OUR MISSIONS HISTORY
Whether in the bush of Uganda, the mountains of Timor Leste, the shores of Samoa, or the streets of Japan, there is a church that burns with a desire to bring life transformation into these distant communities. That church is First Assembly of God, which began under a mission calling, and grew to become a missions-sending church. Since our foundation over 70 years ago, a vision for missions has been at the heart of everything we do; and throughout First Assembly of God’s history, God has been raising our local church to have a global impact.
Answering the Call
It all started in 1946 when Noel Perkins, the General Council Missionary Director of the Assemblies of God, called upon Reverend Eldon Vincent to pioneer a new work on the island of Oahu in the Territory of Hawaii. The Vincents were serving in Massachusetts at the time, and though they were no strangers to the call of God (having already pioneered several churches in California), this was a move that required great faith (it having been just five years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor).
On February 23, 1947, the Vincents held their first Sunday afternoon service in the old Lincoln School Auditorium in Honolulu. Their initial deposit for land was supplied by the Foreign Missions department of the Assemblies of God, and they continued to serve by faith as God led them. In one of his journals, Reverend Vincent wrote, “We were sent as the General council representatives for the Hawaiian Islands and as the first appointed missionary to Hawaii… Week-by-week people got saved, healed of many diseases, and filled with the Holy Spirit, many of which came from Buddhist homes.”
As First Assembly of God fulfilled its mission, God used the church to reach different local ethnic groups. Over time, many Chinese people were accepting Christ and there grew a need for a Cantonese language service to properly minister to those who did not understand. That year, Pastor Woodrow Yasuhara launched a Japanese language service on Sunday afternoons. Recalling the revival taking place within the ethnic community, Reverend Vincent said, “Many Buddhists continued to be saved and delivered. We had many occasions of burning idols as they came into the marvelous light of Christ. Sometimes as many as four families in a week would burn their idols.”
In 1960, Reverend Sam Sasser arrived in Honolulu through an exchange program and felt a call to reach Pacific islanders. He spent thirteen years pursuing missions in Micronesia, Samoa, and many other areas of Pacific Oceania and Asia. Under the leadership of Reverend Vincent, Reverend Sasser served as the Dean of Students for Aloha Bible Institute and had a major influence on everyone he taught.
In 1973, Reverend Sasser took over as the Senior Pastor of First Assembly of God. During his tenure, he reached out to the Korean and Samoan communities and began holding services for them. By 1977, these ethnic ministries outgrew the capacity of the church and branched off, forming new churches. Reverend Sasser’s passion for missions permeated the church, and many were saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit.
In 1976, after serving for four years, the Sassers resigned from the the pastorate to continue serving as missionaries in the Pacific. The senior pastorship was then handed to Dr. and Mrs. Roy Sapp. Pastor Janet Kushuara recalls that “It was on a mission trip to Hawaii that God spoke to Pastor Sapp to take up the role of Senior Pastor for the church,” and it was very evident that missions was on his heart.
As Reverend Sapp and his wife stepped into their new role, God did an explosive work in the church. Under his leadership the church grew to 2,500 congregants with five services every Sunday. The church on Lunalilo street was bursting at the seams, and miracles were taking place every week. Reverend Sapp led the Charismatic movement at the time, and leaders from various denominations acknowledged the move of the Holy Spirit within the church.
Reverend Sapp led annual mission trips to various countries around the world. Teams were sent to the Philippines, Mexico, Israel, Kenya, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Marshal Islands, Micronesia, and Alaska. Rick Seaward, Reverend Sapp’s son-in-law, was very influential in exposing the church to church-planting.
In response to this new calling, the Acts XXIX discipleship program was launched with a vision to raise leaders and ministers to engage in global church planting. This program launched many of the leaders whose ministries are making huge impacts around the world today, such as Pastor Dishan Wickamaratne (of People’s Church Sri Lanka) and Roland and Heidi Baker (of Iris Global). Although Reverend Sapp did not see his vision of multiple sites and church plants fulfilled during his tenure, God continued the vision through his successor, Pastor Klayton Ko.
“Missions is the heartbeat of God. He is calling our church to claim our inheritance in nations.”
—Pastor Klayton Ko
Preparation to Possession
In 1994, Reverend Sapp retired and Pastor Klayton and Sharon Ko were elected as the current senior pastors of First Assembly of God. Mentored by both Reverend Sapp and Reverend Rick Seaward, Pastor Ko continued to grow in his calling to raise a mission-sending church. Under the vision of being “a church with a passion for the Lord and a vision to reach the lost,” Pastor Ko launched “one church in six locations,” a multi-year effort to establish five regional campuses in communities across Oahu. He also oversaw a tremendous growth in the church’s annual missions giving, which has now reached over two million dollars a year.
In 1998, Pastor Hock-Lin Chua joined the pastoral staff, moving his family from Singapore to Hawaii. Formerly serving under Reverend Rick Seaward, Pastor Chua provided training and laid the foundation for First Assembly of God’s church planting program. Within a year, the church sent its first Gideonite mission team to Mbale, Uganda. For the next four years, Pastor Chua helped to plant additional churches and mentored a successor, Pastor Ernest Chow.
Since taking over the Missions department, Pastor Ernie and his wife, Pastor Siew Peng, have led, trained, and launched numerous church plants around the world, and continue to serve them on a daily basis. Pastor Chow believes that “God is preparing his church to possess the promises of God in nations,” and continues to set his heart on planting new churches in nations abroad.
Under the leadership of Pastor Ko and the Missions department, 75 missionaries have been sent out and 15 churches have been planted around the world. Pastor Ko’s deep conviction and faith has led him to set a goal to plant “20 churches by 2020,” raising, equipping, and deploying people to answer God’s call to missions. “God not looking for a program, but a person who is willing to say ‘yes’ to his calling,” says Pastor Ko.
Throughout First Assembly of God’s history, faithful men and women have said “yes” to God’s calling, making it clear that missions is the heartbeat of our church. As we remember the vision, faithfulness, and achievements of those who have gone before us, let us commit to continue carrying the light of the gospel to the world around us—from here in Hawaii to every corner of the earth.