By Kristine Whitnable

InterVarsity Alumni - Mer and Lois Bilhorn

Mer Bilhorn has lived two lives—pastor and engineer. Throughout his life, he has had a passion to proclaim the truth of the gospel and to find out the best way to store energy in batteries.

Mer Bilhorn, with his thatch of white hair, was a striking figure as he stood at the front of the small church with a thatched roof and dirt floor in Madras, India, in 1993. He began his sermon with the confidence of one who had spoken often, as indeed he had.

But Mer was not a professional missionary. He was in India as an employee of an engineering firm. He was just doing what he had done for most of his life, proclaiming the gospel wherever he happened to be.

Mer grew up in a Christian home in northern Illinois. When he went away to college at Cornell University in New York in 1943, Mer quickly became involved in the newly organized InterVarsity chapter on campus. That involvement was short lived, because he joined the Navy to fight in the closing days of World War II.

He returned to school in 1946 to complete his degree in chemical engineering and continue his involvement in InterVarsity. At Christmas time in 1948 he married Lois, a young woman he knew from home. Lois had also been involved in InterVarsity at the University of Illinois, so of course they spent their honeymoon at the first Urbana to take place in Illinois.

After graduation, Mer took a job with an oil company. Though he was still young, Mer applied his knowledge and intellect in solving problems in the industry. He did so well that he was granted a patent for a particular chemical procedure. But he was also still in the Navy reserves, and after a short time was called back into the service for the Korean War.

When he returned to civilian life, Mer felt called to change careers. He entered seminary and after three years of study was ordained. He took the pastorate of a small church in Sycamore, Illinois.

During their time in Sycamore, Mer and Lois often hosted international students from Chicago. Lois’s brother was the InterVarsity staff member there and would bring students out to Sycamore for a weekend retreat. Mer enjoyed the apologetic discussions that took place over cookies and hot chocolate.

One day in 1960, Mer got a call from Rayovac, a battery company in Madison, Wisconsin. They had seen the patent that Mer had been awarded when he worked for the oil company and asked if he would come to work for them. He enjoyed using his mind to solve engineering problems and decided to take the job while continuing to pastor the church in Sycamore.

For two years he commuted between Madison during the week and Sycamore for the weekend. When this routine became too difficult, Mer moved his family to Wisconsin. But he did not give up his commitment to preach.

He took over the pastorate of Fulton Community church, a struggling congregation in a small town just outside Madison. He introduced the Awana youth ministry to the church, organized a weekly congregational prayer meeting, and encouraged the church to begin supporting missions work around the world. Building on this leadership, God increased the membership in the church and deepened the Christian commitment and fellowship of the members.

When Mer’s job changed in 1968, Mer and his family moved to Connecticut. Here Mer also took the pastorate of a small church, the Road Meeting House. Within a few years God again blessed his leadership with an increase in numbers.

Mer also excelled in the field of engineering. He was granted several industrial patents and was appointed to head the Indian subsidiary of the company. When he arrived in India, rather than pastor a church, Mer enlisted the help of a prominent local Christian, Dr. Victor, to find speaking engagements.

Mer was busy preaching God’s word every Sunday and many evenings during the week. In addition to the small church with the dirt floor, he spoke in grand cathedrals, conference meeting halls, and school auditoriums.

After a long career in engineering and the pastorate, Mer retired to Wisconsin to be near his family of five children and numerous grandchildren. Mer and Lois encouraged their children to serve the Lord in their lives, an encouragement that has been handed down to the next generation. Two of Mer and Lois’s grandchildren are currently on InterVarsity staff.