Just outside Warrenton, on a quiet 650-acre site, sits the international headquarters of Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF).
Since 1976, when the headquarters moved from Grand Rapids, Mich., CEF has spread its “good news” around the world.
Employees and volunteers who work there say rumors have circulated about the organization for years — is it an orphanage or a cult?
On Friday, May 18, more than 300 people were on hand to celebrate the 75th anniversary of CEF, an interdenominational organization that ministers to children around the world. CEF uses a variety of programs, literature and training programs to spread its message.
“We are reaching children on every continent of the world,” said Reese Kauffman, president of CEF. “That’s what we do.”
Kauffman said CEF uses the “Great Commission,” found in the Book of Matthew, the 28th Chapter, Verses 19-20, as its guide. “Therefore go and make disciples of nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
“We look upon the Lord’s last command as our first concern,” said Kauffman. “To go into all the nations and make disciples.”
CEF also reaches children right here in Warren County. Four public schools house its Good News club once a week after school — Daniel Boone, Marthasville, Warrior Ridge and Wright City Elementary.
With more than 42,000 clubs worldwide, Good News Club is held once a week in schools, homes or community centers and is manned by CEF-trained teachers. A 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision made it clear that groups like CEF were welcome in public schools just like other nonschool groups.
Activities include reading Bible stories, playing games to reinforce the stories, memorizing Scripture and singing songs.
Jenny Quinn, a Marthasville volunteer, said 18 children were enrolled in their Good News Club. Eight adults were trained to teach the weekly lessons.
Quinn said one of the sessions included a visit from a Sudanese missionary who appeared in native dress and shared stories about the country in which she served.
“They were particularly interested in her stories about scorpions, cobras and Komodo dragons,” said Quinn. “But we always pray for each other and learn all kinds of Bible stories. Our emphasis is doing the right thing.”
CEF is Bible-centered, whose purpose is “to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, disciple them in the Word of God and establish them in a Bible-believing church for Christian living.”
Kauffman, a volunteer since 1989 and now president, said his background was in the steel component manufacturing business. He attributes his success to producing the best outputs possible.
He believes the Lord pointed him to CEF. When he saw what the organization was accomplishing, he thought he could help CEF with its “output,” trained teachers who could be one-on-one with children.
Kauffman considered himself a student of the Bible, but realized that all he was doing was “taking things in, not helping.”
“I’m not involved in it because I’m a good children’s worker. I’m really not,” said Kauffman. “I’m involved because I can see the potential in children’s workers and I want to do everything I can to help them. From a logic standpoint, a business standpoint, I wanted to invest my time with children opposed to waiting until they grow up.”
CEF announced Friday that in 2012 it reached more than 12 million children in 180 countries around the world, an 11 percent increase from last year. Its goal is to reach every nation by 2017. There are 28 countries to go.
The organization, funded entirely by donations, employs 2,800 full-time staff members and welcomes the help of tens of thousands of volunteers worldwide. One hundred twenty of those workers are based in Warrenton with another 50-60 volunteers on board. More than 250,000 teachers are trained worldwide each year in a variety of programs.
During the anniversary celebration representatives from its eight regions were on hand for the event — Asia Pacific, East and Central Africa, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, North America/Caribbean, Southern Africa/Indian Ocean and West Africa. They are “nationals,” people who live and work for CEF in their own countries.
Flags from 176 nations lined the walls — from Antigua and Azerbaijan to Nigeria and Rwanda. Harry Robinson, vice president of international ministries from Ireland, announced four new countries where CEF is now working. Only two can be announced publicly, due to safety issues for the missionaries. They are Dominica and Guinea Conakry.
Joseph Kavuli, the regional director from East Central Africa, was excited to speak about the growth in his region that encompasses 11 African nations.
“A lot is happening,” said Kavuli. “Last year we were able to reach 1.9 million children, 507,000 prayed to receive Jesus.”
Kavuli said he thanks the many people who pray for him and the resources he is beginning to receive.
CEF was founded by Jesse Irvin Overholtzer in 1937. After a lifetime of struggling with his own questions about his spiritual upbringing, Overholtzer came to believe that children could understand the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He then felt a great burden to take this message to children all over the world.
A book telling his story, “The Indomitable Mr. O,” was released Friday during the anniversary celebration.
In 1939, Overholtzer made his first trip outside of the United States, meeting with leaders in Mexico and Central America. By 1955, CEF had expanded its ministry to 60 countries.
“Daily Bread for Girls and Boys” devotional books were first published in 1939. Child Evangelism magazine was started in 1942. The first flannelgraph series, “The Bible, The Word of God,” was released in 1945. CEF has continued to turn out an extensive product line that can be found at www.cefonline.com.
Every year the organization has made inroads into new countries, published more training manuals and written exciting materials for children in many languages.
The Box of Books program was formed in 1999 to send some of the best publications to Third World Countries. The cost was $50 per box. More than $5 million worth of free materials have been shipped since. The 100,000th box was delivered this month to the national director of the Philippines.
Other programs include Truth Chasers, Camp Good News, Military Children’s Ministries and Ministry to Children of Prisoners. Wonderzone.com, launched in 2001, has language specific websites in 14 countries.
CEF representatives said the public is welcome to tour its headquarters located on Highway M east of Warrenton. Volunteers are always welcome and can be trained in a variety of ways.
Kauffman said the word “Warrenton” is constantly being mentioned all over the world. As he travels to various countries, Kauffman said everyone wants to know about Warrenton.
“All 180 countries in the world know about Warrenton, Mo. and talk about it all the time,” he said.
CEF’s slogan now is “Around the World in 80 Years.” By 2017, its 80th anniversary, CEF hopes to have an active ministry in every country in the world.