By Ashleigh Clark and Avonlea Brown
“Mind if I sit with you folks?” Jeff Davenport asks as he approaches a table full of students in the Willets dormitory lounge.
The group of students looks up at the smiling security officer. Stunned silence follows his question before one student finally nods his head.
“What are you talking about?” Davenport asks again as he sits down in an empty chair.
“Bluegrass music,” a boy in glasses answers. The others still are silent.
“That’s awesome! You know, I actually played in a bluegrass band for a while,” Davenport reports, and the students lean forward.
After a brief conversation, Davenport gets up and leaves the students to their conversation, which is now back in full swing, to complete his rounds.
Sergeant Jeffrey Davenport is known to sit down with a group of students and strike up a conversation when time allows. His friendly disposition proves useful in connecting with the student body of Cedarville University, where he works as a Campus Safety officer.
Davenport’s favorite thing about his job is connecting with the student body and seeing them grow into faithful disciples of Christ. He is also grateful to get to know the faces of the students, staff and faculty on campus.
His ability to make connections has served him well in his four years of service at Cedarville, and in his life in the church.
Davenport pours his time into protecting Cedarville’s campus while keeping his family a priority. He has been married to his wife Rachael for over 20 years and is blessed with three children: Mikayla, age 19, Abigail, age 13, and Jonathan age 11. Mikayla lives with a disability that requires attentive care from Davenport and his wife. Davenport’s family and faith have been his bedrock and continue to be his driving force to live his life well.
In addition to working diligently to keep students on campus safe, Davenport works with Joni and Friends, a ministry for families of disabled children.
Joni Earekson Tada founded Joni and Friends in 1979. Tada has been a quadriplegic since she was 18, and recognized the need for more support for families with disabled children. The ministry began with a radio show that offered insights into the lives of families with disabled children, which grew to a national, and eventually global, level.
Joni and Friends now has ministries all over the world, offering retreats for families affected by disabilities and providing resources that support them. The organization has helped 64,000 members of families affected by disabilities globally.
Davenport first attended a Joni and Friends retreat six years ago, after it was suggested to him by friends who were also families affected by disability. Soon after, he began volunteering with Joni and Friends and he and his family remain partners, advocates, and avid supporters of the ministry.
Joni and Friends’ family retreats were shut down for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and following restrictions but reopened in 2022 for families to return. Davenport saw the reopening of Joni and Friends as the perfect opportunity to get students from Cedarville involved with the ministry.
This year marks the second mission trip that Davenport has led to Joni and Friends. The short-term missionary team will be charged with providing gospel-oriented ministry and care of a camper. As they walk with the family, the group will point them to the grace of God and assist them in any way they can.
Davenport said the best way to learn about the ministry is to join the team and see what goes on in person. He described working in disabilities ministry as life-changing.
“We have the opportunity to be deeply changed and challenged,” Davenport said. “That typically translates into our own lives being changed.”
Learning to care for the disabled is a lesson Davenport believes everyone should seek to understand. Davenport believes communities should come alongside families with a disabled child or adult, and knowing what it takes for a family to care for someone with disabilities is the beginning.
Davenport hopes to teach students of Cedarville how to care for others and give them the opportunity to show God’s grace and love through this experience.
“Disability ministry is a beautiful picture of a gospel truth often overlooked,” Davenport said.
The Bible is not silent on the topic of those in need of care or the disabled. John 9:1-12, Exodus 4:11, Luke 14:12-13 and more talk about God caring for those who could not care for themselves. Davenport hopes the students will draw on the gospel and God’s grace while they work with the families of disabled people.
The short-term mission trip will begin on June 11 and end June 16, participating in one of the many summer retreats for families at Shawnee State Park and conference center in West Portsmouth, Ohio. During that time, the students will come alongside disabled children and their siblings to provide a week of respite from life’s daily stress.
The team will be highly involved with the families they are assigned to, eating meals with them and engaging with them as much as possible. There are Bible classes in the mornings and opportunities for recreation. Additionally, the evenings will include various activities such as ice cream socials, dance parties, or carnival games.
The highlight of the week is a talent show put on by the campers with disabilities Thursday night. Davenport said the show “takes your breath away as these image bearers glorify God through their talents.”
Davenport asks for prayer as his team heads out to serve in June.
Ashleigh Clark is a junior Political Science major. She plays electric bass and lives in New York with her four cats, Vincent, Chubby, Mable and Scout.
Avonlea Brown is a sophomore Journalism major and Campus News editor at Cedars. She lives on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine and enjoys hiking, writing and watching movies.