Trailblazing the Online Church
Civil Air Patrol Capt. Leia Eisenhower says her father’s church planting efforts led to her own innovative spiritual path: an online Instagram discipleship ministry reaching over 100,000 people with the gospel.
Eisenhower, 47, grew up in Bahia, Brazil. Her father, Eugenio Felix, launched more than 30 churches and also served as an Assemblies of God presbyter in South America’s largest nation. He died in 2020 at the age of 95.
“My father taught me that I couldn’t just read the Bible, I needed to explain it,” she says. Eisenhower says God answered her father’s prayers for her through a vision by calling her to ministry at the age of 14. She went on to attend Assemblies of God Brazilian Theological Seminary and served as a Brazilian missionary before coming to the United States in 2002.
Eisenhower completed a doctorate in counseling at Interamerican University in 2011 and is currently working on a degree in professional development at Stony Brook University.
She joined the Civil Air Patrol as a lieutenant in 2010. After transferring her ordination from Brazil to the U.S. AG, Eisenhower became a U.S. Missions chaplain. Now a captain, she is based in Bay Shore, New York, and oversees nine squadrons and over 2,400 people.
When the novel coronavirus hit in March 2020, the Civil Air Patrol announced that all facilities would shut down. Eisenhower began planning how to take her training online.
Eisenhower wrote a book in 2019 called My Neighbors: The Theology of Relationships. The book, available in Spanish, Bemba, and English, uses the parable of the Good Samaritan to discuss relationships.
After the pandemic lockdown, Eisenhower looked for the best way to teach classes based on her book. She chose Instagram’s platform for its worldwide reach and accessibility of communication through direct messages.
“I started to record a class with the Bible as my foundation, and the discipleship part began growing so fast I had to assign people to do things,” she says. “I began recording the class in different languages and having it translated. Every night I would get on Instagram and do a midnight prayer live.”
Within a year, she says over 100,000 people followed her discipleship messages and more than 100 have accepted Christ as Savior.
Nigel Harris, 47, met Eisenhower before her online Instagram ministry began. She had been Harris’s client at the bank where he worked as a customer service representative. Harris says he began following Eisenhower’s online ministry and found it a stabilizing force during the pandemic.
“It’s helped keep my own faith going,” Harris says. “I have a bad habit of watching too much depressing news. But now, I just read this good stuff instead of all the negative stuff I am constantly bombarded with, especially online. Leia is always optimistic, and she’s helped me become a little more optimistic as well.”
Eisenhower says the process of discipleship through her ministry comes first through direct messages on Instagram and then through a Saturday morning class on emotional intelligence and counseling. Eisenhower then invites class participants to her Telegram group, where they receive a link to a YouTube course on discipleship.
As the Instagram community grows, Eisenhower hopes to make the structure of the online church official, with prayer teams and partners.
“I'm trying to get us fully recognized to be a church, to have the members, to have people investing,” Eisenhower says. “And people will have more connection having it in their palm of their hands.”
Eisenhower says she will delegate people to be on duty to take calls for people who need prayer around the world. Currently, those requesting prayer can call and be redirected to 18 countries through Instagram, WhatsApp, and Telegram for prayer and discipleship.
“I want to have people receive counseling and a word of encouragement,” Eisenhower says.