Mr. Luther Dean Kistler

Luther Kistler A Celebration of Life The story of Christmas as told in the Gospel of Matthew cites the immortal words of the angel who visited Joseph. Prophesying the birth of Jesus, the angel says, “His name shall be called Immanuel, which means God with us.” It was upon these words that Luther Kistler built his church, The Immanuel Lutheran Church in Palm City—and his life here on Earth. Throughout his 88 years, Luther embodied the idea of God with us, because God was surely with Luther in every step he took. Luther Kistler was welcomed into the kingdom of heaven in the early morning hours of December 12, 2017. He passed peacefully after a brief illness, joining Immanuel, the Savior foretold in Matthew 1:23. Born November 18, 1929, in Everett, Washington, Luther was the son of the Rev. Dr. Daniel D. Kistler, former President of the Pacific Synod of U.C.L.A. Luther’s mother, Jessie, was consecrated Deaconess and served parishes in Johnstown, PA and New York City. Life in the ministry is often a well-travelled one, and Luther’s own path proved no exception. As a teen, he hitchhiked to music camp to study the violin at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. He graduated from Coopersburg, PA High School in 1947. During World War II, he served the U.S. Army in Japan as a part of General MacArthur’s Intelligence Headquarters. From time to time, Luther was given the task to fetch the map in the General’s office to be updated. Each time he entered the office, MacArthur would simply puff on his pipe, never once acknowledging Luther. In relating the story of his military service, Luther would say, “I served under MacArthur,” then add with a smile, “two floors under him.” In 1953, Luther graduated from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA and in 1956, he graduated from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia with a Bachelor of Divinity Degree. The year 1956 proved a banner one for Luther as it also marked his marriage to the love of his life, the pianist at St. John Lutheran Church in Winter Park, Florida, where he served as Student Pastor. On June 21, 1956, he exchanged wedding vows with Dorothy (Dottie) Faye Stevenback and soon thereafter the couple moved to Central Florida. “We may never be rich, but we’ll always have fun!” That was Luther’s promise to Dottie when they made a life together on that first day of summer more than 60 years ago. Luther made it his own personal mission to keep that promise. Luther moved up the ranks at St. John Lutheran Church, becoming Assistant Pastor and finally Senior Pastor in 1963. That was when Luther and Dottie entered the Missionary Orientation Center in Stony Brook, New York for work in Japan. In fact, Luther and Dottie became the first missionaries to be sent out by the Florida Synod. By the time of their mission to Japan, Luther and Dottie had already become the proud parents of two children, Susan Elizabeth and Luther Dean, Jr. In the first few years of their 22-year service at Musashino Lutheran Church and Tokyo Lutheran Church, they would welcome two more daughters, Debra Carol and Lori Ann. In 1986, Luther and Dorothy answered the call to return to America, this time to develop a new congregation in Palm City, Florida, the Immanuel Lutheran Church. It would become the first mission start of the newly formed Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Luther rode his bike around town rallying new members. Dottie served as Church Secretary (and eventually church organist) and the couple made hundreds of house calls. They brought in 800 new members in eight years. It was a joyous day when Immanuel Lutheran Church held its first official service on January 3, 1988. Balloons and a colorful carnival tent marked the location of the newly purchased building, a former real estate office. Luther had negotiated the purchase of the premises along with three-and-a-half acres on which the new church would eventually be built. The fellowship Luther shared with his previous church in Japan continued even as he began his new work in the U.S. His old Tokyo friends wanted to be mission partners in his new endeavor. “That church sent us $25,000 to help us out,” Luther would say of his former congregation. “Isn’t that incredible? We Lutherans in America had been helping missions in Japan since 1899. And now they were helping us!” So moved by Luther’s new Central Florida mission, the Japanese church also sent 25 people to attend the dedication of Immanuel’s sanctuary. That bond between people half a world apart is evident to this day in the stained-glass window above the church’s entryway that was dedicated to this amazing partnership. In 1994, Luther and Dottie retired to their new home in the brand new town of Celebration, Florida. Just a stone’s throw from the Walt Disney World Resort, this gave the Kistlers the opportunity to preside over a number of Disney weddings, offering many Japanese couples an in-language service courtesy of the multi-lingual couple. After retirement, Luther loved supplying and making friends at Lutheran churches: Zion in Gotha, Salem and Reformation in Orlando, Faith in Deland and Abiding Savior in Winter Haven for various lengths of time. During his well-deserved retirement in Celebration, Luther still found time to serve his church in missions around the world. That included spending several Sundays talking about, of all things, pigs. Using piggy banks, Luther’s “Pig and the Pastor Program” put a pair of male and female piglets into the hands of poor Haitians. During the 1980s, the native pig population of Haiti had been nearly wiped out by a swine flu epidemic. But over ten years, this program put more than 10,000 pigs into the hands of the needy. For those who took part in this unique charity, it represented an emotional first step toward a new life of economic self-sufficiency. Luther is survived by two brothers, four children, nine grandchildren, and his wife of 61 years. In describing the life of Luther Kistler, it would be impossible not to include Dorothy—they did everything together. The couple lived a life filled with Luther’s long-ago promised fun and happiness in service to others and according to God’s will. While their official assignments were with churches and missions, they served people first. They gave their time, their resources and their hearts fully, completely, and without reservation. It was a life fueled by eternal optimism and powerful faith: faith in God, faith in good, and faith in us all. From their church in Palm City to the familiar license plates on their car to the Gospel they both preached, it was a life lived in testament to Immanuel—a life dedicated to God with us. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to


  • Memorial Service

    Saturday, January 6, 2018


Mr. Luther Dean Kistler

have a memory or condolence to add?

John Rountree

October 3, 2020

I was so blessed to have known Luther Kistler and his family for the many years that I lived in Japan and sometimes after that. The Kistler lived in Japan for a little over 20 years and I live there for a little over 10 years and during that time we became really good friends and they help me and my family so much while I was there Luther was such a kind understanding and gentlemen and I couldn't have asked for a better person to have been around when I was in Japan. I just learned a few weeks ago that Luther had passed away I did not know it at the time when he passed away and I do know one thing for sure heaven will be a much better place now that he is there. All my thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Dottie and her children I will always remember all of the good times that we had during the time that I live in Japan God bless you Luther may you live on forever.

Richard Nawazelski

June 14, 2019

Pastor Kistler was such an amazingly strong soul. I am glad to have met him and his wife. Pastor Kistler married Michele and I at an amazing Disney wedding on May 27th 2009. From the moment we met him we knew he was exactly who was meant to marry us. I am convinced that meeting him may have planted seeds in us that helped lead us to becoming Christians. I was overwhelmingly sad to hear of his passing but overjoyed knowing he is with our Lord and savior.

Elizabeth,Charles,Calvin and Chloe Holliday

September 23, 2018

My husband and I along with our two children renewed our wedding vows for our 25th anniversary in the magical Walt Disney World on the 24th of December 2010. Pastor Luther was our officiant and from the moment we met him we felt his warmth and kindness. Pastor Luther made each and every one of us feel at ease, we were truly blessed and honoured that he preceded over our ceremony. We think of Pastor Luther often and were deeply saddened to hear of his passing. We would like to pass on our most sincere condolences to his wonderful wife Dottie whom he spoke to us most fondly about and to the rest of his family. Rest in Peace, Pastor Luther, God Bless.

Jody Stevens

January 19, 2018

My heart ached as I just learned of Pastor Kistler's passing (to heaven)...for his family and friends(like me & my family) who will feel such a void without his physical presence here!!!...Yet I know he is in such a Joyous and Heavenly Place with our Lord & Savior & all the Saints & loved ones who have gone before. He (& Dottie) was/i(is) such a dear friend of our family, as well as a Pastor, who was such an integral part of so many important times in our lives...Sunday Services, baptisms, weddings, and funerals! He (& Dottie) was/(is) a living testimony to the Love, Message & Service of Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with Us!! He was as sincere, kind, genuine and dedicated as they come. We were blessed (& are grateful) to have known him! Sending Love, Hugs & Prayers for Comfort & Peace to all of his family.


January 15, 2018

Dear the Kistler family,

Please let me leave one more message. I am writing this at a coffee shop near Asagaya Station. This is where your family lived for many years. Tokyo has changed a lot for the past years but some things are still the same as what they used to be when you were with us here in Tokyo. Thank you for having chosen to come to this country and for your great work in Japan.

From Tokyo

Elizabeth Malchow

January 14, 2018

God shared Pastor Kistler with all of us. Now we celebrate God's calling him home.


January 13, 2018

I am Takashi Inamura in Tokyo Japan. I started attending St. Paul International Lutheran Church in Iidabashi Tokyo in March 1980 and I am still a member there. I have just learned about Pastor Kistler having passed away and I am saddened. May God be with the Kistler family at this time of sadness.

From Tokyo

Linn Morris

January 6, 2018

I was blessed to know Pastor Kistler. He was a friend to all and a shining light for Christ. I will never forget The Pig and the Pastor project and the enthusiasm with which he described it to our children and our congregation.

Monarcha Marcet

January 6, 2018

Blessings on this day of remembrance for the whole Kistler family as we gather to honor my Uncle Luther. Many have come from the 4 corners of the earth to lend support. It was just a moment ago when we were in the garden picking beans and carrots. Uncle Luther, memory eternal.

William Stevens

January 5, 2018

He defined "love" in it's pure form. He was a man of faith that reflected in the same form as our God has for us. He was a gift to me.


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