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“We have to go tell them, no matter what”

By Barbara Denman

August 28, 2012

As a camp staffer at Camp WorldLight, Florida Baptists’ GA/Acteens camp, Stefani Varner thought she would have positive influence on the young girls she met there.  Instead, a nine-year-old helped set Varner on an unimaginable journey of serving God in South Asia.


Teaching the campers in 2008 about North and South Korea and the many people there who need to hear the gospel, in spite of the cultural and political obstacles, Varner asked the girls, “How will the people of North Korea ever know about Jesus?”


A small voice answered with a sweet innocence, “We have to go tell them, no matter what.”


Those few words from the little girl provided the impetus that Varner needed.


“Camp gave me a heart for missions, for the peoples of the world, for the nations,” said Varner.


While earning her undergraduate degree at Florida State University, Varner, involved in Baptist Campus Ministries there, served as a summer missionary working with International students for three summers.


Through those experiences, she said, “I learned to defend my faith and to be confident in what I believe and to be ready to share at any moment.


“I also learned what a lifestyle of ministry looked like. It’s not a side job; it’s life.”


After earning her masters degree at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, Varner began a three-year stint with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board as a Journeyman, serving in south Asia for two of those three years.


Working in the slums, where she taught simple health lessons, Varner, whose name is not released for security concerns in that part of the world, built relationships and “did life” with the world’s poorest of the poor—all in order to share the riches of the gospel.   


Anne Wilson, Camp WorldLight director, said “Stefani has a tenacious love for her Savior! She will go way out of the typical person’s comfort zone to share Christ. She has spent time in pretty rough slums in other countries to build relationships for a chance to share Christ,”


Because South Asia is an “oral culture,” Varner became a storyteller of gospel stories. For example, visiting with a gravely ill woman, Varner told the gospel story of the bleeding woman healed by Jesus. The ill woman came to a faith in Jesus Christ.


Varner also developed her skills in the ancient art of henna to draw pictures of gospel stories on the hands and arms of girls she met. The girls can reflect on the truth of the gospel message until the henna fades.


Ministering and sharing the gospel among the peoples of South Asia is a “process,” said Varner, as these individuals have to turn “from” something to follow Christ. Many wrestle with the cost of discipleship before making a commitment, she explained.


“It took a lot of patience,” she recalled.


“I learned it’s not about me; I had no control over their coming to Christ. I had to be obedient.”


Today, back in the United States, Varner is able to keep in touch with some of her friends in South Asia via email and Facebook. She continues to serve with the International Mission Board, spending a year telling others about her experience, encouraging them to be obedient in responding to international mission opportunities.


When she completes her final year as a Journeyman, Varner is open to the Lord’s leading.


“Being obedient to God is always an adventure,” she said.


For Varner it was an adventure that began in 2008 at Camp WorldLight and one that will continue for years to come.


Many other girls and young women, including 52 last year, have answered a personal call to missions through Florida Baptists’ camp experience, according to Wilson.


For more than 60 years, Camp WorldLight has existed as a camp “designed to share God’s love with girls who don’t know Him personally and to teach them about the 1.68 billion people in the world who have never heard of that love,” she explained.


Florida Baptists’ Maguire State Mission Offering provides $40,000 in financial resources for Camp WorldLight that prepares the next generation of missionaries, ministers and mission-minded church leaders. The offering also provided Varner with assistance as she served as a summer missionary. The girls camp is one of six summer camping programs partially supported by the state mission offering


“We couldn’t have camp without the Maguire State Mission Offering,” said Wilson.


The resources are used to house, feed and pay the staff, and also pay for the week of training that is required as an accredited camp in the American Camp Association, she explained. 


“I have definitely benefitted from the Maguire State Mission Offering. My time at Camp WorldLight definitely helped prepare me for my time in South Asia!” said Varner.

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