Saying merci for the life of Doyle Kee
Searcy, Ark. — It is impossible to know the number of souls in heaven because of Doyle Kee. It is astounding to consider the amount of good that one life can do.
Those were among the sentiments I heard during a memorial service for brother Kee, 80, who died Jan. 25 after a sudden, severe bout of pneumonia.
I am among the countless souls touched by the life work and precious example of Kee and his wife, Barbara, who served as missionaries in Geneva, Switzerland, for 47 years. There they planted a French-speaking Eglise du Christ (Church of Christ) and participated in campaigns to former French colonies around the globe. They served as mentors for those of us who have participated in long- and short-term missions in the “francophone” world.
Hundreds of believers — from all over the U.S., from France, Switzerland, and many more through live streaming — joined his dear family to say merci for Kee’s life of service. The College Church of Christ in Searcy, where he and his wife moved in 2017, hosted the memorial.
Everybody deserves the right to hear the Gospel. That was the motto Kee lived by. Born and raised in Oklahoma for a bit, then Texas, and then Arkansas, Kee met his future wife, Barbara Ethridge, at Harding College (now University) in Searcy, and after their graduations and his master’s degree he preached in Clarendon, Ark., and then Syracuse, N.Y., where they began their family. After working in campaigns in French-speaking Canada, they decided in 1970 to move their family to Geneva.
Two of their sons, Mark and David, described Doyle Kee as an intense preacher, teacher, missionary and shepherding elder — an evangelist with plenty of content in his sermons and plenty of content in his life to illustrate those sermons.
Winfred Wright and Robert McCready also spoke. Both are former missionaries to the French world who took Harding students (including me) on campaigns to French-speaking Europe. I remember many times of spiritual growth and training from my campaigns in the 1970s with the Wrights.
Working with the Kees in Geneva was always a highlight of those trips. Doyle Kee was very active, energetic, humble, productive and disciplined (“more than the Swiss!” McCready said) in what he asked of himself first and then of others.
I loved hearing the stories — not only of the amazing work done in faraway lands, but also the personal stories of Doyle Kee — his love for hiking, basketball, silly jokes and his almost daily routine of eating vanilla ice cream.
Reaching out to the lost was serious business for Doyle Kee. Campaigners distributed flyers for meetings in all the mailboxes in Geneva. It was all mapped out, and whatever the students didn’t get done, Doyle did himself.
His French always had a definite American accent, which Doyle called a blessing, because when a person came to the Lord, he knew it was God who got all the glory.
Bill McDonough, another longtime missionary to Europe and now Asia, said that in 35 years he never made a major missions decision without consulting Doyle Kee.
Arlin Hendrix, a missionary in Lyon, France, worked closely with Kee and described him as a friend who really believed that Jesus lives — and that we live in him.
Doyle lived it, and he taught it.
When the Geneva church outgrew the need for a missionary presence in 1990, the Kees retooled their work. Doyle Kee wrote and translated 36 books, printed and distributed French Bible courses and for more than 20 years created a newsletter connecting the French works. He put together and led retreats and camps. He taught online classes and seminars through a college-level leadership training program.
Angel Panzano, a former elder of the Geneva church, spoke of an unforgettable experience he had in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when accompanying Doyle Kee for mission work. They were detained by government officials wanting a bribe. Somehow, Doyle Kee grabbed back their passports, and they made their escape. No doubt the Lord was with them, Panzano said, and they departed in one piece.
Barry Baggott, another longtime missionary and director of French World Outreach, worked closely with Doyle Kee in locales including Africa. Baggott said he received many messages of condolence referring to Doyle as a baobab — a giant, distinctive tree that stands out in a landscape and blesses those around it. Baggott read a message from George Akpabli, a preacher and ministry school director in Benin, saying that “Da-lee” Kee (that’s how many Africans pronounce his name) had done for French Africa what others could only dream of accomplishing and will be forever missed.
I loved hearing the stories — not only of the amazing work done in faraway lands, but also the personal stories of Doyle Kee — his love for hiking, basketball, silly jokes and his almost daily routine of eating vanilla ice cream. He also loved to share tidbits of knowledge at the beginning of his Bible lessons.
Here’s one: What are the two expressions used most in the Bible? Answer: “Do not fear” and “Fear the Lord.” Brother Kee would say to all of us, “Do not fear, even through tough times, because God is here, and we fear him and give him all the glory.”
In keeping with Doyle Kee’s wishes, Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream was served at gatherings before and after the service.
It was probably the most memorable and comforting ice cream cone I’ve ever had.
LYNDA SHEEHAN has taught foreign language at Harding and Oklahoma Christian universities. She is lead administrative assistant for The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected].