A Vision for Sending
In his early 30s, John L. Easter had his life’s goals mapped out.
Easter already had a bachelor’s degree from Central Bible College (CBC) and a master’s degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, and he had been accepted into a doctoral program. With nearly a decade of experience in pastoral ministry, Easter was preparing for a career in academia, perhaps as a seminary professor.
However, a conversation with his mentor, Assemblies of God missionary John V. York, altered Easter’s vocational trajectory.
At the Fellowship’s Celebration 2000 gathering of global leaders in Indianapolis, York introduced Easter to Lazarus Chakwera, then superintendent of the Malawi Assemblies of God (and since 2020, president of the African nation). Chakwera invited Easter to move to Malawi.
York, who served for many years in Africa, asked Easter to pray about becoming an AG world missionary. A visionary leader who kept working even as he struggled with leukemia, York implored Easter to start a master of arts program that would equip African ministry leaders planting churches in difficult areas.
Missionary service had never been on Easter’s radar, even though the Texas native felt a call to ministry at age 8 while attending a children’s camp. Yet Easter ended up moving to Africa and staying more than 20 years, contributing significantly to the theological advancement of African ministry leaders.
On Oct. 1, Easter begins his duties as Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) executive director, succeeding the retiring Gregory M. Mundis. Delegates elected Easter to the position this past August during General Council in Columbus, Ohio.
Despite his 180-degree turn to become a missionary, Easter has been a theologian throughout his ministry career. The deep thinker started the intercultural studies master of arts program at All Nations Theological Seminary in Lilongwe, Malawi. For a decade, Easter also served as executive director of the Association for Pentecostal Theological Education in Africa.
Easter worked as executive director of Africa’s Hope, an organization that supports educational initiatives within 46 countries on the continent through 380-plus schools equipping more than 23,000 students annually. In 2021, Easter became director of AGWM’s newly created Partnership Development.
Easter and his wife, Cheryl, have known each other since fifth grade. The high school sweethearts wed soon after graduating.
Obtaining his ministerial credentials through the North Texas District, Easter spent four years serving as youth pastor at First Assembly of God in Nacogdoches. On Friday and Saturday nights, he led evangelistic “Jesus Brigades” outreaches on city streets.
Bivocational during those years, Easter worked shifts as a fiberglass products spooler at the local Johns Manville plant. On the factory floor, he prayed with many troubled employees, several of whom accepted Jesus as Savior.
In 1992, Easter enrolled at CBC in Springfield, Missouri.
“I started learning what was important before I went to Bible school,” Easter says. “So when I went to Bible school, I actually knew what questions to ask.”
After graduating from CBC, Easter served as lead pastor of Jackson First Assembly in Mississippi for five years while working on his master’s degree. The pastoral experience helped prepare Easter for his educational work in Africa.
During Easter’s time in Malawi, he worked with African pastors and church planters, as well as U.S. missionaries. God fulfilled his desire to influence young ministers.
On York’s advice, Easter completed his Ph.D. at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield.
“Our U.S. missionaries learned side by side with these emerging African leaders,” Easter says. “The close relationships in strategic planning for the future changed the dynamics of ministry.”
During Easter’s tenure, there was dramatic growth in congregation numbers and seminary enrollment, both in Malawi and across Africa. The partnership between African churches and AG world missionaries helped expand the number of theological institutions on the continent from 69 to 382.
“It was critical to bring behind this growth a structure to create quality, Spirit-empowered, biblically trained leaders,” Easter says. “Schools took the training to where we did not have churches. People in existing churches moved to a new environment where there had been resistance.”
Leadership development is now the focus of many African educators, with church planting a priority. Once a congregation begins to mature, some members can relocate to places where the gospel has never gained a foothold.
At Africa’s Hope, Easter concentrated on resource development, including designing training curriculum, overseeing translation work in 17 languages, and helping national churches develop a strategic plan for training.
Easter’s Partnership Development role for AGWM has involved staying engaged with the sending base — congregants in AG churches across the U.S. He expects that will remain a focus in his new role.
“We need to increase the missionary sending capacity of the local church,” Easter says. “Missionaries don’t fall out of the sky. They are nurtured within the community of faith. Congregations participate by praying, giving, and releasing their sons and daughters to establish the Church among all peoples everywhere.”
Easter is optimistic the number of AG world missionaries can exceed the current 2,640.
“Local churches are the seedbed where new generations of young people respond to the call of God to be missionaries,” Easter says. “The local church is the lifeblood making it possible. Giving and praying are the backbone of what we do.”
Advancing to new regions with the gospel is another priority for Easter. Even with the growth of Christianity in Africa, for example, there are still 867 unreached people groups in sub-Sahara nations.
Mundis says Easter is well qualified to succeed him. He lauds Easter’s missiologist bent, noting his unifying missionaries and training Bible school leaders in Africa.
“John is a gifted communicator who will bring an increased dimension of creativity to the office,” Mundis says. “He is humble, and a presence of integrity is evident in his personal and public life.”
Supporting and encouraging missionaries on the field will be another significant cause for Easter. He and Cheryl raised three sons (Kevin, John-John, and Mitchell) in Africa and understand the challenges of missionary family life.
“We learned how precious the missionary family is, and we want to ensure that they feel supported, valued and loved,” Easter says. “We want to strengthen their arms, remove hindrances, and release them to focus their time and energy to do the work of ministry.”