Big Picture

Child Evangelism Fellowship celebrates 80 years of international outreach to children

‘In 1943, the first U.S.-sent missionaries arrived in Mexico to begin CEF founder Jesse Irvin Overholtzer’s quest for world evangelism,’ says CEF Executive Vice President Moises Esteves

For Immediate Release

November 20, 2023

ST. LOUIS Child Evangelism Fellowship is marking its 80th year in sending missionaries to foreign countries to train nationals to evangelize children in their own countries.

CEF was founded by a pastor, Jesse Irvin Overholtzer, in 1937, as a U.S.-based ministry. Growing up in a religious family, Jesse was convicted of his own sin at the age of 12 and sought counsel from his mother. But she told him, “Son, you are too young.” It wasn’t until Overholtzer was in college that he heard the Gospel and trusted Christ as his Savior.

Serving as a pastor, Jesse was deeply convicted of the need to reach children when he read a statement by C.H. Spurgeon; “A child of five, if properly instructed, can, as truly believe, and be regenerated, as an adult.”

“Jesse began ministering to children and seeing amazing results, such as children themselves leading other children to Christ,” says CEF Executive Vice President Moises Esteves.

Overholtzer went to Chicago, where Moody Bible Institute helped him establish a new ministry to children in 1937 that became Child Evangelism Fellowship.

“Jesus Gave a Global Commission”

In the summer of 1939, despite the threat of global war, Overholtzer began his plans to evangelize children with the Gospel of Jesus Christ in South America. He wrote during this time, “Jesus gave a global commission, but we are so provincial, so self-centered, so sinful that we use our time, our talents, our money in such a way that we are blind and callous regarding the precious children who literally sit in darkness.”

Overholtzer himself traveled across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Cuba, the Caribbean, and South America sharing his passion and recruiting workers. He prayed for an army of child evangelists that would encircle the globe.

The First U.S.-Sent Missionaries

A few years later, following their graduation from Moody Bible Institute, Rev. Arthur Phillips and his wife Velva, who had worked in the Chicago CEF office, left the States to become missionaries to Mexico.

“In 1943, the first U.S.-sent missionaries arrived in Mexico to begin CEF founder Jesse Irvin Overholtzer’s quest for world evangelism,” Esteves says. “Since then, CEF has reached hundreds of millions of children around the world with the message of salvation by grace through faith.”

Since its founding, CEF’s aim has been to ensure that every child is reached with the Gospel, as well as spiritually nurtured and integrated into a local church. In 2022, CEF trained nearly half a million teachers worldwide. The purpose of CEF’s U.S.-sent missionary program is “To serve cross-culturally, coming alongside national leaders and missionaries to strengthen CEF ministries internationally and carry out the mission of CEF to help develop an established, thriving, indigenous CEF ministry in every nation of the world.”

In recent years, 97% of CEF staff worldwide were national missionaries, living and serving in their own country. The goal of a U.S.-sent missionary is to come alongside national missionaries to support and develop various areas of ministry.

Leading the Way in Mexico

In 1984, Velva Phillips recalled how the newly launched levels training, later known as Teaching Children Effectively, was brought to Mexico City and quickly spread to many other cities around the country. They used it to lay the foundations for the ministry and train workers in Mexico.

“Thanks to Pastor Overholtzer’s vision, and the Phillips family and other trailblazers like them who went forward in faith during a time when the ministry was small, the CEF mission around the world continued to grow,” Esteves says.

CEF’s Mexico ministry is flourishing, reaching over 270,000 children last year. The movement has spread rapidly to other countries.

“With chapters in all 50 American states and in most countries around the world, CEF’s goal is to minister to 100 million children each year globally with the Gospel in the near future,” Esteves says. “We thank God for giving Pastor Overholtzer that mission and for continuing to bless it.”

Child Evangelism Fellowship, which was founded 86 years ago, has been establishing Good News Clubs® in countries around the world for decades. Clubs are thriving worldwide, in countries including Australia, Cambodia, Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Uganda.

Last year, through CEF’s combined ministries, more than 19.5 million children worldwide heard the Good News. In 2022, more than 439,000 teachers were trained around the world.

For more CEF news, see the ministry’s latest edition of the online magazine Impact.

Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) is an international, nonprofit, Christian ministry that has been dedicated to seeing every child reached with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, discipled and established in a local church since 1937. CEF is located in all 50 American states and in most countries around the world, with over 3,500 paid staff and tens of thousands of volunteers around the world.  


To interview a representative from Child Evangelism Fellowship, contact [email protected], Beth Bogucki, 610.584.1096, ext. 105, or Daniel Moyer, ext. 104.