January 2018

Dave & Aleece Cooper | Peru

Lyndock Baptist Church, Ontario, Canada

When Aleece was 13 years old, her family moved to Mexico for two years; her father served as a teacher for missionary kids there. The family moved several more times to various locations, including Ecuador for a year. Eventually, they moved back home and Aleece finished high school. “I think those experiences really confirmed that I wanted to be a missionary,” Aleece said. “That’s what I thought I would do right out of high school.” However, after receiving some further council, she decided to pursue a degree at Pensacola Christian College first, which is where she met her husband, Dave.

“During my teenage years, I was ‘that’ pastor’s kid,” Dave recalls. “I wasn’t all that interested in the things of the Lord.” He wanted to do flight training in Canada, but was advised to go to one year of Bible school. He decided to go to Pensacola Christian College and after the first year thought he might as well finish a four-year degree. During his second year, he rededicated his life to the Lord and decided to serve in full-time ministry. “The ministry I knew He wouldn’t call me to was pastoral because that’s what my dad did and I knew I didn’t want to do that,” Dave shared. “So to prove it to myself and to the Lord, I changed my major to Pastoral Ministries and Biblical Languages...and guess what the Lord called me to do.”

Dave stayed on to attend seminary at Pensacola Christian College, married Aleece, and they planned to go right into the mission field together. Those doors closed, so they went back home to rural Ontario, where Dave has served as a pastor for eight years. 

During a trip to Ghana, Dave realized the need for theological education and training of individuals going into ministry, including himself. He continued his training to teach the Bible and completed a PhD in Old Testament and Hebrew. “That confirmed in my heart that the Lord would ultimately be bringing me to a foreign mission field to teach the Bible,” Dave said. “That, coupled with Aleece’s background in Latin America, has led us to interests in South America.” Dave and Aleece are currently raising support and hope to begin language school in 2020. 

Jonatan & Natasha Nieto | Colombia

Iglesia Bautista de Ocala, Ocala, FL

Natasha was in high school when she asked her sister to pray a prayer of salvation with her one night after a church service. “Ever since then, it’s been a learning process of growing and becoming a stronger Christian,” she shared. After a year of college near her hometown, Natasha decided to move down to Florida to go to Bible college with her sister. She had plans to only stay for a year to get her Bible certificate, but after learning about needs around the world through a missions conference, she decided to pursue a degree in missions. In her second year in the program, she met Jonatan, who was studying missions as well. 

Jonatan grew up in Colombia. He was 16 years old when he finished high school and joined a missions organization as a volunteer, where he later served for two years in the Amazon. Every time his team would come home from a trip to prepare for the next one, Jonatan couldn’t wait to go back. “I realized it was God putting that passion in my heart. That’s how God started moving my heart towards missions.” 

“God also put the dream of aviation for South America in my heart,” Jonatan shared, “so we have been in preparation for that.” It’s been a long process, but they know it will be worth it. “A lot of tribes, they haven’t heard the gospel yet, so that’s why we’re here,” Jonatan said. 

James & Doris Clegg | Jamaica

Deep Creek Baptist Church, Chesapeake, VA

Doris came to know the Lord during vacation Bible school when she was eight years old. “As the pastor was giving the invitation, in my mind’s eye I just remember seeing Christ on the cross, suffering for something I had done.” She knew in that moment she had to give her life to Jesus. By the time she was a teenager, she felt a heavy burden for the mission field and began serving the Hispanic population on the eastern shores of Virginia.  

James, on the other hand, had no idea who Jesus was for most of his life. That began to change when he met Doris. He explained, “God had a better plan for me than I had for myself. He introduced me to my lovely wife, who, for many years, tried and tried and tried to get me to go to church. I didn’t want to go, but eventually I did surrender and went to church.” A few weeks later, James gave his life to the Lord. Then, a few weeks after that, he was baptized. And a few weeks after that…he married Doris.

They’ve been serving the eastern shores of Virginia together for seven years now, but they’re no longer content with missions trips alone. “Everyone knows when you go on a missions trip, you come home and you’re so excited that you just want to tell everybody about Jesus,” James said, “and then about two weeks later…you go back to your regular routine.”

Over the past year, something changed. The burden to do full-time missions work has been ever-present. They opened the door for the Lord to lead them anywhere He wanted and discovered He was leading them to serve with ABWE in Jamaica.

Jamie Gessner | Colombia

Emmanuel Bible Fellowship Church, Sunbury, PA

Jamie and her twin brother were born in an orphanage in Bogotá, Colombia. Her adoptive family was from Pennsylvania and had no idea they were getting two kids. “My mom has had a lot of prayer support over the years,” Jamie said jokingly. 

She was raised in church and in Christian school, but she wasn’t really walking with the Lord. She graduated from Geneva College in 2010 and moved to Washington D.C. to work for a news production company but ended up back in Beaver Falls, home of Geneva College, a year later. 

Jamie started doing media communications for a local prison ministry and remembers the day when her boss, who was also a pastor, told her it was time for her to go visit the prison and see what it was really like there. Prison became a mirror for Jamie. She saw the possibility of what could happen if she didn’t change her life, and by the end of 2012, she had rededicated her life to Christ and decided to be baptized again. 

“I said, ‘Lord, what do You want with me now? I’m starting to relearn everything.’” A friend suggested that she go into missions. At first, she couldn’t imagine it, but ended up serving in Costa Rica and Panama for two years. Jamie says she is looking forward to “this new opportunity to go back to where I was born, to Colombia, to see if that’s where He’s leading.”

Michael & Melanie Ball | Chile

Riley’s Creek Baptist Church, Rocky Point, NC

Michael felt a call to ministry when he was 13 years old. “I’m kind of the modern-day Jonah story,” Michael said. “After I was called into ministry, I ran.” He decided to join the Army and served overseas, but when he came back, he still felt a tug on his heart for ministry. He recommitted his life to the Lord and in 2010, he “started serving in every facet of ministry you can imagine.” 

At one time, Melanie thought, “I’m never, ever, ever going to receive Christ. I cannot have salvation. I’m the worst sinner, ever.” But when her husband, Michael, went overseas to serve in the Army, Melanie prayed all the time. “I was right there beside Him, but I just could not give my heart to Him,” she recalls. In 2012, she was driving when she heard a song on the radio that brought her to tears. “I just stopped the car and bawled my eyes out. I sobbed to God and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’” She accepted Jesus as her Savior right there on the side of the road.

“We’ve been feeling called to missions for awhile, but we’ve been putting it off until we were empty nesters,” Michael shared. “But we know when God calls you, it’s His timing and not yours.” After a missionary couple serving in South Africa came and spoke at their church, they looked at each other and said, “We can’t wait any longer.” When they came to ABWE and heard a presentation on Santiago, Chile, they knew it was where the Lord was calling them. “It was kind of like God reaching out and grabbing you, because everything that was listed there was everything we felt called to do,” said Michael.

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