Our Beginning with UWM
United World Mission is celebrating its 75th Anniversary! Throughout 2021, we’re sharing stories of the early days of UWM’s ministries and the people who pioneered new works in church planting, training leaders, and sharing the love of Christ through compassion ministry. We remember their legacy with gratitude and thanks to God!
When we were accepted by the Board of United World Mission in June 1970 to be missionaries in Senegal, West Africa, little did we know that it would be more than three years of preparation before we would actually get there.
We spent one year in Missionary Internship in Farmington, MI, learning how to work in a church and be under the pastor’s authority doing whatever needed to be done. The next year was spent raising our support. At that time furloughing missionaries as well as new appointees would travel together as a team to present UWM and our various ministries to churches who had previously scheduled their Mission Conference. The conferences would normally last up to a week in each church. Each of the missionaries would share their testimony of how the Lord was leading them, and then present their field of service using a slide presentation. Half of the team would leave the first church mid-week and travel to the second church to open the next conference in that church. This whole process was called “The Crusades.” The team would travel for about three months visiting approximately 10-15 churches before returning home. Missionaries were hosted in the homes of the congregants, who volunteered.
Since our children were small, I (Cheryl) stayed home while Gene traveled with the team. He always came home about five pounds heavier with stories about all the delicious desserts that he had eaten, and all the wonderful people he had met. I remember one time I was able to meet the team in Canton, OH., for the final Crusade on the circuit. The adult Sunday school classes took turns feeding us every night. Each night was more delicious than the next. It seemed like Thanksgiving dinner all week long! We got to know the people in a much more personal way and made friendships that lasted for many years.
Most of the churches were relatively small churches and became known as “UWM Churches” although they were from various denominations. Every January was the big “UWM Conference” in the headquarters in Florida. Many people from the Crusade churches would schedule their family vacations in Florida in January to coincide with the UWM annual conference. The people got to hear their missionaries’ reports from the fields and enjoy rich fellowship with the missionaries who were on furlough at the time.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Eph. 2:10
This well-known verse from Ephesians encouraged and sustained us during this time. We needed affirmation and confirmation that the Father had prepared a work (ministry) for us. As I (Gene) shared my story with the various churches, this particular verse became more and more encouragement from the Father that He had indeed prepared a “work” for us. I thought how can teaching children (students) be an effective ministry for building the Kingdom of God? Wow! Did He ever enlighten me! Dakar Academy was and still is one of the most effective ministries in a 97% Muslim nation. To this day, I still have on occasion, a former DA student calling from around the globe. Eph. 2:10 truly was the verse that kept me focused, know that the Father had already prepared a ministry for the Toombs family.
After participating in the traveling Crusades for a couple of circuits, we had finally raised enough support to leave the U.S. and proceed to Switzerland to learn French. That lasted almost a year – but then that’s another story to tell!
Gene and Cheryl Toombs served from 1973 to 1996 in Senegal, West Africa. Gene taught at Dakar Academy, while Cheryl served in women’s and children’s evangelism, among many things. Since returning to the US in 1996, they have accompanied short-term teams serving in compassion and evangelism ministries in Senegalese villages. Their sons, Matt and Aaron, and their families are also serving with UWM in Senegal – Matt as a liaison between American churches that have adopted villages through Mission InterSenegal, and Aaron with Beersheba farming ministries. Their daughter, Jodie, is a CNA caring for senior adults in the U.S. in their homes. In their free time, Gene and Cheryl are actively involved in their local church – visiting the ill in hospitals (pre-COVID), serving in Life Groups, and praying for the needs of their church and community.