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God's Provision: Swahili Ministry Finds Surprising Success Following "Failure"

Retired AG missionary Jerry Spain's initial effort to start a ministry to Swahili-speaking residents seemed to fail, but God was preparing for the future.
What happens when you feel that God is directing you to do something and then your effort seemingly ends in total failure?

Jerry Spain, a recently retired AG missionary who served in Tanzania, East Africa, for nearly 60 years, felt like the Lord wanted him to start a small group at Central Assembly in Springfield, Missouri, for people who speak Swahili. Spain, who is fluent in Swahili as it’s the national language of Tanzania, received the blessing of the church and began the group a few years ago.

The small group struggled as typical attendance could be counted on one hand.

“Then the most faithful couple got jobs in Kansas City and moved away. That’s when I decided to end the group,” Spain says, with disappointment still evident in his voice.

However, at that point in time, Spain was still traveling to East Africa regularly to minister — fulfilling what he believes is a lifelong calling. But then this year, Spain gave that up as well due to health issues in his family.

And in the midst of what Spain calls the biggest challenge in his life, God did something totally unexpected — He brought East Africa to Springfield!


Comprehending the orchestration behind God’s working in the world is simply beyond imagination. In this instance, it began in the Congo decades ago, where John Issa’s (pronounced E-suh) father, a Muslim, was converted.

“There’s even a story behind that,” Spain says. “It started with Aggie Hurst (wife of D.V. Hurst, former president of Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington). Her father and mother were Swedish missionaries who went to N’Delora, Congo, in Africa, when there were no national Christians there. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to Aggie in the Congo. At that time, they had only one convert — a young boy. Aggie’s father left, feeling like he had failed and was angry with God for his wife’s death. It was only decades later they discovered that boy grew up, became a pastor, started a church, and Christianity took root in that region.”

John Issa’s father and Issa himself call that very area of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) home!

“The missionaries from Sweden came to my village, Uvira!” Issa says. And although Issa’s home church is not AG, it is a dynamic, charismatic, Spirit-filled church that looks little like its U.S.-based counterparts and much more like a Pentecostal church.

Issa explains that the civil war in the DRC, which has claimed millions of lives and displaced millions more, has led many Congolese to seek safety in refugee camps in neighboring countries, such as Tanzania. However, the conditions in many of these refugee camps-turned-cities are appalling at best, with many refugees languishing in these makeshift cities for years.

Issa, instead chose to seek refuge in South Africa – a two-week, 1,500-mile trek by ship and by truck.

“People often don’t realize the size and distances of Africa,” Spain says. “It’s not like traveling in Western Europe or even the United States. In fact, you could fit all of the continental U.S., China, India, Eastern Europe, the U.K., France, Spain, and several other countries inside of Africa.”

Issa originally made his home in Cape Town (on the tip of South Africa), but then, as apartheid is far from dead in that region with racism rampant, he relocated to Durban, South Africa, a roughly 1,000-mile drive to the northeast coastline.


As Issa is fluent in five languages and was a licensed electrical engineer, he didn’t struggle as much financially as other non-South African blacks did in finding employment, but God had a purpose for Issa moving to Durban.

While getting his hair cut at a local barbershop, he confided in the barber, Peter, that he was looking for a Swahili-speaking church to attend. Although not his tribal language, Issa felt at home speaking Swahili.

“Peter, who I never met before, became excited and said, ‘Let me take you to my church – I’ll take you to my church on Sunday!’” Issa recalls.

On Sunday, to Issa’s surprise, Peter showed up to take him to church wearing a clerical collar — he was the pastor of the church!

Issa admits that at first he was actually frightened away from the church when a woman spoke a word of knowledge, which explained to the congregation that John (she didn’t know that was Issa’s name) had been sent to the church by the Holy Spirit. But Peter found him a month later and explained what actually took place was very good and nothing to be afraid of. A friendship was started and it wasn’t long before Issa found himself comfortably serving within the church.

And not long after that, Judith, a young woman attending the church — now Issa’s wife — caught his attention.


Having lived in South Africa for 17 years, and now married with two children, Issa says that he forgot that seven or eight years earlier, having heard that the United States provided opportunities he would never experience in South Africa, he applied for asylum. In 2023, the phone call came.

“It had been so long ago that I applied, that when I first got the phone call, I didn’t believe the man,” Issa says. “But he told me to go to this place where I would be interviewed to see if I qualified.”

His country, still being torn by the violence surrounding the civil war, found Issa quickly approved.

“They had me bring my family in and they took pictures of us, then they handed me this piece of paper,” Issa says. “They told me to just show it at the airport and the people there would know what to do.”

What’s remarkable about this entire process — and possibly unsettling — is that all Issa and his family knew was that they were legally immigrating to the United States. They didn’t know where in the United States they were being taken. They didn’t know about housing, employment, or even food.

“When we arrived at the airport in April (2023), I showed the worker the paper and we were taken through a door typically reserved for diplomats,” Issa says. “Then we boarded the plane. We flew to Amsterdam and from Amsterdam to Chicago and then to Springfield, Missouri.”

In Springfield, the Issa family was met by local immigration and assistance officials. They were provided with housing and a stipend for food and utilities, but told that within six months, they would need to be paying for the rent and supporting themselves. With John’s language skills, within six weeks he had a job.

“What’s really incredible,” Spain says, “is that this spring he went to the local technical school, and due to his training as an electrician in Africa, he was recently certified as an electrical engineer.”


When Issa first arrived in Springfield, he was not pleased. The city of fewer than 200,000 people was much smaller than what he had become accustomed to in Cape Town — nearly 5 million — and Durban — nearly 4 million.

Pushing the city’s size aside, he quickly made connections with other immigrants from the DRC in Springfield. He wanted to know where they went to church – they didn’t. Why? The language barrier. At that moment he knew God was wanting him to do something about that.

As he searched for a home church, Issa says every place he tried he just didn’t feel that was where God wanted him to go . . . until in August, he tried Central Assembly.

“Before I even entered the church, I knew this is where God wanted me to be,” Issa says. “But there were so many white faces,” he adds with a laugh.

However, during the service, Jim Bradford, lead pastor of Central, introduced a missionary couple preparing to depart for Tanzania. He invited people to come forward and pray over them as he led in prayer.

“I felt like God was telling me to go up there and pray, but Judith was asking me what I was doing — we were visitors, it wasn’t my place to pray,” Issa says. “But suddenly I found myself standing up and going forward to pray for the missionaries.”

Although God didn’t “need” Issa’s prayers, what He did ask for was his obedience — as there was a purpose behind Issa going forward.

“I was an usher that day, and when pastor Jim asked people to come pray for the missionaries, it took me a little longer to get down to the group,” Spain says. “And then, for some reason, as these missionaries were going to Tanzania, I just felt the Lord leading me to pray in Swahili.”

“I was standing there, praying, and suddenly I hear someone behind me praying in Swahili,” Issa says, surprise still in his voice. “I turned around to see and there were all these white faces, but I knew I had heard someone.”

The question of who it could have been lingered in Issa’s mind throughout the rest of the service, with no resolution. At the end of the service, he and Judith made their way up one of the aisles, when suddenly the usher at the door spoke to him in Swahili.

“I took a chance,” Spain admits. “I felt that this brother might be from East Africa, so I greeted him in Swahili.”

Surprised, but excited, Issa quickly confirmed that Spain was the one praying earlier in Swahili. And as the two spoke, the beginnings of a friendship was birthed.


As Spain and Issa continued to interact over the next few months, Spain learned that Issa had become a minister under the discipleship of his pastor in Durban. Spain, now retired as a missionary, but still an ordained AG minister, sensed God was up to something.

Issa had connections to the Swahili-speaking community in the Springfield area, but no place to meet; Spain had connections with Central for a Swahili ministry (due to his “failed” small group), but no connections to Springfield’s Swahili-speaking community.

“And what Jerry (Spain) didn’t know at the time,” says Anthony Matrone, connections pastor at Central, “was that we were looking for a new outreach to get involved in.”

So, with Issa feeling like God was calling him to minister to Springfield’s Swahili-speaking community and Spain sensing God’s blessing, the men approached the Central Assembly staff, including Bradford and Matrone, to ask permission to begin a Swahili ministry.

“We decided to treat this as any other small group starting at Central,” Matrone says. “We expected the group to start out small and then grow.”

In February, the Swahili small group ministry began on a Sunday afternoon on Central’s campus.

“We had more than 50 people show up for that first ministry service,” Spain says. “On Easter, 17 people came forward to accept Christ. And then, a couple of weeks ago, when John and Judith dedicated their third child to the Lord during Sunday morning service at Central, that afternoon we had more than 90 in attendance!”

And as Spain notes, there are hundreds of healthy AG churches with fewer than 50 — and certainly fewer than 90 — in attendance.

"After several years of trying to build bridges to the Congolese refugee community, the Lord has sovereignly birthed a ministry at Central Assembly that now involves close to 100 Swahili-speaking people,” Bradford states. “We sense the hand of God on this ministry with many being saved and set free.”

And the possibilities for this ministry are already evident and moving forward.

Issa recently met with Southern Missouri Ministry Network officials, and it’s been determined he only needs to take two courses (which he is already pursuing) to transfer his credentials and become an official AG minister.

Central, in the meantime, thrilled with the immediate success of the Swahili ministry, is looking forward to seeing God continuing to expand the ministry's reach and impact even more lives.

As for Spain, tears come to his eyes when he talks about the new ministry.

“John and Judith are special gifts to Central Assembly and to me,” Spain says. “Here I was thinking I may never be able to preach to my Swahili-speaking brothers and sisters in East Africa again, and now I’m preaching to them in Swahili right here in Springfield on almost a weekly basis — God is so good!


It was decades ago that John Issa’s father decided to follow Christ. In Africa, it’s culturally acceptable for people to change their names at their discretion, and it’s more than understandable if a name change comes following a significant event, such as converting from Islam to Christianity.

“John’s father decided to keep his Arabic name,” Spain says. “His name (Issa) in Arabic means Jesus.”

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.