By Laura McKillip Wood
Nathan Davenport began his ministry working at a Christian college, where he coordinated international mission trips, worked with students’ spiritual formation, and organized service learning for the student body. Despite his love for the students and for his work, he began to feel the Holy Spirit directing his attention to the people around the world who did not have the Bible in their own languages and who had never heard of Jesus.
Soon Nathan realized that only his fear held him back from doing something to remedy the fact that so many people had no chance of meeting Jesus. He remembered a question he heard in Bible college: “If you had no fear, what would you do for God?” It was then that he began to pray that God would use him “to help Bible-less people come to know Jesus.”
From there Nathan became the Director of Recruitment at Pioneer Bible Translators. “I see my role as a kingdom recruiter,” Nathan said. “Rather than trying to convince people to do this work, I help them take steps to hearing God’s voice.” Nathan said that many times people need to be reminded of what God has already told them. They need encouragement to begin doing what they know he wants them to do.
“I hear people say all the time, ‘I could never be a missionary, I’m just a ______.’ These folks generally list a strategic role we are desperately begging God to send us—teacher, pastor, mechanic, farmer, business leader, disciple-maker.” Nathan helps them envision practical steps for how to follow what Jesus has already shown them.
An Important Goal
Pioneer Bible Translators needs all types of workers because they have a huge goal: eradicating spiritual poverty in the world. “Of the nearly 7,000 spoken language groups, only 554 languages have access to all 66 books of the Bible,” explained Nathan. “While great strides have been made to provide New Testaments and portions of Scripture, there are still 1,800 language groups who do not have access to a single verse of the Bible in the language they understand best.” About 900 of these also do not have a church that uses their language. Nathan said Pioneer Bible Translators calls these people “spiritually impoverished” and seeks to reach those particular groups.
Pioneer Bible Translators hopes to see a day when there will be a multitude of indigenous churches growing in places where there are none now. To make this vision a reality, they need a host of dedicated missionaries with backgrounds in discipleship, community development, business, farming, teaching, and linguistics. That’s where Nathan comes in, recruiting and encouraging new missionaries to step up and lead the church to reach these people groups. “My favorite part of my job is when I get to see an individual surrender his or her future to Jesus. Sometimes this unfolds when a person calls me and says, ‘I’m in! What do I need to start the process of becoming a Bible Translator?’ Other times it happens when an individual simply takes a step of faithfulness.”
Start Where You Are
Nathan has plenty of advice for those who want to begin working on the task of eradicating spiritual poverty. “Be faithful where God has you. The divine moment is the present moment. The way you serve in the local church now is how people will assume you will serve overseas later. One of the great misconceptions of our time is that one becomes a missionary once they get a passport and visa.” He also advises prospective recruits to continue to yield to the Holy Spirit and follow his teachings. “Get in the practice of telling Jesus ‘Yes!’” Nathan also suggests that they develop a prayer team they can rely on when they need the support of a group.
Nathan’s ministry isn’t easy. It requires quite a bit of travel and interaction with people who have the end goal of crossing language and cultural boundaries with the gospel. One of his greatest struggles in this ministry is maintaining what he believes to be God’s perspective amidst spiritual warfare and discouragement. Sometimes he wonders whether it’s worth the struggle and the hard work. Then he remembers the sacrifice that Jesus made for us and how “God deserves to be glorified in every tongue, tribe, and nation.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Nathan’s ministry, contact him (7255 W. Camp Wisdom Road, Dallas, TX 75236 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Laura McKillip Wood formerly taught missionary children in Ukraine and now works in the academic office of Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, Nebraska. She and her husband, Andrew, have three children (lauramckillipwood.com).