January 2017

K. Michael Cole | Togo

Point Baptist Church, Pensacola, FL  

Michael was raised by medical missionary parents serving in the Philippines, and when it came time for college at Cedarville University, he followed in their footsteps by choosing cross-cultural nursing as his major. However, Michael’s vision shifted when he met a Navy recruiter.

“I realized it was a cool opportunity to do nursing anywhere in the world,” he said.

After graduating from Cedarville, Michael served for nearly 10 years in the US Navy Nurse Corps. But when his term of service was concluding in 2013, Michael found himself wondering what he wanted to do next — and sensed the Lord leading him into missions.

“I felt the Lord saying, ‘You have no job. You have no family ties. Why not missions?’” said Michael. “There was nothing making me go to a certain area, so I was wide open.”

Michael contacted ABWE to find out about missionary nurse opportunities and learned about a new hospital being built in northern Togo, West Africa. The Hospital of Hope was to open within a year and it needed nurses. Michael knew he had found the opportunity he was looking for.

Shortly after being discharged from the Navy, he went to Africa and spent 16 months working as a nurse supervisor — where he met fellow nurse missionary, and his future wife, Anna Doenier.

The couple plans on returning to the Hospital of Hope, where Anna will continue to serve as a nurse involved with community health evangelism and mobile health clinics, and Michael will serve as a nurse educator to help train the new class of Togolese nurses enrolled in ABWE’s Nurse Training Program.

“Many of our patients and coworkers have never even heard of Jesus,” Michael said. “We want to use nursing as a platform to build relationships with the Togolese, lead them to the Lord, and disciple them.”

Steve & Bethany Chmil | Togo

Grace Bible Fellowship, Harrisburg, PA

As a child, Bethany befriended a Cambodian refugee in her Sunday school class. One day, her church had a missions display that highlighted the missionaries they were praying for or supporting, and Bethany watched as her Cambodian friend reviewed each missionary.

“There’s no one going to Cambodia,” her friend said with a disheartened face. “Who is going to tell the people in my country?”

That question put a deep burden on Bethany’s heart for missions, and during her sophomore year of high school, she went to a youth rally that was focused on medical missions. God used that rally to call Bethany, and that day she committed her life to medical missions.

Unbeknownst to Bethany, her future husband Steve made that same commitment at the same rally.

Years later, as Bethany was pursuing her undergraduate degree and Steve was studying to become a doctor, they began dating. Their common passion for medical missions brought them closer and soon they wed.

“We love medical missions because it follows the example of Jesus — using physical compassion to reach people with spiritual needs,” said Bethany.

In preparation to heed God’s call to medical missions in Togo, Steve finished his seminary degree and is now gaining experience in a surgical practice.

“We chose Togo for the same reasons we chose ABWE — because of the balance between church planting and medicine,” said Steve.

Shawn & Rebecca Hill | Togo

Aurora Free Church, Niagara, WI

Brought together at a summer Bible camp, Shawn and Rebecca have always had a heart for missions. Rebecca went on a missions cruise when she was 10 where she and her family evangelized outside the standard tourists spots by putting on puppet shows for street kids and working in orphanages. She saw hunger, thirst, and disabilities for the first time in her young life.

“That experience changed my life and worldview,” said Rebecca. “It gave me a heart for other people and other places.”

While pursuing a mechanical engineering degree in college, Shawn went on a missions trip to Mexico that gave him a heart for other nationalities. When he returned, he started spending a lot of time with the international students at his university, and slowly, Shawn felt God leading him to missions.

Together, Shawn and Rebecca talked about missions constantly, but they were unsure how God was calling them. They decided to come to ABWE’s 24-Hour DEMO event that helps people interested in missions see what missionary life is all about and explore opportunities around the world.

“If you’re at all interested in missions, you should go to the 24-Hour DEMO,” said Rebecca. “It was an amazing experience.”

During their time at ABWE, they felt God calling them to full-time missions in Africa. The Hills are hoping to use Shawn’s experience in mechanical engineering, as well as their combined experience with youth ministry, to help with church planting, evangelism, and discipleship. 

“We feel a burden to fight for the gospel in the contested zone of Africa and to reach the unreached in Togo,” said Rebecca.

Samuel & Lauren Lunsford | Togo

Petsworth Baptist Church, Gloucester, VA

When Samuel was 24, he went on a short-term missions trip to help do accounting at ABWE’s hospital in southern Togo, West Africa. The trip was only supposed to be 12-weeks long, but Samuel ended up staying for 12 months.

“I loved the Togolese people. I loved the work that was happening there,” said Samuel. “That’s where I really got my call for missions.”

It was also where Samuel met Lauren, a Liberty University nursing student who was also serving as a short-term missionary at the hospital.

Lauren had always loved the Lord, but she never felt called to devote herself to ministry or missions. However, that changed when she went to Liberty University and heard heartbreaking stories from missionaries all over the world.

“I decided I couldn’t stay in America and live life for myself,” she said. “There is just too great a need, both physical and spiritual.”

Once Samuel and Lauren returned from Togo, the two began dating and eventually began pursuing missions as a married couple. The couple went on short-term missions trips to Congo and Jordan, but always felt called back to Togo. They returned to Togo for a two-year short-term trip to serve at ABWE’s school for the blind, The Village of Light, and felt God confirming their call to long-term missions. They are open and eager to fulfill any need on any mission field where the Lord leads them.

Lindsey Kepiro | Togo

Christian Fellowship Church, New Holland, PA

Lindsey always had a heart for missions, and when she discovered she also had a heart for healthcare, she knew somehow God would weave them together.

During a short-term missions trip to Ukraine, her eyes were opened to the need for compassionate, Christian healthcare. But it was a trip with Cedarville’s cross-cultural nursing team to ABWE’s hospital in southern Togo that opened her eyes to all that medical missions could do.

“I was just blown away at how taking care of someone’s physical needs instantly gives you the opportunity to talk to them about spiritual things,” Lindsey said. “It was so cool to see how those things could tie together.”

After graduation, Lindsey found a job in a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit and eventually saved up enough vacation time to take a two-week trip to serve in ABWE’s new hospital in northern Togo. But to her surprise, when she reached out to the hospital’s chief-of-staff about coming for two weeks, he asked if she could come for two years instead.

Then, her mom asked her a thought-provoking question, “Lindsey, what’s going to happen in your life in the next two years that will be so life-altering that you’d be glad you didn’t go to Togo?” Lindsey couldn’t shake that question, and when she finally made it to Togo, she couldn’t see herself doing anything else.

Lindsey looks forward to establishing a neonatal follow-up care system, where hospital staff will check up with premature babies in their villages after they’ve returned home. This additional care will not only ensure the health of the babies, but also provide an opportunity to introduce the gospel into their home villages.

“If you’re showing them that you care enough about their baby to come make sure they are doing well, it’s a great opportunity to explain why you care so much,” she said. “I care about their children, but I care about their eternal lives so much more.”

Megan Mackenzie | Togo

Whitney Baptist Church, Boise, ID

Megan grew up in a missions-minded church where she often heard about the need around the world, but she experienced it firsthand through missions trips with her youth group.

“Missions started for me when I started seeing places beyond Idaho,” said Megan.

Her worldview continued to grow in college as she went on international missions trips, and after she graduated with a teaching degree and taught for several years, God connected her with a family that was heading to Togo. They had come to speak at her church and Megan opened up her home to them. During their stay, they shared the great need for MK teachers on the mission field, and it planted a seed in Megan’s heart.

After much prayer, she signed up to teach MKs in northern Togo for two years. At first, it was hard, but slowly God reshaped and opened her up to full-time missions.
Megan’s heart broke when it was time to go home, but she planned to stay in Idaho for a year before making any decisions about returning to Togo. That resolve only lasted two weeks.

She felt God calling her back, and two weeks after returning home, she began the process of becoming a long-term missionary to Togo.

“What I do is a background support role for the big work that’s being done in Togo, but it’s exciting to know I have a hand in bringing Christ to people thirsty for salvation,” said Megan. “I want to aid that work in any way I can.” 

Hannah Strayer | Africa

New Life Church, New Cumberland, PA

Through several missions trips and listening to missionaries who visited her church growing up, Hannah felt God calling her to be a light in the dark places. But as she got older, she was torn between her calling to missions and her passion for photography.

After an intense time of self-reflection, she felt God urging her to trust Him and pursue missions. She resigned to His will and began to study missions at college, but then she also felt God confirming her heart for photography. She reached out to people who had done media in relations to missions and connected with Jeff Raymond, ABWE director of visual communications. He showed her the possibilities of using media on the mission field, and she took an internship at ABWE under Jeff’s mentorship.

“That experience really showed me how media and missions worked together,” said Hannah. “While it’s not common, I saw there was a huge need for visual storytellers in missions.”

As a missionary, Hannah will be serving as a media mission specialist for the continent of Africa, using her photography and video skills to tell the stories of how God is working through ABWE’s missionaries and ministries. She will be traveling to different mission fields throughout the continent to lend her skills and expertise to ABWE’s field teams.

“Media gives the outside world a better understanding of the complete picture of what’s going on and what the needs are,” said Hannah. “I’m so excited to see how God will use me and my skills in Africa.”

Kyle & Rhonda Gregory | Togo


Grace Christian Fellowship, Bainbridge, NY

It’s not every day that a man moves to Africa just so he can date a girl, but that’s what happened with Kyle and Rhonda.

Growing up in missions-minded family, Rhonda had always been interested in missions. After finishing her midwifery training, Rhonda did a short missions trip to ABWE’s hospital in southern Togo and fell in love with the ministry. She accepted an invitation to come back for six months to fill-in for another missionary, and through that experience, Rhonda developed close friendships and a deep appreciation for combining physical care with spiritual care.

She knew she wanted to give her life to medical missions and was preparing to minister full-time at ABWE’s new hospital in northern Togo that was under construction, when she met Kyle.

When Kyle was a teenager, a church member’s departure to the mission field of Benin in West Africa ignited an intense interest in the region, and in college, that interest blossomed into a heart for the Islamic world. He studied in Benin and Jordan, and by graduation, he was focused on reaching the Muslim world.

Then he met Rhonda.

She was only home for a two-month vacation from Togo, but they felt an instant connection. They talked about the possibility of dating, but Rhonda told him that the only way they could date was if Kyle moved to Togo.

Realizing that Togo neighbored the country of Kyle’s passion, Benin, he agreed.

As Kyle and Rhonda built their relationship, they also tried to build relationships in their community. Making meaningful connections with their neighbors was hard at first, but when the hospital opened, that completely changed. They were both stunned by how caring for physical needs helped people be open to hearing the gospel.

“I noticed firsthand what a powerful tool the hospital ministry is,” said Rhonda. “It was hard to get past polite chitchat, but after the hospital opened, that immediately changed. Suddenly people knew me and I had tons of invitations to people’s homes.”

Now married, Rhonda is eager to return to her midwife ministry at the hospital and Kyle is excited to continue working with the hospital chaplains to follow up with those who were interested in learning more about Jesus Christ. 

John & Tabitha Groeneveld | Togo

Immanuel Baptist Church, Newton, IA

Tabitha has always been passionate about missions, and as a child, she was moved to tears during the missionary commissioning service for a family at her church that was heading to India.

Similarly, John’s mother had a heart for missions and hosted many traveling missionaries in their family’s home, exposing John to missions and showing him the potential for God to use him on the mission field.

Fast forward to studying nursing at Pensacola Christian College, John and Tabitha signed up for a short-term mission trip to southern Togo.

“I thought everybody who went with us loved it, but later I found out that we were the only two that really enjoyed it,” said Tabitha. “The Lord put a love in our hearts for Togo.”

After graduating, the couple continued their education, had several children, and served on two short-term missions trips to Togo. When they returned from their second trip, John began working as a nurse practitioner in the United States, but soon Tabitha began to feel God challenge that decision.

“I remember driving down the road by myself and I just couldn’t get away from it. It was just this constant yearning to go back,” Tabitha said. “But I hadn’t felt that from John.”

Tabitha prayed and waited for the Lord to move in John’s heart. That day finally came when their church held a commissioning service for John’s sister, who was returning as a missionary to Togo. As John prayed for his sister’s successful return to Togo, he felt the Lord convicting him of his own unwillingness to surrender to Him.

“God broke me in those few minutes of the prayer,” said John. “He really struck me with the question, was I willing to sacrifice myself and my family?”

When the couple told their children that they were returning to Togo — the country in which two of them were born — they were ecstatic.

“It’s just amazing to know that we are not just part of something that’s going on in Togo, but we are part of something amazing happening all around the world,” said John. “We all have different talents God has given us, and He has a plan for each of us.”

John & Anna Kelley | Togo

Piney View Bible Church, Piney View, WV

While John was a pastor’s son, he fell in with the wrong crowd in high school. He began drifting away from school, until he got plugged into the swim team.

As he became a strong swimmer and began to set records at his high school, he left God further and further behind. College scholarships rolled in, but his father made him another offer: he would pay for his first year of schooling if John went to Bible school. John declined his father’s offer, but promised to do a year at a Bible college after he graduated.

John began his collegiate swimming career but failed to connect with his teammates, who only seemed interested in alcohol and partying. Without the comradery he experienced on his high school team, John slowly lost his passion for the sport and transferred schools to pursue an associate’s degree in biomedical engineering and technology that would equip him to fix hospital medical equipment.

After graduating, John made good on his promise to his father. He enrolled at Appalachian Bible College, and at the very first chapel, there was a skit based on Luke 15: The Prodigal Son.

“I realized I was the Prodigal Son, and I broke down crying,” said John. “That really turned my life around.”

As God got a hold of John’s heart, He brought him together with Anna, a Texas native who was also enrolled at the college.

Together, John and Anna worked to put God’s will at the center of their lives, and soon He began leading them to missions. Then, the sudden passing of John’s father brought the couple closer together and made their call to missions clear.   

“It was rough losing him, but I’m so happy he got to see me change my life,” said John.

After much prayer, the couple is preparing for service in southern Togo where John will use his education to maintain ABWE’s southern and northern hospital’s medical equipment, and Anna would like to serve through children’s ministries and administrative work.

“It’s amazing to see the way God has prepared me for missions, even when I wasn’t following him,” said John.

E. Elizabeth Fernandez | Togo

Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, GA

Raised as a missionary kid in Spain, Elizabeth clearly remembers first recognizing her need for salvation. She had just told a lie to her mother, and immediately felt dirty.

“I knew in my little four-year-old mind that the only way I would feel clean again was if I asked Jesus into my heart,” said Elizabeth. “And so I did that with a little childlike faith.”

As she got older, Elizabeth’s faith grew and so did her interest in missions. She began reading about famous missionaries and prayed that God would allow her to have even a fraction of the impact they had.

The confirmation of Elizabeth’s call to missions came when she accompanied her parents on a street evangelism project. The more she shared her faith with people, the more she realized that this was what she wanted to spend the rest of her life doing.

After Elizabeth and her family moved back to the US, she felt God calling her to be a doctor. She enrolled in medical school not knowing where God was leading her. Then, through several short-term medical trips with ABWE, Elizabeth learned about ABWE’s new hospital in northern Togo, a region heavily influenced by Islam. The hospital was looking for medical missionaries with a heart for Muslims, and Elizabeth knew that this is where God was calling her.

“For a number of years, I very strongly felt God calling me to a Muslim community, and that I was to minister with Muslims,” she said. “So when I started to hear more about the Hospital of Hope, I knew that was where I needed to be.”

James & Melissa Fife | Togo

Meridian First Baptist Church, Meridian, ID

Next to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up,” in her eighth-grade year book, Melissa wrote, “a missionary doctor to Africa.”

It was a bit out of left field, and as Melissa grew older, her missionary dreams slipped into the background. However, after she and James married, they moved to Idaho and began attending a church with a strong emphasis on missions and her childhood passion was rekindled.

“I remember many times being torn after the missions conferences,” Melissa said. “I felt that God was calling me, but both partners have to be on board for that.”

Growing up, James had a fascination with the adventure that missions entailed, but that zeal faded once he became a teenager. Then, God used their church’s missions conference focused on Togo to show them His will for their lives.

“I had been praying that God would either call James, or give me contentment where I was,” Melissa said. “After the conference, James looked at me in the car and said, ‘This is going to sound crazy, but I think I feel called to go to Togo.’”

That evening, the couple told their pastor of their call to missions and began the application process with ABWE.

Jame, a longtime landscaper and business operations manager, plans to help ABWE’s Hospital of Hope with administration and business management, as well as assisting hospital chaplains and local church planters. Melissa is looking forward to using her double major in French and music for a music ministry with Togolese women and children.

“When I heard about the Togolese’s love of music, I remember thinking, ‘That is something I could do,’” Melissa said. “I didn’t think there was a place for me in missions, but there is a place for me. Jesus can use me.” 

Bethany Caldwell  | Togo

Valley Baptist Church, Amity, OR

When Bethany was about 13, her youth pastor spoke about being willing to go where the Lord called them. His message resonated with Bethany, and a short time later, she prayed “Lord, I’m willing to do anything and everything you call me to — except be a missionary or go to Africa.”

As soon as she said those things, she knew that’s where God was calling her. She fought this calling for many years, but God worked on her heart, and after college, she went on a one-year mission trip to The Gambia in hopes of appeasing God’s calling.

While in The Gambia, she taught a missionary family’s children, and before she knew what was happening, she fell in love with the kids and the work. When her year was up, the children’s mother asked her to come back and Bethany agreed.

During her time in The Gambia, God continued directing her heart to missions, and after her time there had come to a close as most of the children were older, she got an email about the need for MK teachers in southern Togo. She knew that God was calling her to full-time missions, and she was finally ready and thrilled to say yes.

“I love kids, but the exciting thing for me is to allow the missionary mothers to have more time to minister to others,” said Bethany.

Bethany Edwards | Togo

Westwood Baptist Church, Roxboro, NC

As a child, Bethany loved reading stories about missionaries and felt inspired by these heroes of the faith. But she couldn’t help feeling that missionaries were a different breed of Christian and that she wasn’t cut out to be one.

However, during her first year of clinicals at nursing school she started feeling like she wasn’t supposed to be at an American hospital. She found herself drawn to the idea of serving on the mission field and signed up for a short-term medical mission trip to ABWE’s hospital in southern Togo. While there, God confirmed her call to missions.

“I really fell in love with the Togolese people, and I could just see myself doing that,” said Bethany. “It was also cool to see that missionary life was not just for the religious elite.”

When Bethany returned home, she immediately told her family that she wanted to go back and help with upcoming nursing needs at ABWE’s new Hospital of Hope in northern Togo. Her family didn’t quite believe her at first, but she kept pursuing it as she got more nursing experience. She also kept in touch with a man named Jon Edwards, who was helping to set up computer systems at the hospital. Their relationship grew, and they were married one month after Bethany was appointed as an ABWE missionary in July.

They are eager to return to Togo where Jonathan will be serving as the information technology manager for ABWE’s southern and northern hospitals and Bethany will be sharing the hope of Jesus through nursing. 

Denny & Cassie Nuwagaba | Uganda

Gowen Bible Church, Gowen, MI

Cassie and Denny met while they were serving at a Word of Life Camp in Uganda. Cassie was a Michigan native with a heart for serving the Ugandan people, and Denny was a Ugandan native with a heart for reaching his own people.

Together, they felt God calling them to reach and serve underprivileged people in the less fortunate communities and slums of Uganda by teaching them marketable skills.
“If they are having trouble getting food for their family, how can I disciple them? How can I tell them about Jesus?” said Denny. “I want to walk with them and help meet their physical needs and then spiritual needs.”

From farming and baking to brick laying and computer skills, Denny and Cassie are eager to create a resource center where they will equip less fortunate Ugandans to become self-sustaining and be able to share Christ’s love. “I’ve been in the same situation. My mom couldn’t feed us,” said Denny. “The solution could have been easy if someone had helped teach us how to provide for ourselves. I want to help these people meet their needs and get to know the God who loves them.”The Nuwagabas’ greatest prayer is that they will not only help empower people and bring them to know Christ, but that the people they train will go on to teach and disciple others to do the same.

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By the Numbers

2016 Candidates in Numbers

A quick look at ABWE's 2016 class of new missionaries