Brian Denker was still a librarian at Union University in 2010 when he took his first trip to Ethiopia.
A member of Woodland Baptist Church, Denker had been exposed to the impoverished nation through the reports of Patrick Beard, the executive director of an international mission organization called Indigenous Outreach International, based out of Woodland Baptist Church. Intrigued, Denker joined Beard on one of his trips, and what he saw would dramatically change his life.
“I went with Patrick Beard on one of his trips to see the work they were doing over there and it was enough to bring me back for good,” he said.
Now a permanent missionary in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Denker was back in Jackson on Thursday night with his wife Cindy at First Baptist Church to share his story at IOI’s annual Celebration Banquet.
“What I do is work with churches in villages out in the countryside, and I work with a children’s program with the poorest kids in our city,” Denker said. “We identified Ethiopians who were doing ministry to their neighbors or preaching at their church for no pay, and IOI was established to help get them part of their salary so they could have more time to do more of their ministry work.”
Formed in 1998 at Woodland Baptist, Indigenous Outreach International trains and equips two American missionary families to work in Ethiopia where they, in turn, train and equip local faith leaders.
“What they do is support ministry of the local Ethiopian missionaries with primarily theological training,” Beard said. “We’ve got about 70 missionaries total and almost all of those are Ethiopians. We have one objective, and that is to make disciples.”
IOI does this through its two American missionary teams, in addition to providing two medical teams a year, a yearly Bible conference, vacation Bible school teams, construction projects and water wells.
After 14 months as a missionary to Ethiopia, Denker said that, while Christians are in the minority and have been persecuted, there are still stories of tremendous faith and perseverance for the gospel.
“Christians are a small minority, and they are a persecuted minority,” Denker said. “The countryside is mostly a lot of witchcraft, a lot of sorcery. They’re very religious, but they’re worshiping a tree or an animal or a witch doctor, so Christians are often physically mistreated and always shunned.
“Becoming a Christian may mean getting kicked out of your family or it may mean getting killed, so it’s a dangerous place.”
One acquaintance of Denker’s experienced this persecution firsthand.
“I know a girl who is 25 and her dad beat her for becoming a Christian,” Denker said.” She has all these scars that she’ll show you, and sometimes I feel like she’s the one who needs to be my missionary [so she] can teach me.”
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