Land of Multiethnic Opportunity
Six years ago, Stephen and Gloria Okeke visited the United States at the urging of a white missionary friend they knew in their native Nigeria.
They didn’t plan on leaving the well-established, growing Pentecostal church Okeke pastored in Nigeria. But as the plane landed on U.S. soil, Okeke says he sensed the Lord telling him to stay permanently.
At the missionary’s invitation, Okeke made his way to Kansas. Okeke’s family gained permanent status through the U.S. diversity visa process. He began helping with prayer and discipleship at Topeka First, an Assemblies of God church. Eventually Topeka First Pastor Steven E. Peoples asked Okeke to plant a congregation in the capital city of Kansas, which is 76 percent white, 13 percent Hispanic, and 11 percent black.
Although he is African, Okeke believes he shouldn’t necessarily target people who look like him.
“If we wanted to plant a black church, we would have stayed in Nigeria,” says Okeke, 46. “We want to reflect the population of the community.”
The Okekes have been married 14 years. Although Stephen has been in ministry for 28 years, he has an electrical engineering degree. Gloria, who met Stephen while attending university in Nigeria, is a nurse. The Okekes, who became U.S. citizens in June, believe the Church can heal the racial divide in America.
“Jesus died for every one of us; we must learn to worship together,” Okeke says. “It is not difficult for people to worship together if we focus on Jesus as Lord.”
The Okekes attended a Church Multiplication Network training and launch event in June in Springfield, Missouri. The blending of races among the 73 attendees encouraged Okeke, who brought an intentionally racially mixed team of 14 with him to the three-day conference. Okeke is pioneering Topeka Revival Assembly in September. The church has been drawing around 30 people, a majority of whom are ethnic minorities, in a prelaunch phase.
“How can we plant churches to reach different people who have different networks?” asks Peoples, 49. “Stephen and Gloria are praying people who are going to trust God to help them. They’ve built an impressive team.”
For most of those support launch team members, the CMN gathering denoted the first time they ever attended a Christian conference. Okeke says during an intense year of soul-winning he recruited people via social media, at malls, and in restaurants. The majority have been attending church less than a year.
“We did a lot of praying,” Okeke says. “Wherever you are from, we have a place for you.”