Speaking of Faith - Dr. Ron Koepke
Oftentimes, we’re told that God has a plan for us. While we may not see it at the moment, He is there, guiding our path. It is with this retrospective view that Dr. Ron Koepke says his life has often played out. Looking back, he can point to numerous occasions where “God participates in people’s lives''.
Dr. Koepke was born to Lutheran Missionaries in India, where he lived almost his entire childhood. Prior to moving to India, his parents had been living in St. Louis, where Dr. Koepke moved back for his kindergarten and eighth grade years. While there are many differences between the culture in India and the culture in the United States, Dr. Koepke notes how many aspects were the same. His family attended church every Sunday and kids played as a neighborhood. He had an ayah, or a nanny, that watched him during the day, before he was old enough to go to school. It was these interactions, with the community and his ayah, that allowed him to understand the Malayalam language to the point where he was helping his parents translate it into English. And while he talked about how the house that he grew up in had no electricity or running water for the first 10 years of his life, he mentions that President Carter didn’t have running water or electricity when he was growing up in Georgia, just like him.
An Indian Lutheran women's group led by Ron's mother, far left
When Dr. Koepke began college, he began to notice that the way he saw God most prevalently was through the people of faith that God placed in his life. After graduating high school in India, Dr. Koepke moved back to the US and attended Valparaiso University in Indiana. At the time, his parents were still living in India, quite literally halfway across the world. An uncle happened to teach at Valpo, allowing Dr. Koepke to have someone to support him even when he was so far from his parents.
After he graduated from Valpo, he moved to St. Louis to attend medical school at St. Louis University. It was there in St. Louis that he joined a church whose pastor and wife had been his boarding parents, yet another example of a faith leader that he could look to. While attending St. Louis U, Dr. Koepke was studying to become a medical missionary through the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church (LCMS). After growing up in India and seeing so many live a life of service, he wanted to help the world as others had done. It was this idea that allowed him to reconnect with an LCMS medical missionary that his parents had worked with in India.This missionary enabled him to be on a track to become a medical missionary and suggested that he moved to Louisiana to study internal medicine and tropical diseases. Again, in Louisiana, he found a community of faith led by a missionary who had worked in Japan but was familiar with his family. He reiterates that he was “fortunate to have good support as far as religious activities [and had] somebody [he could] talk to who has a similar perspective on religion.”
Ron's mother, Mrs. Lorene Koepke, in an Indian sari at the ribbon cutting of a new Lutheran church in India
After moving back to India after kindergarten, Dr. Koepke attended boarding school from first through twelfth grade. When asked how he felt about living away from his parents, he explains that it was the norm for children of missionaries. Additionally, he credits the boarding school community for being “pretty close, the people who were boarding parents were missionary couples and kept in close touch with parents''. It was these people who helped create a bridge for the children living away from their parents, and it is these relationships that come back to help him later in life. He attended 3 different schools during those 11 years: grades 1-7 were spent in a Lutheran school in India, and he moved back to the US for eighth grade. He moved back to India to attend a multi-denominational high school with “Baptists, Methodists, Mennonites, Presbyterians [where] every denomination would supply one teacher or teacher’s salary for every 10 students.” However, he notes that despite these differences, the group was “rather homogenous.” It is this denominational mixing that Dr. Koepke notes as having exposed him to a variety of different cultures and ways of thinking, even within the same faith. Despite a majority of the school being of the Christian faith, the different churches within the school would sometimes disagree on how to teach the students. One of the disagreements he talked about was the question “Do you let the students dance? Or do you not let them dance?” While this question may seem bizarre to us, Dr. Koepke mentions that American Christianity is generally “looser”. And the solution to this question? The school decided that both dancing and non dancing activities would be available to the students.
Worship service with Rev. R. T. Koepke, Ron's father, far right
When he was attending Valpo, Dr. Koepke met Marilyn Schleicher who would ultimately become Mrs. Koepke. The couple reconnected a year after graduation at an alumni event. She lived in Appleton, Wisconsin, and he lived in St. Louis and then New Orleans, but they maintained contact for 8 years. They were able to visit each other a few times, but mainly kept in contact through letters and phone calls. After 8 years of long distance contact, they were married and settled in New Orleans.
While Dr. Koepke was living in New Orleans, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod split, and he chose to step away from the path of a medical missionary. He pursued sub-specialist training in the field of cardiology, a path different from what he imagined. Looking back, Dr. Koepke notes that “there were times where my plans changed, not by any decisions that I made [and] it looks to me like God does that kind of work that we don’t always understand."
Despite not working towards becoming a medical missionary, Dr. Koepke was still looking for ways to serve the community. After finishing his sub-specialist training, he worked for the Louisiana Charity Hospital system for 5 years. During these years, he not only cared for patients, but trained other cardiac doctors. When he and Mrs. Koepke moved out of New Orleans, he set up his own cardiology practice in Monroe, LA and raised their three children there. While he no longer worked only for the charity hospitals, he maintained his affiliation with them and would work once a week at their Monroe location. Most recently, during the Covid-19 pandemic, he took out an emergency medical license, should the need for doctors arise. While cardiology may not have been his plan after graduating from St. Louis, he says “Looking back, it all worked out pretty well- God was guiding things behind the scenes."
In 2018, Dr. and Mrs. Koepke moved to Lake Forest to be closer to family. During his time here, he reiterates that Mrs. Koepke and their family “have been a huge blessing” in his life. Prior to the pandemic, Dr. Koepke volunteered for both PADS and Habitat for Humanity, and credits the social ministry at St. James for being a draw to the church. Currently at St. James, Dr. Koepke serves on the social ministries committee and is the representative to Lake County United, a program dedicated to bettering people’s lives in Lake County.
Jeremiah 29:11 states, “For I know the plans I have for you” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." While life may not always work out the way we planned, studied, or even prayed, God has a plan for us. Dr. Koepke reiterates how it may be hard in the moment to see where God is touching our lives, in retrospect, He is there. God will place the right people in at the right time, or lead us down paths that we did not imagine, but paths that are ultimately His path.