Big Picture

Child Evangelism Fellowship celebrates more than 80 years of US-Sent Missionaries

‘CEF is now organized in most nations of the world, sharing the Gospel with children and their families,’ said CEF Executive Vice President Moises Esteves

For Immediate Release

January 29, 2024

ST. LOUIS Child Evangelism Fellowship has sent missionaries to foreign countries for the past eight decades to train nationals in evangelizing children in their own countries. In 2022, CEF trained nearly half a million teachers worldwide.

“The growth has been phenomenal, truly blessed by God,” said CEF Executive Vice President Moises Esteves. “What began with a couple who went to Mexico in 1943 has developed into the world’s largest child evangelism outreach.

“CEF is now organized in most nations of the world, sharing the Gospel with children and their families.”

About 97% of CEF’s worldwide staff are national missionaries, living and serving in their own countries. US-Sent Missionaries come alongside these national missionaries to support and develop various areas of ministry.

The purpose of CEF’s US-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.”

Child Evangelism Fellowship was founded by a pastor, Jesse Irvin Overholtzer, in 1937, as a U.S.-based ministry. Overholtzer went to Chicago, where Moody Bible Institute helped him establish a new ministry to children in 1937 that became Child Evangelism Fellowship.

Rev. Arthur Phillips and his wife Velva, who had worked in the Chicago CEF office, left in 1943 for Mexico, becoming the first CEF US-Sent Missionaries.

US-Sent Missionaries take part in a variety of ministry activities to strengthen the ministry in their country, including hosting clubs and helping with local training. A ministry assignment is based on the individual’s strengths, prior training and education, and interests. Just as the body of Christ has many different parts, CEF has many different areas in which to serve.

“The time is now to send the next generation of missionaries,” said Krista Biesiadecki, Communications Manager of International Ministries with CEF.

“There are young people looking for a sending organization, but they do not feel called to pastoring, church planting, or evangelism ministry to adults. They are passionate about sharing the Good News overseas with an underreached population — children.”

US-Sent Missionaries Mike and Linda Petkof minister to the children of the Roma Gypsy communities of Greece. They not only share the Gospel with the children but are building relationships with them and their tight-knit, multi-generational families.

“So many people are rising up in their own countries, and they’re sharing the Gospel,” Petkof said. “They know the culture, they know the language, they know the environment that they live in. It makes sense why someone might wonder, ‘So, why me? Why would I go over there to share the Gospel in their country? Why don’t I just stay here?’ The truth is God calls us to step out in faith, regardless of the environment, because He will use us to glorify Him, despite our inabilities.

In Petkof’s case, his mother was from Greece and his father was from the former Yugoslavia (now North Macedonia). He learned both languages as a child and grew up speaking these languages in addition to English.

“I’d ask them — do you know another language? Would you love to learn a language? Maybe God would call that person to be a missionary to an English-speaking country! I would just want them to think about what God is using in their life to lead them to consider missions. Maybe He is using their love for the children, as He did in my life!

“I find it so very important to share the Gospel with children and adults,” Petkof said, sharing a true story. “A 10-year-old Roma Gypsy girl had been coming to our Good News Club® for a long time. She just loved the Lord and was always smiling and ready to learn more about God.

“I came home on furlough recently and received news that she was walking in a field when a car drove off the road and struck her. I was heartbroken to hear she had died. But praise God, she is now in Heaven. We had the opportunity to share the Gospel with her, and she accepted the Lord.”

While national missionaries fuel the CEF ministry around the globe, the need is still great for US-Sent Missionaries. As the world and ministry landscape changes, new challenges arise daily.

CEF is now also sending cross-cultural missionaries to several other countries, as they cast the vision for sharing the Gospel around the world. Cross-cultural missionaries are a testament to the multiplication of the global outreach that started 80 years ago.

“Since its founding, CEF has aimed to ensure that every child is reached with the Gospel, as well as spiritually nurtured and integrated into a local church,” Esteves said. “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. We thank God for giving Pastor Overholtzer that mission and for continuing to bless it 80 years on.”

For more about CEF’s missionaries see the US-Sent Missionary home page.

Child Evangelism Fellowship, which was founded 87 years ago, has been establishing Good News Clubs® in countries around the world for decades. Clubs are thriving worldwide, in countries including Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Caledonia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Kenya, Tanzania, 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.