Staff member, student minister to children, pastors in Ethiopia

By Samantha Adams
Staff Writer

A dual-enrollment student at Union University traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in August to teach children sponsored through Indigenous Outreach International, a Jackson-based global missions ministry founded by Union alumnus Patrick Beard.

Conner Johnson, a homeschool senior taking two classes at Union this semester, traveled with a team from Jackson which included Brian Denker, assistant to the director of Union’s Ryan Center for Biblical Studies.

Denker had traveled to Ethiopia several times since 2009, but this was the first time students had traveled with him.

Indigenous Outreach International matches sponsors from America with children in Ethiopia in addition to providing resources and training for local pastors. The students from Jackson taught many of the 150 children that the organization sponsors, plus their siblings and friends.
Denker and the other adults on the trip focused on teaching the children’s parents, the local pastors and their wives.

Children ages 3 to 15 attended sessions every day to learn Bible stories and songs from Johnson and the three other students from Christ Community Church in Jackson. Listening to the children sing Christian children’s songs was powerful, Johnson said.

“You can’t understand a word they’re saying, but you’re worshiping along with them,” Johnson said. “It’s a really moving experience.”

Denker taught at the organization’s Resurrection Library in Addis Ababa. The library is filled with more than 1,000 books donated by the Ryan Center, Union’s biblical studies library on the third floor of Jennings Hall.

“Since I do a lot of church history as a hobby, I taught classes on church history,” Denker said. “It was all new to them, but it was specifically designed to show what church history teaches that can benefit ministry and life today.”

Denker taught the second part of a church history course he had begun when he traveled to the same location in January 2012.

Fikadu Assefa, an adjunct Bible college professor who lives in Ethiopia and served as Denker’s host and translator, said biblical training is crucial because without it, many Ethiopian pastors are unknowingly exposed to false teachings.

“I see the impact of this ministry in two ways,” Assefa said. “The first is that the teaching addressed most of our present problems, so we are now informed about how to deal with the problems we are facing. The other impact is that the ones who attend the training will teach others in their churches.”

While it is positive for Christians to move to other cultures to do mission work, Denker said the organization’s strategy of empowering local pastors works best in Addis Ababa.

The local Ethiopian pastors are faithfully preaching the Gospel, and the church is growing quickly in the surrounding small towns, but they have little access to pastoral training, Denker said.

“These guys are just begging me for any books — any books that have some biblical teaching in them,” Denker said. “You could spend a lifetime just translating basic stuff into their language. Just translate your pastor’s sermons and they would be a treasure to them.”

In order to support their families, many of the Ethiopian pastors he has met work 40 to 50 hours each week in addition to their ministry.

Denker said financially supporting a faithful indigenous pastor can be a wise way to be involved in missions because it can relieve some financial burden from a pastor who is already faithfully working for the church. Some sponsorships even allow pastors to quit working a second job and focus entirely on their ministry, Denker said.

Both Denker and Johnson said they are already looking for opportunities to return to Ethiopia.

“To go (to Ethiopia) and see the simple faith and obedience of the believers over there is really moving,” Johnson said. “On the outside they have so little, but inwardly but they have so much. It’s humbling, it’s moving and it makes you want to find yourself closer to Christ than you’ve ever been before.”

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.