The Child Evangelism Fellowship of Illinois, Inc., Northwest Illinois Chapter is very rich in CEF history. The parents of CEF’s founder, Rev. Jesse Irving Overholtzer, were living in Carroll County in 1864. In 1937, Jesse Overholtzer prayed, “Lord, I need big men to help me…reach the children.” The Lord answered his prayer, and through the assistance and support of several pastors, established the ministry of Child Evangelism Fellowship in Chicago.
The Northwest Illinois chapter was formed through the efforts of Mrs. Phillip Armour of the Armour meat packing company, Dr. Clara Hanstrom, Pastor Elmer Johnson, and a group of 30 men and women. Throughout 1939 and 1940, Christians concerned for the spiritual well-being of children met for prayer and training.
A Bible class for children, called a Good News Club, began in Rockford in the winter of 1941, in the same week as the bombing of Pearl Harbor. CEF has existed in this area ever since, due to the continued evangelical efforts of concerned churches and Christians.
Through the next few years, more Good News Clubs sprang up in homes, community centers, and local churches. By 1945, the volunteer Good News Club teachers were holding clubs in public schools. Soon, backyard Bible clubs began forming throughout the summer. These clubs were hosted and taught by young mothers, many of whom travelled out of state to receive training.
By the early 1950’s, the chapter was simply known as ‘Northern Illinois’, with different cities such as Lanark, Dixon, Woodstock, Savanna, Freeport and Belvidere each having their own ‘City Director.’ The 1960’s brought the ‘Chapel on Wheels’, a little trailer which could be used at fairs, parking lots, and city parks for children to enjoy Bible lessons and hear the Gospel. The summer backyard Bible clubs became called 5-Day Clubs®, and were increasingly being taught by teenagers. The chapter was soon being called ‘Greater Rockford’.
1977, The chapter included the following 10 counties: Bureau, Carroll, DeKalb, JoDavies, LaSalle, Lee, McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson, and Whiteside. Through the efforts of churches, neighborhood outreaches abounded, and children received the message of salvation. CEF Staff conducted training classes, workshops, and informational meetings. At this time, the Greater Rockford Area Sunday School Association (GRASSA) was very popular, and CEF workers often gave workshops on Leading a Child to Christ at these events.
Throughout the 80’s the ministry continued to abound under the direction of Mrs. Bea Otdoerfer. 5-Day Clubs were running strong through this decade, and impacted the lives of not only the children, but also the teenagers teaching the clubs. Many of these teachers are still reminded of those years, and now use their abilities and knowledge to teach their own children about the Lord.
In the late 80’s a young woman with three children began to host 5-Day Clubs at her home. By 1993, she was serving on the local committee, not knowing the Lord would eventually lead her to become Director. Glenda Dukey took up the Directorship of the Northwest Illinois Chapter in 1995, with Kathy Erb as secretary.
Today, Glenda remains faithful to the vision of the local chapter: to build and assist the local church’s outreach to children.
CEF has a local ministry established in nearly every region of the United States.
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