After an hour-long walk on a dirt road that bore no resemblance to the paved sidewalks of Williams Baptist College, Kendall Davenport glimpsed the English Center of Fort-Dauphin, Madagascar. A junior psychology major, Kendall was spending her fall semester as a missionary through Hands On, an International Mission Board (IMB) missions experience for college students and young adults.
Kendall worked as an instructor at the English Center with nearly 100 Madagascar school children. Curious, the children would often ask Kendall and her Hands On partner, Leah, “Why are you here?” The girls always answered, “Jesus has changed our lives, and we want to share Him with you to change your lives.”
On Fridays, they would have Bible study with the children and teach them God’s Word through Bible storying.
“We would tell stories by memory and then have the students read out of the Bible, which was in Malagasy (their language),” Kendall said. They learned the technique from Adam and Susie, who were IMB missionaries to Madagascar.
Hands On sends college students around the world and connects them with IMB missionaries already serving on the field. IMB missionaries are supported by the Cooperative Program, the network of Southern Baptist churches big and small that give a percentage of their tithes and offerings to cooperative missions.
When their students would go home for lunch and a nap, the girls noticed that the other English instructors would eat lunch at a hut where a woman cooked rice and beans.
“The biggest part of our ministry—really being able to disciple—was from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” Kendall said, “When we realized the other teachers were going there for lunch, Leah and I decided to go eat with them. That’s when walls between us came down, and we made close friendships with them.”
Kendall and Leah’s choice to eat with the teachers and Madagascar natives proved to be the reassurance the people needed before inviting the girls into their homes to hear more about the Lord.
“The friendships made a huge difference in being able to disciple them,” she said. “We went to their houses, met their families, made dinner for them, and just spent time with them truly loving them. Through that we saw six people saved! The Lord did amazing things.”
While the Lord blessed their efforts, Kendall and Leah still faced discouragement. Peace Corp volunteers were very involved in the English Center, and the volunteers had also befriended many of the Madagascar natives. “We were worried how the natives would know our lives were different,” Kendall said.
One day the girls were going to ask Codder, a Madagascar friend, to lunch. Kendall said it appeared “he had a rough night,” and Codder asked the girls why they never partied with him and the other volunteers. Their answer was simple: they wanted to honor God with their lives.
“That was a really big step in our friendship,” Kendall said. “After that he said he could tell a big difference between us and the other volunteers—that we had a joy the others didn’t have. It opened doors to share the Gospel with him.”
Opportunities and Open Doors
Just a few years earlier, Kendall had been walking the streets of Dallas, Texas, with her church youth group and sharing the Gospel with the homeless. “I saw what it meant to be a Christian and serve like Jesus served, to be His hands and feet,” Kendall said.
“That’s where I really felt called to ministry,” she added.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, and I didn’t know what I could do in ministry as a woman.”
Though uncertain, Kendall continued to look for ministry opportunities. In high school, she went on trips to Uganda and Kenya with her church, Nettleton Baptist Church in Jonesboro, and upon graduating she chose to attend Williams Baptist College, an Arkansas Baptist institution that receives Cooperative Program funds from participating churches.
While serving as a summer youth intern for Wynne Baptist Church, Kendall found herself on another missions trip—this time to Zambia—and her interest in missions continued to grow. “I loved going out of the country, but more than that I loved seeing the youth I had invested in serving that way. God grew me through that.”
Kendall began to pray about spending a semester overseas when she returned to Williams that fall. Hayes Howell, Williams’ Campus Minister, said it was during this time that God began to prepare Kendall for Hands On.
“Kendall’s predecessor and friend, McKenzie, had actually been on the mission field in India with Hands On,” Hayes said. “She then poured into and multiplied herself into Kendall.”
Now a senior and the Assistant Director of Campus Ministries at Williams, Kendall is discipling other students and praying through her next step, maybe seminary or the IMB’s Journeyman program.
“When you give to your church, and then your church gives to the Cooperative Program,” Hayes explained, “you are partnering with places like Williams Baptist College to allow students like Kendall to actually take their faith and live it out and be mobilized to go on the mission field.”