Of the Nations, For the Nations
Up a gravel driveway on a shady, secluded street in Springfield, Missouri, sits a small white church. It is Emanuelu Assembly of God — sometimes called the “Islander Church” of Springfield.
Launched in 2014, the congregation averages 75 worshippers, and boasts faces from multiple nations. “We are a church for those who have traveled from all nations, planted on the rock of Jesus Christ, and deeply rooted in the powerful Spirit of God,” Pastor Steve Anoa’i says. “Our desire is to be an extension of God’s hand to the Springfield area and beyond.”
Emanuelu’s earliest services were held in the chapel of Maranatha Village, an Assemblies of God retirement community, and then in the fine arts building of the former Central Bible College campus. They then moved to a small church building located in an area dominated by poverty, crime and drug abuse, where neighbors were leery of the church. During one Wednesday evening service, a neighbor high on drugs began hurling rocks at the little building, and police had to be called. Having outgrown the third location, Emanuelu moved to their current building, in another underprivileged neighborhood.
Since its inception, Emanuelu has been missional. They host community outreaches and cook meals for neighbors. Its unique Island Rhythm ministry uses traditional island dancing to proclaim, “not our (Samoan) culture, but Jesus’ culture” around the Springfield area, including in partnership with the area’s iconic Pineapple Whip frozen treat stands.
Pastor Steve and his wife, Lupe, explain, “We are dedicated to reaching our community with who we are. Historically, our culture did not have much of a written language, so the oral tradition became vital for its preservation. Another key tool was dancing. The rhythmic movements and actions represent stories of our past. Our culture’s origin was heathen and very much polytheistic, but in the 1800s, it was impacted by Christianity.”
Their appreciation for those who brought Christ to the islands centuries ago was fueled by strong mentors, and time shared with retired pastors and missionary heroes living at Maranatha Village. Steve served as Maranatha’s assistant chaplain and head of security before pioneering Emanuelu, and Lupe serves as a certified medication technician and certified nursing assistant.
To the Anoa’is, promoting and supporting missions is an integral part of leading their congregation. They believe missions starts where the church is located (placing extra emphasis on careful, honorable conduct within the local community), and that missions should be part of every ministry the church does, including Sunday School, youth, and children’s ministries. In 2018, they are taking that emphasis to the next level.
Emanuelu’s first official missions emphasis service found the small sanctuary festooned with colorful AGWM banners. Plans are in place to add to the four missionary teams the congregation already supports. Also, a goal was set to raise $5,000 for Project Rescue, AGWM’s ministry to rescue and restore victims of sex trafficking and slaving. After a gripping presentation by Project Rescue representative Maile Cockett, the goal was exceeded — a total of $5,200 in pledges rolled in.
Like many missions advocates, Pastor Steve and Lupe realize that support of missions need not be limited to finances. It can also be very practical. When veteran missionaries to Equatorial Guinea Carrol and Gayle Deal visited Emanuelu, they were blessed with more than 30 folding chairs, prized and urgently needed items for a Bible school in Malabo. Emanuelu had inherited the chairs upon moving to their current location, and recognized the resource could be better used in Africa.
Pastor Steve serves on the faculty of Berean School of the Bible at Global University in addition to pastoring Emanuelu and sees the impact of the university’s materials distributed around the world. He frequently reminds his congregation that, though giving to missions may be painful for a time, it is a sacred responsibility worth the sacrifice. And no sacrifice is too small to be noticed or used by God.
“For small churches seeking to become involved in missions, there are four important keys,” Pastor Steve says. “First is total dependence on the Holy Spirit. Without Him it is merely human effort and will most likely fail. Second is the need for everyone in the group to buy in to the vision and urgency of missions. The church must agree. Third, the cost must be counted. Careful plans must be made so that a project is not begun and then left unfinished. Fourth, though counting the cost is vital, we cannot get so overwhelmed by the enormity of the need that our progress is impeded. Plans must be made, and then we must leave the planning stage behind and engage.”
He concludes, “The Holy Spirit continues to prompt my heart for missions daily. It’s His heart. And as long as I have the opportunity to influence that in ministry, I will obey.”