A Lifetime of Service

Karl ’50 and Marge (Helgren) Lachler AA’49, ’69 are finally fully retired after 32 years in ministry and many years of continued service, but the impact they left in Brazil continues to reap rewards. Churches they planted draw hundreds of congregants, people they taught continue to minister and serve in various roles, and their books are still taught at overseas seminaries.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

November 11, 2020 | Noon

Marge (Helgren) AA’49, ’69 and Karl Lachler’ 50

Marge (Helgren) AA’49, ’69 and Karl Lachler’ 50

When Karl ’50 and Marge (Helgren) Lachler AA’49, ’69 retired as full-time missionaries in 1987, they didn’t really slow down. But seeing the success of their work, they felt confident letting the Lord lead them to new places. Serving in Portugal, they saw positive signs of their work: They soon encountered missionaries from Brazil—the country where they had just spent 32 years spreading the gospel. “Brazil is sending missionaries to Portugal to share God’s Word, and they’re doing a fantastic job,” Marge says.

The Lachlers can look back at a lifetime of service and see other similar successes. Churches they planted continue to draw hundreds of congregants, people they taught continue to minister or serve in a variety of ways, and their books are being taught at seminaries overseas. The seeds of their work were planted during Karl’s time in the U.S. military and blossomed at Bethel.

As a young man, Karl focused on one mission during World War II: finish training to be a fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps. But as the war was ending, Karl found a new mission—one he would follow the rest of his life. While stationed at what is now Truax Field Air National Guard Base in Madison, Wisconsin, a friend took Karl to a Christian serviceman’s center on a day off for free coffee and doughnuts. At the door, a man asked Karl if he were to die, would he go to heaven? “I said, ‘I don’t know,’” recalls Karl. “He said, ‘Come on in, I’ll show you the way.’” The man explained the gospel to Karl, who accepted Jesus as his savior and shifted to a new mission—preaching the gospel.

A short while later, a Baptist General Conference—now Converge—pastor in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, introduced Karl to Bethel, speaking so highly of the college that Karl boarded a train for Minnesota to find out “what this Bethel was about.” After a year at Sioux Falls College, Karl started his time at Bethel, where he would soon met his lifelong missions partner and future wife, Marge. One day while checking his mail at Bethel’s post office, he looked up and saw a young woman. “I was pulling mail out of my box, and she was pulling mail out of her box, and I said, ‘Who are you?’” Karl remembers, drawing a laugh from Marge.

The two grew better acquainted serving together on the 1947 Homecoming committee, and Marge—who also felt called to missions—invited Karl to join her in community outreach to see how they worked together. And Bethel prepared them for their future career. After recently deciding to follow Jesus, Karl found motivation through Bethel’s Deeper Life Weeks, a time when the school slowed to listen to special speakers each morning. “The process of growing in grace was enhanced so much by those Deeper Life Weeks that we celebrated at Bethel,” he says, and Marge agreed: “That just really made a big impression on the whole school,” she says. “It was a real time of revival.”

Karl and Marge fully committed themselves to missions work while serving as Bethel’s representatives at Urbana, an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship conference. After their Bethel education, where Marge earned an associate of arts degree—she’d complete a bachelor’s at Bethel in 1969—and Karl majored in philosophy, minored in history, and took a few seminary courses, the couple moved to Chicago for Marge to become a registered nurse at Swedish Covenant Hospital. Marge also earned a master’s degree later. Meanwhile, Karl completed seminary and served as a youth minister at Central Avenue Baptist Church. Then they heard a conference leader talked about his experience visiting and surveying Brazil. “I poked Marge and said, ‘This is it,’” Karl remembers. “And she poked me back and said, ‘Yes, this is it!’” They felt the Lord telling them Brazil was their destination for their family, which by now included two children, Susan ’78 and Sandra. “And it was,” Marge says.

The Lachlers served in Brazil from 1955 to 1987. They first worked planting churches in the far interior of Sao Palo state, and one church they helped plant has 1,500 active members today. Then InterVarsity called on them for a new mission: reaching college students. While missionaries weren’t allowed into colleges and “Yankee Go Home” was a common saying in Brazil, InterVarsity found a way to reach students. Karl and Marge became college students, which gave them the right to start Bible studies on campus. “That really worked out well. A lot of lawyers, doctors, and other professionals had vital contact with the Bible while in college,” Marge says. “It was absolutely a fantastic experience.” It also allowed them to study Portuguese and Latin.

As InterVarsity took hold in Brazil, more students took on leadership roles. Karl and Marge shifted roles again. For their remaining time in Brazil, they served as professors at the Baptist Theological College of Sao Palo—a college that prepared about 500 for ministry, meaning Marge and Karl helped train a generation of Brazilians for missions work. In fact, the current head of the school in Sao Palo is one of their former students. After Karl became the college’s chaplain, he met with a steady stream of students for pastoral counseling, pre-marital counseling, and more.

“I taught pastoral counseling, and I encouraged my students not only to get a seminary degree but also to go to the university and, if they were not called to the ministry, they became psychiatrists and psychologists, and we have a batch of young men and women out there in Brazil to this day who are psychologists and psychiatrists with a Christian emphasis."

— Karl Lachler ’50
Meanwhile, Marge’s work emphasized women in ministry. “That was so, so important for Brazil,” she says. “They were just ready to go out, and nobody would let the women be the pastors or the preachers, but that started to change and it’s different now.” Both Karl and Marge each published a theological book in Brazil—and Marge learned seminaries in Africa and Europe are using her book.

By 1987, the Lachlers could see the fruits of their labors. When they started, the college’s teaching staff was predominantly missionaries. Eighteen years later, it was mostly Brazilians. “We felt that the Brazilian seminary had come to the point of maturity and didn’t need the foreigner anymore,” he said. “So we decided to retire and do some other things.”

Karl and Marge retired after 32 years in Brazil, but their mission work continued until recently, when the 95-year-old Karl and 91-year-old Marge moved to Michigan. They served in Portugal before returning to North America, where Karl served a few interim pastor roles in Minnesota and Canada. The work continued even when they lived in a Christian retirement community in Florida, where Karl preached occasionally at a nearby church and Marge taught continuing education classes on literature.

For the Lachlers, it’s truly been a lifetime of service. “Your mission field is all over,” Marge says. “Wherever God puts you, open your eyes.”

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