CEF was founded in the USA by Jesse Irvin Overholtzer in 1937. Growing up in a religious family, Jesse at the age of 12 was convicted of his own sin and sought counsel from his mother.
He was told, ‘Son, you are too young.’ It wasn’t until Overholtzer was in college that he heard the Gospel and trusted Christ as his Saviour.
Later as a pastor Mr. Overholtzer read one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons which stated, ‘A child of five, if properly instructed can as truly believe and be regenerated as an adult.’ The Lord used this statement in Mr. O’s life to lead him to begin the ministry of Child Evangelism Fellowship when he was 60 years old. The ministry has grown into the largest evangelistic outreach to children in the world. The International Headquarters of CEF are in Warrenton, U.S.A.
The CEF work in Ireland started in 1950 with the first Good News Club in Bleary, outside Lurgan, Co. Armagh, in the home of Sam & Sadie Doherty. The first CEF open-air meetings in Lurgan and Portadown commenced soon after that and the first weekly training class was started in the Ferndale Hall in Belfast. Sam & Sadie Doherty were National Directors until 1964 when they left Ireland to become the European Directors of CEF. David & Mollie McQuilken took their place and were National Directors of Irish CEF until 1994. The Lord really blessed and during their time of leadership the work in Ireland experienced great growth.