June 25, 1926 – October 15, 2012
Mildred (Millie) Davenport, former missionary, passed away October 15. Services were held Fri., Oct. 19, at the Spring Arbor, MI, Free Methodist Church. Millie and her husband of 65 years, Bruce, served in South Africa as career missionaries from 1982 to 1986.
Mildred Louise, born to David and Margaret Avis, was a third generation Free Methodist. At 8 years of age, she was converted at a revival meeting.
Millie met Bruce Davenport at Spring Arbor Junior College. They began dating their sophomore year and were married in August 1947 after their graduation with associate’s degrees. Bruce then pastored two churches in the Southern Michigan Conference before resuming his education. In 1954, Bruce graduated from Seattle Pacific University and, in 1957, the University of Washington School of Medicine. Millie and Bruce moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he served a one year internship at Harper Hospital.
In 1958, they, along with their four children, hoped to begin a life-long dream of serving as missionaries. However, before that dream could be fulfilled, Millie developed an undiagnosed illness. Shortly after they chose to remain in Michigan and Bruce began practicing medicine in Spring Arbor, Millie’s medical problem was diagnosed and treated. The Davenports, however, accepted Spring Arbor as God’s “missionary” appointment for them.
Millie and her husband both found ways to serve through missions while in the U.S. Millie was active in the Women’s Missionary Fellowship International, serving as local president and conference vice-president. They also served short-term VISA assignments to South Africa’s Greenville Mission Hospital in 1967-68 and again in 1980.
After 24 years of private medical practice and local ministry in Spring Arbor, they felt God showing them He could now use their ministries at Greenville Hospital and with the church in South Africa. Millie and Bruce were both over 50 years of age at the time. Millie admitted to not being as initially enthused about this assignment as Bruce. She wrote, “I asked the Lord to give me an excitement about going, and He has!”
Millie started a unique ministry among women in the hospital. She held sewing classes for expectant mothers who came to the hospital several weeks before delivery because they lived a distance away. Each class included a Bible lesson. A number of women accepted Christ during these sessions.
One mother, speaking for the group, said, “All people now know that if they go to Greenville to have their baby, they will get more than a baby. They will have a chance to learn to sew, receive a baby gown, and the gospel.”
Millie later expanded her ministry to three area churches. As invitations came from outlying churches, Millie trained and encouraged other women to conduct those classes. By January 1986, this ministry to women enthusiastic about quilt making and studying God’s Word together was taking place in 14 churches.
After four years in South Africa, the Davenports sensed God had something else for them. They returned to the U.S. in November 1986 where Bruce resumed medical practice. Bruce and Millie began to work with the more than 6,000 international students at Michigan State University, which they described as an “overwhelming mission field.”
Millie’s Colleagues Write
Former colleagues Henry and Bonnie Church write, “When we visited the Davenports at Greenville, Millie set a beautiful table with fine china and silver, and we felt like we were royalty. She always had time for our kids, too. She was a sort of grandma to them. They had projects, and she always joined in … like the time she gave them pompoms, lace, needle and thread to ‘fix’ Bishop Foster’s underwear. Oh, the times we had! She was delightful, and we will miss her at the annual CAHO meetings.”
Martha Kirkpatrick remembers Bruce and Millie fondly, meeting them in 1962 when they were appointed to pastor in Pulaski, Michigan, for two years before the Kirkpatricks left for Africa. Martha writes, “They were kind advisors about caring for our children in Africa, as well as here in the U.S. Millie had a special gift of making anyone she visited with feel loved. I always admired her grace in receiving people, as well as her ability to make a home beautiful. Most of all, her dedication in helping her husband and her love for her Lord were outstanding.”
Bishop David Roller also speaks of Millie’s hospitality, “As a boy growing up in Spring Arbor, and a friend of Millie’s children, she had a house that was always open to us. Millie was a gracious woman with tenacity to see projects through to completion, and we always identified her as a missions enthusiast.”
“Millie Davenport used her many talents as a household engineer to help shape and empower people,” writes colleague Linda Kaufmann. “She enjoyed entertaining people in her home. She used her many skills to empower women in South Africa. In some sewing classes, she started with the very basics of how to use scissors. The dresses and quilts the women made were sold at the annual Women’s Retreat. Millie was also interested in developing individuals. I remember the first time she announced that the baked goods served at tea were made by her slightly embarrassed housekeeper. As time went on, we saw this teen blossom into a self-assured woman who could confidently handle meals and house-cleaning. At the Evangelical Bible Seminary in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Millie endowed the Avis Scholarship, in memory of her parents, to help Free Methodist students get college level theological training. Some people may have glanced at Millie from a far and thought they saw just a housewife. She was an artisan, astute domestic engineer, teacher, seamstress, one who empowered the poorest of the poor, mother to many more than those who bore her likeness, philanthropist, and a loving servant of Christ who whole-heartedly used her gifts to glorify God.”