JACKSON, Tenn. – May 22, 2014 – Brian Denker and his wife of 23 years, Cynthia, have made multiple trips to Ethiopia during January term and in the summers.
But on June 11, they are moving there permanently to work in the mission field full-time.
“The more time we spent over there, the more we fell in love with it,” Denker said. “And we want to go and stay.”
Denker, who graduated from Union with a theology and missions degree in 1993, has worked as the assistant to the director of the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies for 11 years. During that time, he has worked closely with Ray Van Neste, the center’s director, and his friend since their student days at Union.
“While we will miss Brian dearly, we celebrate his move for the advancement of the kingdom,” Van Neste said. “When you gather people who love God and want other people to know him, you just expect to lose some of your people to the mission field from time to time.”
Union’s commitment to missions is essential, according to Van Neste. And the Denkers are a prime example of following the call to Ethiopia, a place with great need.
“As a Christian university, we pursue the Great Commandment -- loving God with all we are, including our minds -- and the Great Commission, taking the gospel to the ends of the earth,” Van Neste said. “In many ways, I can see how all of life has been preparing the Denkers for this task. They are a dynamic ministry team.”
The Denkers will be primarily working in the capital city of Addis Ababa. A lot of their outreach, however, will include overnight trips to the surrounding countryside where Denker will teach ministers.
Those pastors are financially supported by an organization called Indigenous Outreach International that was started in 1999 by Patrick Beard, another Union graduate. The organization supports about 60 pastors living and working in Ethiopia.
As the center has gathered books over the years, Union was simultaneously building a collection in Ethiopia. Denker’s duties will include running that library.
“In a way it’s an extension of the work I’ve done at Union,” Denker said. “I’m just doing it in a different location.”
During their 15 years in Jackson, the Denkers have had Union students and others live in their home as part of their outreach. They intend to do the same in Ethiopia.
“We plan on getting a place with plenty of room so that when Union students come over for GO Trips or for internships, they can stay with us,” Denker said. “That way we can continue the same ministry of having people staying in our home.”
Denker is looking forward to working with his wife, also a Union graduate, who will be able to teach the women ministers in the area.
“Something that most people don’t know about Cynthia is that she is legally blind, and she has been able to overcome that pretty well,” Denker said.
His last day at Union is May 30.
“Union has let me spend a great deal of time over in Ethiopia doing this work before,” he added. “So in a sense, they are turning me loose.”
By Julie Turner