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Building relationships

2020 VISION: Pastor is creating a bridge between Pacific Islanders, local community

  • 5 min to read
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Emmanuel Enid supports a ministry for Pacific Islanders. 

ENID, Okla. — In 2010, the Pacific Islander population had increased in the last decade by 400% from 281 to 1,101, according to the U.S. Census, and today there could be thousands more living in Enid and Garfield County.

Indonesian native Pastor Yohanes Arwakon is working to serve as a bridge between that community and the general Enid population as Emmanuel Enid’s pastor to Pacific Islanders. He was licensed by Emmanuel for the job in 2016 after spending 12 years as a community planner in the Pacific Islands at Papua. He has been in Enid for two months.

“Our hope is that he can bridge the gap between the Marshall Islanders and this ministry,’’ said Emmanuel Missions Pastor Justin Jackson. “This is huge for our church because we see the growing needs of the Pacific Island community. We just want to be there to support them in anyway we can. Yohanes has built relationships over the last few years that has created opportunities for us to meet new folks overall. Our goal is not to start another Marshall Islands church. This is more of an outreach.’’

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Everybody counts

Arkwakon is forming a long-term plan for the Marshallese/Pacific Islanders to be able to thrive in the area. He said the impact will be felt in five to 10 years from now. Currently, the Marshall Island community has a Sunday function from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Pacific Island Ministry.

“I have some experience in community development, and I want to apply it here,” Arwakon said. “We want them to have a dream so they can reach their goals. This is a long process. It takes five years to see the milestones.”

One project is to determine the exact number of Pacific Islanders. Arwakon is working with the local Census committee to get local the local Pacific Island population, and specifically the more heavily Marshallese population, to register at the Pacific Island Ministry at 301 E. Iowa. He also has gone door to door earlier to make an appeal to those in the community to register.

“It’s very important for them to know the exact number, not only for our community but for Enid as well,’’ he said. “The more we count, the more money we can get from the government (for community development).”

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Indonesian native and Emmanuel Enid Pastor Yohanes Arwakon is working to serve as a bridge between that community and the general Enid population as pastor to church’s Pacific Islanders.

An educational process

His ministry plans several different areas including education, public health and medical services, gospel, social community outreach, art, music, sport and culture, legal administration, language and employment.

The purpose of the educational focus is to increase the number and quality level of Pacific students in formal or informal education and the number of students who graduate from high school, college and vocational school.

Arwakon is tutoring 15 middle school students on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“You want them to build future dreams in the younger generation,’’ Arwakon said. “There are some things they can’t get in school, and they don’t know how to develop for themselves. We help them focus on school lessons like math, science and language arts. We want to show them how to do their homework. We put a lot of emphasis on modern history so they will know more about America.”

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Indonesian native and Emmanuel Enid Pastor Yohanes Arwakon is working to serve as a bridge between that community and the general Enid population as pastor to church’s Pacific Islanders. Majuro, the capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, was home for the Arwakon family until August 2019.  

Bridging the language gap

His biggest challenge here is bridging the language gap. English is a second language in many homes. Arwakon also helps tutor adults who have recently arrived from the islands.

“We need to look carefully how to reach them,” Arwakon said. “You can’t get a job without English. There is an language barrier when they arrive here. They need somebody to bridge the communication gap. We’ll tell the teachers they need to be patient because they come from a different culture.”

Some of them speak English fairly fluently, he said, but they can improve upon that. 

He helps parents focus on training in such areas as time management, financial planning, early childhood planning and family planning.

Through the Unreachable Star program, Arwakon focuses on career counseling, exploring talents and interests to find personal potential and providing the tools to reach their goals.

Arwakon also would like to provide a free ESL class for those who need English and a language class for those who are interested in learning Marshallese. 

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Members of the Emmanuel Baptist Church Pacific Islanders community development ministry learn a fish stew recipe in the home of Yohanes and Yenni Arwakon.

Healthier lifestyles

In areas of public health and medical services, his goal is to decrease the number of Pacific Islanders suffering from illnesses and disease by improving factors such as lifestyle, hygiene, consumption patterns and understanding healthy lifestyles.

He eventually would like to provide a free clinic with specific services such as dental, diabetic and gout treatment, cholesterol tests, wellness exams, healthy eating, quality of life issues. He also wants a partnership between local hospitals and clinics, job providers and nonprofit organizations to promote a healthy lifestyle program.

Diabetes, Arwakon said is a major problem for his community.

“We need to encourage people, how they can change their lifestyle,” he said. “When they come here from the Islands, they are adjusting to different foods. We need to show them the discipline you need to take your medicine.”

Building a better community

For gospel, Arwakon wants to engage and build a strong relationship between churches — such as a partnership with Pacific Islander churches for inclusion in some Sunday services or occasionally programs at Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) Independence Day. He also would like to strengthen the cooperation between local churches and the Pacific Islander churches to provide more pastoral visits to hospitals and homes.

In the area of social community outreach he wants to build a better understanding between the general population and the Pacific Islander community. This can be done through volunteer services in the community, such as cleaning up at parks, recreation areas and other public places such as churches; visiting homebound; sharing Christmas gifts; or engaging in non-profit organizations such as Forgotten Ministry and other ministries.

As far as art, music, sports and culture, Arwakon’ agenda is to organize athletic tournaments based on celebration days such as RMI Constitution Day or Labor Day;  organize sports activities involving participants from different cultures and backgrounds; and hold cultural exchange events to introduce Pacific cultures and customs, such as traditional dances, food festivals, handicraft fairs or art shops.

He proposes Pacific Islander participation in some events promoted by the city of Enid, organizing training in the art of hand-crafted skills and introducing the American culture through activities and a partnership with the Denny Price Family YMCA as a sports venue.

Arwakon said his current students are mostly interested in baseball or basketball.

His tutoring program includes time for play and also to encourage musical participation. The guitar and ukele are two of the most popular instruments.

Legal administration aid and an English class are priorities, and, specifically, he is concentrating on a driver’s license test preparation class, passport extension assistance, facilitating communication between the Pacific Islander community and stakeholders who are related with legal administration and a partnership with some companies and job providers to facilitate information for the Pacific Island community.

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Indonesian native and Emmanuel Enid Pastor Yohanes Arwakon is working to serve as a bridge between that community and the general Enid population as pastor to church’s Pacific Islanders. Members of the Emmanuel Baptist Church Pacific Islanders community development ministry appear in the home of Yohanes and Yenni Arwakon on Thanksgiving Day in 2017.  

Achieving dreams

“The best part of my work is working with the younger generation so they can achieve their dreams,’’ Arwakon said. “In five to 10 years, you want to see the changing of younger people’s motivation.’’

Arwakon and his wife Yenni have three sons.

“I just want to say that we love Enid,” he said. “It’s a good place to live. The church is supportive, and there’s a lot of good vision on how we can impact the community. I have a schedule every week to visit families’ houses to pray with that. That’s another way to build good relationships with them. They receive me as part of their family and community.”


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Campbell is a former sports writer and current part-time writer for the News & Eagle, enidnews@enidnews.com.

2020 Vision is a special section that will publish in the Enid News & Eagle for eight Sundays in February, March and April 2020. The section is designed to feature individuals, businesses and organizations in Enid and Northwest Oklahoma that work every day for the betterment of the region and its residents. This section, which published March 29, 2020, focuses on Faith.

Read all sections at 2020 Vision: All stories

Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for Sports? Send an email to enidnews@enidnews.com.

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Graduate of Oklahoma City John Marshall (1972) and University of Oklahoma. Been at News & Eagle since June 19, 1978. Previously worked at Oklahoma Journal, Midland, Texas Reporter & Telegram, Norman Transcript, Elk City Daily News

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