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Karen Diane Viljoen (Harless)

Overview of the life of karen

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Karen drwn by Sambi san
  • Born 15th January 1961 in Bellflower, California, USA
  • Came to know the Lord at age 7 in San Jose, California
  • Arrived in Japan for career service with The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) in November 1992, and studied Japanese for 2 years
  • Church-planting in Kitakyushu (4 years) and Higashiura, Aichi-ken (1 year)
  • TEAM Finance Office Manager in Mitaka, Tokyo (6 years)
  • Married Dale October 1, 2008
  • Currently ministering in Sapporo with OMF International
  • Member of the Sapporo Chuo Evangelical Christian Church
  • Serves on the OMF Hokkaido Sector Leadership Team
  • Hobbies: reading, cross-stitch, taking scenic drives, exploring her surroundings

life Before Dale for karen

I was raised in a church-going home. The eldest of three girls, I asked Jesus to be my Savior at age 7. However, when I was about 9 we stopped going to church. God graciously protected me during all those years from falling into the temptations prevalent amongst teens. By the time I entered university, I was spiritually famished, and probably vulnerable to deception, but again God was gracious. I met some students in my dormitory who invited me to Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship on the very first day.

Motivation to GO into missions

Through IVCF’s training emphases of discipleship, evangelism and missions, I grew spiritually. The Word of God came alive, Jesus was near and dear, and the church became my family. As I studied the Bible more, I began to learn about God’s heart for missions (John 3:16): He loved the world so much that He gave His Son! I learned about God’s plan in missions, including the formation of a kingdom of priests from every nation (Rev. 5:9,10). And I learned that God’s method of missions was just like the method He used to redeem mankind; just like He sent His Son, He sends out His children to proclaim the gospel.

Learn
Karen at Karuizawa 1993
ing all of this about God was wonderful, at least in my head. However, when the Spirit of God began to nudge my heart about sending ME, I began to feel very uncomfortable. Whoa! Not me! I can’t do it! I don’t want to go! That’s not my plan for my life!

God is a gracious Master. He asked me if I was only intending to call Him Lord, but not do what He said. I responded with “You are my Lord, and I will do Your will.” Then He used Jeremiah 29:11 to soothe my fears. His plans for my life would be the best plans.

Motivation to STAY in Japan

Ministry in Japan has been tough and I have thought about quitting a few times. I remember the words of a retiring TEAM missionary at his farewell: “It is always too soon to quit.” I am weak, but God is strong! I may never know all of the ways that He has used me to touch someone’s life, but I’ve had the privilege of witnessing some of these ways. I’ll just share a few.

During my first term, I was in a church plant in southern Japan. By God’s grace the missionaries who had preceded me built it up from zero to a congregation of 6 women. During my time, the Lord added 3 more and sent one out to get seminary training (she is now a pa
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stor’s wife). However, it was a tough period. We feared the church might have to close down. We prayed. Then, through the leadership of those who followed me, the church continued to grow in number. They were able to build their own church facility, and they now have a Japanese pastor! At the building dedication, a few of the original 6 members apologized for how hard it was during my time there. And they thanked me for being obedient to the Lord and for holding on with them. I thanked them, too. Together we held on to the Lord and saw Him do His work in and through us.

The Lord then led me to “fill in” for a while in the TEAM Finance Office in Tokyo. I was not as qualified as the short-termers who had been handling this job, but the Lord used me. I knew more about the missionaries’ needs and could often anticipate what was needed.

At the same time, I helped a small church plant, Grace Church, with some outreach events, discipling and preaching. One way the Lord used me at this church was to encourage Japanese Christians and the pastor to free themselves and others to minister as God led, not as others led. Too often when a Japanese Christian offers themselves to full-time ministry, beyond the normal challenges the Lord has for them, heavy burdens are put on by others almost as a way of proving one’s commitment to the church.

At Dale’s and my wedding reception in Tokyo, the pastor I had worked with told Dale, “Karen helped free me to minister as God-designed me to minister.” I thank the Lord that He used me in this way!

During a doctor’s appointment one home assignment, he asked me why I wanted to go back to Japan. I answered, “Because when I see the light go on behind someone’s eyes during a Bible study, when I see that person has grasped a new aspect of God’s goodness and has understood what God has done to demonstrate His love for them, it is an awesome moment that I want repeated!”

At the age of 47 I married Dale in October 2008 and joined OMF International in December 2008. I am thankful to the Lord for bringing Dale and I together. And I’m thankful for the future He has prepared for us as we continue to make Jesus known to the Japanese together.

how karen met dale

So, what was Karen doing on eHarmony?

My experience with the computer on-line “dating” world is much different from Dale’s. I was the first match presented to Dale within a couple of hours of his exploration. However, Dale came many years later for me.

I initially joined another Christian site on a free trial period during a very stressful and lonely time in my life. I mistakenly thought that I could find a man to rescue me and “take me away” from it all. I could browse any range of men I chose and make email contact immediately. Some thought it was “cool” to be able to communicate with a missionary. Others said, “Look me up when you’re in the States.” It took a while, but I realized most people on that site were looking to date, something I could not do from Japan! That site was very different from eHarmony.

I then joined eHarmony, but was initially disappointed. In comparison to the other site, immediate and direct communication was not allowed. Matches go through a process of reviewing each other’s profiles and do not communicate directly until both parties like what they see in the profile and agree to open communication. Most of the men I was matched with “closed communication” during the first stage primarily due to the distance issue.

During my last home assignment, I embarrassedly mentioned my eHarmony membership to my TEAM counselor, saying I knew it was a stupid thing to do. He corrected me. In his opinion, it was not a foolish thing to “put yourself out there” with a reputable company like eHarmony. He said, “The Lord can work by any means; just keep yourself open to His leading.”

Wh
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en I returned to Japan, I experienced a time of deep growth in my relationship with Jesus. He became my first love again. The Word’s description of the Lord being my Bridegroom took on new meaning as I basked in His love for me. I was not lonely anymore. In fact, I sought out alone times just to be with Jesus. His companionship was real.

One of the things I asked Jesus for during this time was for a visual reminder to me of His love. He led me to purchase a ring in the shape of a cross with a small heart at the crossbeam. I wore it on the ring finger of my left hand, reminding me that I belonged to the One who loved me more than any other man ever would.

In May 2007, I rejoined eHarmony. This time I was not looking for an escape. I was spiritually and emotionally healthy, a woman no longer needy and thinking that a man could fix that. I was a woman in a position to be a good companion and help-meet to the right man. I put my real self “out there”, a missionary serving in Japan with the intention of continuing this call of God on my life. I received very few matches, but I was okay with that. I just continued to work on developing my love relationship with Jesus.
Karen with her arms wide open

In December 2007, I was on a high. The Lord was working in me and around me in amazing ways and I found myself praising and thanking Him continually. Then on the 28th, when I received the match with Dale from eHarmony, I liked what I saw: a fellow missionary to Japan! I immediately went to the Lord in prayer, asking Him if this man was His will for me. And I thanked Him that I was in a good place in my life, that I did not need things to work out with Dale to be happy. I was already happy in Jesus.

During our first meeting, Dale noticed the ring on my left hand. I explained its significance and he was delighted. I’m very blessed to have a man love me who wants to have second place in my heart! Dale often encourages me to keep Jesus, my True Bridegroom, first. I intend to do so!

Because of American immigration laws, it was best for us to get legally married in Japan. The “kon-in todoke” (legal marriage) took place in Sapporo on October 1, 2008, followed by a wedding ceremony in Stockton, California on October 11.

"For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago."
Ephesians 2:10

Our desire is:

To walk with the Living God,
glorifying Him each day as we reveal
His love and grace.

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