Levi O. Keidel, a missionary, minister and author, died April 24 after a short illness. He was 85.
In 1951, Keidel went to what is today Democratic Republic of Congo, with his wife, Eudene, and a 1-year-old son, Paul, to begin his 25-year ministry in evangelism and literature with Congo Inland Mission, a predecessor agency of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission.
Joly Birakara, vice president of the largest of the Congolese Mennonite denominations, Communauté Mennonite au Congo, expressed appreciation for Keidel’s dedication, as “the person who really served our church in the area of Christian literature.”
Congo declared independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960, coinciding with the end of the Keidel family’s second term. By this time, the family had grown to include two daughters and another son. In the anti-colonial fervor that raged after independence, people turned against foreigners. Keidel didn’t want to abandon his Congolese brothers and sisters in this time of danger, but church leaders persuaded him to join his family and other missionaries in fleeing overland to Angola in a convoy of dilapidated vehicles.
At one point, Keidel prayed that if the rebels killed him, it would be out of sight of his wife and four children. But after a series of arduous journeys on cargo planes, trains, and cars of compassionate individuals that took the Keidel family through refugee camps, monasteries and embassies in Angola, Ghana and France, they all arrived safely in Illinois.
Jim Bertsche, missionary colleague in Congo and longtime AIMM administrator, remembers good times with Levi Keidel, both at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., where they studied after the evacuation, and back in Congo when it was safe to return.
Keidel whole-heartedly entered into research for a Northwestern writing project, Bertsche recalled. He allowed his beard to grow so he would not stand out among the crowd at a rescue mission in downtown Chicago.
Keidel had “a personal sense of call to reach out to the people in the back row,” Bertsche said.
Keidel received a Master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern in 1962.
Bertsche also remembers driving up to the Keidel home in Kananga, Congo, and seeing Keidel with “a pencil perched behind his ear, waving the first edition of the Tshiluba-language newspaper, Tuyaya Kunyi? (Where Shall We Go?).”
Keidel, who worked with a Presbyterian missionary to edit and publish this newspaper, had a deep passion for making Christian literature available in African languages, Bertsche said.
From 1962-1966, Keidel set up a Christian literature distribution system of small bookstores through East and West Kasai provinces, as a collaborative effort between the Mennonite and Presbyterian churches in Congo. This system became a model for other mission groups in Africa.
Keidel was born to Levi and Anne Keidel on Jan. 18, 1927, in Goodfield, Ill. He served as a radio transmitter engineer in the Navy for a year and a half during World War II. During this time, he gave his life to Jesus. Soon after his conversion, he met Eudene King, who was in nurses’ training in Bloomington, Ill.
“When Levi indicated serious interest in her, Eudene said that she was on her way to mission service in the Congo, and if he wanted to marry her, he'd better get used to the idea of going with her,” Bertsche said.
After their marriage in 1948, Keidel graduated from Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., in 1950 with Bible and English majors, and was ordained by the General Conference Mennonite Church. A year later, beginning their ministry in Congo, Keidel’s expertise in the Navy enabled him to set up short-wave radios on all eight of the AIMM stations. Communication via this radio network probably saved many lives during the chaos of the 1960s.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Eudene and Levi Keidel worked closely with many Congolese Mennonite church leaders in evangelism, church planting, and church leadership development.
Keidel’s work in Congo was interspersed with periods of ministry in the United States where he served congregations, taught in colleges, earned a Master’s degree in Mission and Evangelism from Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill., and authored six books.
Keidel retired to Ft. Wayne, Ind., in 1992, where he lived for the past 20 years.
Surviving are four children: Paul of Easton, Pa.; Priscilla (Robert) Miller, Ft. Wayne, Ind.; Perry of Archer, Fla.; Ruth (Jonathan) Keidel Clemens, Baltimore, Md.; 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Eudene, in 2010, three sisters, and one brother.
A “memorial celebration of life” service will be held Saturday, June 16, at 3 p.m. at Westview Alliance Church, 9804 Illinois Road, with visitation from 2-3 p.m. A graveside service for the family was held April 28 at Lindenwood Cemetery in Ft. Wayne. Memorials may be made to Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission.
Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact Andrew Clouse at firstname.lastname@example.org, 574-523-3024 or 866-866-2872, ext. 23024.