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After using the phone, evangelist Warren W. Davenport, who planned to start an Assemblies of God church in the community while attending Central Bible College in nearby Springfield, learned Buena’s mother, Lois Swearengin, suffered from heart disease. Davenport prayed with Swearengin, and he and his wife, Dorothy, began bringing meals and ministering to the family.
In 1949, Buena married her high school sweetheart, Elwyn E. Huffman. They farmed near Sparta, and Elwyn taught school. When farming setbacks and school consolidations forced them to consider other options, Davenport offered to teach Elwyn roofing carpentry in his family’s Kansas City, Missouri, business.
The Huffmans’ Kansas City apartment was near Blenheim Assembly of God, now Turning Point Church. Buena asked pastor Milton Beckett about starting a children’s church. He encouraged her to do it, and she did, studying at Kansas City Child Evangelism Fellowship and at CBC by correspondence. She served as children’s pastor for 16 years and held kid’s crusades, going into poor neighborhoods to invite children. Elwyn drove the church bus for outreach.
During a children’s crusade at Swope Park Assembly of God, many of the parents accepted Jesus as Savior, including one woman who supernaturally received the ability to play the piano. Organizers asked Huffman to continue the meetings.
Initially, she wondered what she would do if she ran out of sermons, as she only knew how to preach to children. But, inspired by her grandmother, a Holiness Church of God preacher, Huffman agreed.
In 1965, Huffman began serving as pastor at Jamestown Assembly in a small central Missouri town. At an area meeting with “all the important AG people there,” the Holy Spirit used her to give a message in tongues. She nearly panicked, but to her relief, the interpretation came — through then-General Superintendent Thomas F. Zimmerman. The incident encouraged her to always obey God’s leading.
Elwyn Huffman continued to work as a carpenter and schoolteacher. Buena, ordained in 1967, became pastor of East Side Assembly in Eldon two years later after serving in Jamestown for four years.
But half a century ago, despite the AG’s doctrine of no restrictions of females in ministry, not all rural Missouri congregants felt receptive to a woman in the pulpit. Huffman encountered protesters, some armed with rotten tomatoes and eggs. Classmates taunted her three children, then in elementary and middle school, but she persevered, even after Elwyn died at the age of 55.
Fifty years later, Huffman is respected in the central Missouri town of 4,600.
“She preaches the Word,” says longtime congregant Joyce Sullens, 79. “And people all over town call when they need help.” East Side Assembly, with an average Sunday morning attendance of 75, supports over 20 active missionaries monthly. Huffman, who will be 89 in December, ministers at a nursing home each Sunday before church.
“We don’t have a big band or a gymnasium, but we have the Word,” Huffman says. East Side has a Sunday morning and evening service, plus Wednesday night, for multiple opportunities to study the Bible. Huffman is currently teaching prophecy and the Book of Revelation.
Melissa D. Mentel, children’s ministry director, finds Sunday evening Bible study particularly enjoyable. An interactive format encourages questions, and there are often guests whose home church doesn’t have an evening meeting. Mentel says Huffman remains relatable to kids, many of whom address her as “Grandma.”
“She’s a fireball,” says Mentel, 39, who grew up in the church. “She takes bazillions of phone calls; she’s never too busy to help someone.” Children participate in outreach, including Christmas shoe boxes and an “egg a day” feeding project.
Huffman sees her own children as miracles from the Lord. Born with scoliosis and spina bifida, doctors didn’t expect Huffman to walk, let alone have children. Her son James pastors Christ’s Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas; son John is Oregon’s U.S. Department of Agriculture representative; daughter Joyce Jeffries lives in Buffalo, Missouri, and coordinates the Compassionate Heart Room in Springfield for retired missionaries.
This year East Side honored Huffman for 50 years of ministry at the church.