—at least in the way she comically likes to recount their conversation — “Someday I am going to Africa, and if you’re not willing to go along, I am not going to spend any more time or money on you!”
“Words to that effect,” she chuckled.
She then explained, “I knew this was the best thing that had come along so far, so I told him that I, too, knew that I was going to end up in Africa. That sealed my fate.”
Three years later at the age of 19, Marlys became the bride to the wonderful Mr. Kingsriter. She and Del had three children and pastored in Minnesota for seven years before moving to Tanzania.
Their 30-year career in Africa involved Bible School work and village evangelism in Tanzania, as well as village evangelism and publishing literature in Malawi. Del was then asked to move to Kenya, where he was appointed Area Director for all of East Africa and started the East Africa School of Theology.
“I went with an inferior complex, because I was neither a preacher nor a teacher, and I had three small children,” Marlys stated. “A few weeks after we arrived [in Tanzania], I heard another missionary say, ‘I can’t wait until my kids go back to boarding school so I can get back to missions work.’ Here I was with three small children, and I thought, ‘My missions work will start at home.’”
Marlys was dedicated as a mother and loving wife who also supported Del as his “unpaid Executive Secretary.” In Malawi, they had a printing press whereby she would set type in the morning then go home to make dinner and do office work.
Along with homemaking for her family, Marlys considered her main missionary work in Malawi to be hospitality.
“We always lived in the city where missionaries would stay with us while they came to shop or bring their children to boarding school. Also, when a new missionary family arrived, sometimes they would stay with us for two months before they found a place to live. I gave them a bed, meals, friendship, and did it all with a smile. My intention was to build team spirit as well as a family spirit. We had all left our families in the States and moved to a foreign country, and this was the only family we had.”
During their time abroad, the Kingriters also witnessed God’s miraculous protection and intervention on several occasions! Stories include their surviving deadly bee stings and living through a plane crash. In addition, God blinded the eyes of a gang called Young Pioneers who stopped their vehicle in desolate, northern Malawi and inspected everything, including the trunk, where there were three guns visible. The gang did not see the firearms, however, and gave the family permission to continue driving toward the Tanzania-Malawi border.
Upon returning home from Africa at nearly age 60, Del and Marlys worked for what is now called Global Initiatives until Del passed away in 1997. Though physically aging, experiencing significant life changes, and becoming widowed, Marlys’ perspective on life inspires me. Regardless of the situation, she has chosen to be content, continue to invest into others, and enjoy life.
“When my husband died, that left me with an entirely different lifestyle. At that time, a granddaughter who was living nearby was starting her family of six children. I decided to become her Mother’s Helper. When your mate dies, you have to live for the living. Why should I give up when I have all of this life to live?”
In talking with Marlys, one can see a woman who has peace with God, security in his love, and does not rank herself or others according to their vocations. I asked what she would hope is her reputation or what she values most important in life, to which she replied, “Beyond a doubt, being faithful to God and doing his will. A sense of humor doesn’t hurt either. I am just a little old lady who has lived an extraordinary life. What’s more important than loving God and doing His will?”