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History of Open Word Ministries

"Just Relaxing"

Charles and Fern in the early days.

Overcomer Teaching Center

Founding Faculty


Charles hiking to the next church.

"Family Photo - Niagara Falls"

It's tricky getting everyone looking right when there are 8! One more to go!


Charles showing how it's done.

"Family Photo - Kalemie"

Fern and kids. Little Christine finally arrived!

"Open Word Bible College Graduation"

Hundreds of students attended classes and matured in their experience with God and developed their ministries.


"Prayer Palace Bible College"

For one year Charles assisted in the initiation and development of their Bible College program.

"Burton and Lucille Kewayosh"

Burton became a counsellor for Walpole Island Schools and is the director for Arctic Mission Outreach Trust Fund. Lucille is an educational consultant. Lucille was OWBC's first student.

Early Beginnings, June, 1970 - July, 1972

Open Word Ministries was birthed in 1970 when Charles Willner answered the call into full-time ministry as a Bible teacher and missionary. In 1967, Charles was ordained by Pastor Bill Britton as an elder of the House of Prayer in Springfield, Missouri. For the next two years, he and his family travelled extensively in the United States, from Missouri to California to New England, sharing in the ministry of the Word.


In September, 1970, Charles pioneered a church in Bonnerdale, Arkansas. It was here that "Open Word", a Bible teaching pamphlet, began to be published. In September, 1971, he became founding Dean of Overcomer Teaching Center, at the House of Prayer in Springfield, Missouri. In January, 1972, he was sent by the elders of House of Prayer to Fisherville, Pennsylvania to pioneer a charismatic church. 


African Safari, July - August, 1972

In May, 1972, Charles accepted an invitation from the director of the choir of Zion Bible Institute to be one of the speakers on their tour of Africa. He believed that through this tour the Lord would lead him to where he would fulfil his missionary call. He had graduated from Z.B.I., in East Providence, Rhode Island in May, 1962, and stayed on to work on staff. One of his responsibilities was staff sponsor of missionary prayers. In April, 1963, he had received a call to missionary service.


The choir tour visited Liberia, South Africa and, what is now Zimbabwe. Charles also spent two weeks in Kenya, visiting the Mombasa Church of Elim Missions of Lima, New York, U.S.A., the Nairobi Pentecostal Bible College of the Assemblies of God in Great Britain and Harvest Fields Bible School, a small faith school founded by Richard Kirby, a missionary from California. 


Kenya Mission, October, 1972 - December, 1974

In 1972, after much prayer, fasting, and making a commitment to the Lord, the Willners were led to Kenya, Africa, where because of unforeseen circumstances they arrived with only five dollars. They ministered as missionaries for the Kenya Revival Centre churches for more than two years. While there, Charles and Fern taught at their Harvest Fields Bible School in Nairobi. On weekends Charles travelled up-country to preach in local churches and hold church conventions.


During this time, Charles assisted in the construction of five local churches, four of which have continued to grow to this day. Charles and Fern began the Meru Bible Teaching Centre in Meru, which trained local pastors for several years. Charles also helped organize the first airlift of the Full Gospel Business Men to Kenya and wrote their founding constitution of F.G.B.M.F.(K.) to be registered with the government. He also helped to organize the African Charismatic Conference at the Kenyatta Conference Centre in 1975, with delegates from many African, European, and North American countries. 


Ontario Church Plant, September, 1975 - December, 1980

Charles was founding pastor of Open Word Assembly, with house meetings in Niagara Falls, and Welland, Ontario. O.W.A. was registered as a charity with the Canadian government under the Independent Assemblies of God International in Canada. More Bible teaching literature was published.


Charles also itinerated among several independent Pentecostal churches in Southern Ontario and helped convene a family camp each summer from 1976 to 1980 at Thamesford, Ontario. 


Zaire (Congo) Mission, January, 1981 - December, 1984

Charles and his family finally reached the land of his calling, Zaire, now called the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa! When they arrived in Nairobi, the Lord told Charles that language school was full and that they should go directly to Zaire. After a month of trying unsuccessfully to find housing to learn Kiswahili, they flew on to Congo.  In Kalemie, Shaba (now Katanga) Province, Charles became a missionary for the Community of the Assemblies of God of Eastern Zaire (CADEZA), a mission started by the Assemblies of God of Great Britain.


They worked with Fred and Beulah Gardner, independent missionaries from Pennsylvania, to extend Agape Bible Institute from a six month institute to a full three year Bible college. Charles was registrar, treasurer and teacher and Fern was a teacher. On Sundays, they would go out into the bush of Shaba and Tanganyika, holding seminars, preaching, and strengthening local churches. Charles was missionary representative on the Administrative Council of CADEZA. They started the Cranford Memorial medical clinic and ordered medicines from Europe. They lived on the compound of the Garanganze Mission (Brethren In Christ) and preached in their churches.


After they returned home at the end of 1984, Ralph and Shirley Hagemeier came to establish their own mission in September, 1985. They had been Assemblies of God missionaries in Tanzania. Under their ministry, they purchased a twenty acre campus where they have built a resident Bible college for eighty students and their teachers, an elementary and a secondary school with classrooms for one thousand students, and a large medical clinic. They have persevered through two lootings by the Zairian army, and a civil war which lasted eight years. All these extreme difficulties have caused sinners to repent, so that if they died from starvation or were killed in the war, they would at least go to heaven. 


Open Word Bible College, January, 1986 - June, 2004

After receiving two prophecies and an opportune invitation, the Willners returned to Canada. Open Word Bible College was begun in January 1981 and was located in Faith Tabernacle, with some classes in other London churches. Charles was the founder, President, Academic Dean and an instructor. Fern was Registrar and an instructor. Gerald Kelsey, a retired school principal, was Registrar, Librarian and an instructor. Pastor Dave Ellyatt was Bursar and an instructor.  Ellyatt is now the Director of Arctic Missions in Northern Canada. The Lord blessed us with qualified instructors; three of whom were pastors of local churches and one was a certified counsellor.


Open Word Bible College used accredited curriculum materials from the International Correspondence Institute (ICI.U.) (now Global University) of the American Assemblies of God. This program was registered with the Ministry of Education in the Province of Ontario through Eastern Pentecostal Bible College (now Masters College and Seminary) of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. 


Two degree programs were offered in Biblical Studies, and Religious Education. Several aboriginal students graduated who received funding from Native Affairs for their education for tuition, books and living allowance to study the Word of God. One of these gradiated to become an educational consultant for native education. Another graduate was a pastor and evangelist.


Over the eighteen years OWBC was in operation, more than two hundred students enrolled in courses, four graduated with Bachelor of Biblical Studies, three with Bachelor of Religious Education degrees from ICI.U., and many more have received diplomas for the work they have completed. Three of OWBC’s graduates pastored churches. One student became a missionary with W.Y.A.M. in Columbia. Another graduate went on to obtain a graduate degree. One of our instructors returned home and founded the King of Kings Bible College in Jerusalem, Israel. Hundreds of students attended classes and matured in their experience with God and developed their ministries. For one year, Charles assissted in the development of the Prayer Palace Bible Program in Toronto, Ontario. In June 2004, Charles Willner was led to close O.W.B.C. He now is focused on the support of indigenous missions primarily in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa. 

"Jason and Lisa Harris"

Jason, one of the graduates of Open Word Bible College, and his family currently minister at Bethel Christian Church in Cottam, Ontario, Canada.

"Darren McCrae"

Darren attended Open Word Bible College. He and his family currently are missionaries in Bogata, Columbia.

"Mark and Mitzi Hall"

Mark, another of the graduates of OWBC, and his wife are the Jr Youth Ministers at Faith Tabernacle in London, Ontario, Canada.

"The Tree in Bukavu, Congo"

Charles and Christine meeting up with fellow missionaries.

"Anywhere With Jesus"

Fern and Charles were led, that, "anywhere with Jesus, I can safely go". Fern mothered seven children, and was a strong teacher of the Word.

"Gloria Our Gift"

Charles and Gloria Willner married August 29, 2004, in Lima, Ohio.

"Mount Carmel - Holy Land Tour"

In 42 years, Charles led 32 short-term missions trips, mainly to Kenya and the Congo and also in 19 other countries.

Africa Revisited, August, 1992 - May, 1994

Both Charles and Fern Willner felt led of the Lord to return to Africa to confirm their ministry among the churches where they had ministered in Kenya and Zaire. They spent six months ministering in Kenya among the Omega Bible Churches led by Joseph Mugo. Charles also ministered for the Pentecostal Free Churches, led by Samwel Ratanga.


The Willners then moved on to Zaire to strengthen the churches where they had ministered there. In Zaire, Charles was an associate missionary under the Assemblies of God (CADZ) in Kivu Province. Charles taught for one semester at the Bukavu Bible Institute. B.B.I. was founded by the former head of CADEZA, Malanda Ubonga. Charles was also invited to hold pastor's seminars and evangelistic crusades in several churches. Charles was also appointed field director for the David Livingstone Memorial Health Centre in Lulimba, Zaire. Fern ministered in several women's meetings for the (Swedish) Community of Pentecostal Churches in Africa.


Life Changes, December 9, 2002 and August 29, 2004

After more than sixty years of overcoming heart and other physical challenges, and after more than 40 years of faithful service to her God and her family, Fern suffered a stroke Monday morning, December 5, 2002.  After many attempts at resuscitation and five days in the hospital being attended to by wonderful doctors and her loving family and friends, Fern passed on to glory on December 9th, 2002 as her loved ones gathered around her and reminded each other of the faithfulness of God, read scripture and sang many of her favorite hymns and worship songs. She left in the hearts of those who loved her, a bedrock of love and a clear example of what it means to surrender one's whole life to loving God and others. This is a legacy that is a daily reminder to her children and many others to this day.


After a year and a half, God brought another shining beacon of His love into the lives of the Willner family when Gloria Graff, a long-time family friend who had never married, accepted Charles' invitation to marriage. Gloria had over the years faithfully supported her own church as a deacon and in other various ministry means. Charles and Gloria married August 29, 2004 and Gloria has brightened many of the dark spaces left by Fern with her wit, her generosity and unconditional love. God has shown His faithfulness in bringing Charles such a faithful loving partner to finish out this journey of life with. God is good.


African Safaris, 1972 - Present

Beginning in 1972, when Charles first went on a choir tour of ministry in Africa, until the present, he has made more thirty-two African Safaris. A typical safari lasted for six weeks, with meetings scheduled in two churches each week. Most of the time, Charles ministered twice a day. On these trips, he held pastor's seminars, conducted church conventions, and at times preached in crusades.


Charles has ministered in Trinadad and Tobago, Liberia, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Israel, England, France, North Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Germany, and India. Some of the highlights were; taking Idi Amin's picture from the other side of his limousine, the first missionary visitor into Uganda at that time, travelling several different times through Congo in the midst of civil war, renting boarding schools to hold conventions in Kenya, and preaching in one of Benson Idahosa's churches in Nigeria.


The Lord gave a revival in Cross River State of Nigeria, anointed pastor's seminars in Kenya and Congo, and church conventions with more than a thousand in attendance. We are praying that the Lord will continue to provide for this ministry. As the Lord leads, you are welcome to join us on one of these safaris.

"Some of Open Word Bible College Graduates"

Through out the time Open Word Bible College was in operation many ministries were supported with further equipping individuals to know the deeper truths of the Word of God. Below are some of the four year graduates, some of who are in full-time missionary service in Canada, Columbia and in the far north. God has been faithful!

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