Shawna and Daren Davis have served as missionaries with the International Mission Board (IMB) in Africa for more than 25 years.
From their first mission assignment to today, the couple remains as energetic and optimistic as ever, about the Gospel work God is doing in that region of the world.
The Davises serve as Sub-Saharan Africa global engagement leaders, providing leadership to IMB missionaries and ministries in the 43 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. The couple is among the 272 individual missionaries who claim Oklahoma as one of their home or sending states.
As of October, there are now 3,526 total IMB field personnel. They are people just like the Davises who are reaching unengaged and unreached people groups with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
At an earlier age in life, both Shawna and Daren felt the call to international missions. Shawna, a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University, grew up as a missionary kid. Daren, who hails from Virginia, felt called to missions as a Baptist Collegiate Ministry student.
Their mission work started in 1997 as church planters among the Lozi people in Zambia, where they raised their family. Through the years, they saw much Gospel fruit.
They now live in a bustling city in Kenya. They train IMB missionaries and partner in sharing the Gospel, discipling individuals and starting churches. They identify strategic initiatives like urban and refugee engagement, theological education and engaging unreached peoples.
Daren sees their work as part of the larger Southern Baptist Convention mission work in Africa.
“IMB sent missionaries to Nigeria more than 150 years ago and has had a rich history of mission work in this country,” he said. “Today, the Nigerian Baptist Convention claims 3 million baptized believers worshiping in more than 10,000 churches. They have a strong, vibrant convention that is engaged in church planting, theological education and so much more. God is doing a great work through them.”
As Christianity is seeing a sharp decline in Europe and North America, the Davises believe God is moving in fresh ways in Africa.
“In 2018, the epicenter of Christianity shifted to sub-Saharan Africa,” Daren said. “What that means is, that there are more professing Christians in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world. That doesn’t mean that they are all born-again believers necessarily, but it does indicate God is especially at work in this area of the world.”
Shawna and Daren believe it’s vital to prepare the African church to be the future of Christianity.
“If it’s where more professing Christians are, what kind of Gospel are they going to take when they go as missionaries?” Daren said. “Even with the epicenter of Christianity being in sub-Saharan Africa, there are more than 400 people groups who have zero access, zero churches, no Gospel presence at all. What we would call a ‘UUPG’ – unreached, unengaged people group. They have distinct languages and distinct cultures and do not have a witness.”
Working in the mission field can be a challenging task. Shawna knows how important it is to stay connected to Jesus.
“I love teaching about prayer and abiding, not because I have it figured out—far from it,” she said. “I know I would not be serving on the mission field if not for God’s steadfastness and faithfulness.”
When the Davises lived in rural Zambia, the greatest challenge to people accepting the Gospel was fear of evil spirits. But where they live now, the greatest hindrance is the false doctrine of a works-based salvation.
“People think they are saved because they went to church once,” Shawna said, “because they have given a financial gift to an apostle’s ministry, or because they are ‘doing the right things.’ Instead of fearing evil spirits, they fear not being good enough.”
Recently, Shawna was able to present the Gospel to a refugee camp. Thirteen women from a Muslim background made the decision to follow Jesus Christ. She attributes Gospel fruit to prayer.
“Several years ago, we identified that there were 55 people groups that had a population of more than 100,000,” Shawna said, speaking of the ’55 in 5’ initiative to pray for unengaged people groups. Today, the Project 3000 Initiative is underway, which calls to mind the 3,000 unreached, unengaged people groups across the globe.
“I know that a lot of Oklahoma Baptist churches have been praying for the ‘55 in 5,’” Shawna added. She hopes others will look into the Project 3000 and join the prayer efforts.
The Davises recently appeared on the program of the 2023 Oklahoma Baptists Annual Meeting at Del City, First Southern. They asked Oklahoma Baptists to pray that God would call more missionaries to Sub-Saharan Africa, to evangelize the lost among unreached, unengaged people groups and to disciple believers. Pray the Holy Spirit would refresh the hearts of missionaries and African believers and work in the hearts of the lost. They also are praying that some Oklahomans would be willing to go and help with this work.
Because of the generous giving of Oklahoma Baptists through the Cooperative Program, as well as through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, the IMB has personnel and teams engaging more than 950 unique people groups or places, representing more than half of the world’s total population.
The Davises have hearts for the Gospel and hearts for Africa. By God’s grace, Sub-Saharan Africa will be a Gospel outpost for the world and will see thousands more come to a saving faith in Jesus because of the continued work of the IMB and Oklahoma Baptists.
Most photos were provided by IMB staff