Kari Paulsen, A Friend To All

"Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice." Proverbs 27:9, NIV

Sharon Cress is a retired minister who served 18 years as an associate in the General Conference Ministerial Association. She and Kari worked
together for 12 of those years.

KARI PAULSEN ENTERED the unique life of a pastor’s wife when she married her sweetheart, Jan, after their college days in Denmark.

The story goes that she was a bit confused in a complicated lecture on biblical dates, and Jan, sitting next to her, whispered, “Don’t worry. I’ll explain it to you later.” It was the conversation spark that marked the beginning of a life of team service.

Kari was a complex woman, but deep within that complexity was a woman who simply and honestly loved and trusted her life to her God.

Kari was ever adaptable. She transitioned from seminary wife to pastor’s wife to missionary wife to educator’s wife to administrator’s wife. (Jan served as General Conference president from 1999 to 2010.) She established their warm home over and over again in very different countries, cultures, environments, and assignments. And she did it methodically and without complaint.

Kari was a unique combination of team player and free spirit. She understood the expectations of the “church” and strived to meet those demands with positive attitudes and helpful ministries. She would comment that the benchmark is high for ministry wives. Still, she served the duty well within her own skin.

Her friendly and kindly spirit served her well. During her years in Africa, she contracted an illness that was her “thorn” throughout her life. That thorn was ever present and yet never self-empowered to be an excuse. She carried herself through difficult health  passages with the freedom of knowing God had a purpose and she was there to be used by Him with her special gifts.

Kari had big ears and a little mouth. No, not physically (haha), but it was one of her greatest strengths. She patiently listened. Her keen perception heard beyond a person’s words to listen for the inflections, the happiness, the pain, and the soul that were all bigger and more important than the words. She was discreet. She knew a lot and she
held a lot. She was safe. Perhaps that was why we so trusted her.

Kari was compassionate. She was endowed with an extra allowance of empathy. It seemed her own life struggles translated into abundant empathy and caring for those who thought no one cared. In the times she was physically unable to personally have a chat, her phone became the instrument of reaching out. She initiated hundreds, thousands, of phone conversations to those who were struggling, hurting, feeling neglected, or without a friend. Those who were lacking in support found it in her confident and caring voice.

Kari was just so much fun. She loved stories. She loved hearing them and reminiscing about them. Her laugh was infectious. She loved mischief and could add a bit of wit and a humorous twist to fun conversations. The lilt in her voice still reverberates. Whether it was sneaking out for ice cream or sharing a funny, she was the one with whom
to enjoy the moment’s hilarity and recount the adventures!

Kari’s friendship and association blessed my life. She was ever supportive, ever my friend. During our 12 years together,  if it was at all possible, she joined with me to nurture the ministry wives—affirming one-on-one, giving a biblical devotional, a practical talk, a personal sharing of herself, or simply loving fellowship. Those were wearing but joyfully memorable years. We shared long days of travel to difficult locations, transportation cancellations and delays, and unaccommodating weather that changed more often than the clothing we carried, but through it all she was a good sport!

When we each transitioned from the General Conference, her caring and resilient attitude blossomed even greater. Gone were the days of face-to-face catch-ups; the trusty cell phone was our new connection. I miss her unique accent and voice: “Hello, Sharon? Kari here. And how are you today?”

On January 10, 2020, Kari left behind her earthly life to await her new one. Without a doubt Jesus will ensure that her new eternal life contains all that she enjoyed here and all that we loved and cherished about her, but it will be without the hurt, anxiety, personal tragedies, and physical pain and suffering she dutifully and valiantly endured.

Kari left behind a legacy of love for her God, a legacy of service to a world church, a legacy of care to her family, and a legacy of loyalty to those of us who were blessed to be her friend.

Sleep well, Kari, sleep well.