Luke Brough is very satisfied his grand vision has come to fruition for Elim Church and its other activities such as education and community outreach
By PJ (Phil) Taylor
Elim is a modern-era church, realistic and practical in its approach and attitudes. Its creation is the result of well-established Christian beliefs – the Lord will provide and prayers will be answered.
Luke Brough has been its local East Auckland leader, as well as nationally for Elim, over almost four decades. He’s a modest and friendly pastor with high levels of intelligence, drive, determination, humanity and kindness, and has felt the hand of God guiding him on what he describes as an “amazing journey”.
“I feel being lead. There has been miracle after miracle in the purchase of land, buildings and the things we’ve done, because we’ve never had any money at any stage to do it. But as we’ve taken steps, doors have opened up and given us opportunities.”
Brough (pronounced bro) says the theology of Elim Church is to connect with people in easy-to-understand terms.
“We have a saying, we try to say things on Sunday that will help people on Monday.
“We’re trying to take the scriptures and make it relevant to everyday life. It’s very practical, in everyday language. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what people liked about him.
“We’ve just done a series on the Ten Commandments. It’s really talking about values.
“We keep our church services to an hour and five minutes, to work with our families in the community. We value people’s time.”
Brough’s descendant “early settlers” arrived in New Zealand around 1849, putting down roots in French colony Akaroa, Canterbury. Of Irish heritage, he believes his ancestors came on a ship that sailed from France, collecting emigrants in Ireland on route.
“There’s a bay in Akaroa called Brough Bay.”
Born in Taumarunui in the King Country, Brough’s family came to Auckland in his second year to grow up in Ellerslie.
When he had married wife Marilyn, they moved further east and attended Pakuranga Christian Fellowship, eventually becoming pastor.
“The brethren is an evangelical church. Certainly not traditional [like denominational Christian churches]. Quite the opposite. Earlier brethren called their meeting places a gospel hall, rather than a chapel or church. Elim Church has a Pentecostal background, so it’s different from brethren.”
When he was pastor of Pakuranga Christian Fellowship in the 1980s, the congregation grew from 150 to 350.
“We outgrew the church building in Udys Road that we had services in and held services at Pakuranga Intermediate School.
“They came from all over and the character of the church was changing, which unsettled the older folk. In the end, I felt I was the one that was changing it. They just wanted what it had always been. I should be the one to leave, not to make them feel uncomfortable.”
Brough says the road to Elim’s formation in East Auckland started in infancy when he and Marilyn attended Faith Bible College in Tauranga in 1976.
“We were wondering about planting another church in this area”, he says.
“Elim came up in conversations and I felt God was talking to me about Elim. I had never met the leader of the church here, but we did and that’s how it came about. We started at the Howick Intermediate School hall.”
Now, at the age of 75, and after three and a half decades, as he views the impressive Elim Church and campus in Botany Road, he can deservedly feel a great sense of accomplishment, albeit in his modest way.
“It has been very satisfying. We often say, it hasn’t been difficult. We work hard, but it hasn’t been difficult. We just felt it was in God’s heart. It’s been a great journey for us.
“My vision was for a Christian centre. A school, preschool, Bible school, Christian book shop, and the church. A seven-day operation. A large church for at least 1000 people. I didn’t want to build a large auditorium that sat empty and was used for only a couple of hours on a Sunday and sat empty for the rest of the week.
“We multi-used car-parking that was used on Sunday as parking and netball courts and play areas for the school during the week. After 15 years, that what’s we had, all on this one site.”
The vision changed after that, Brough says, with opportunities coming to expand Elim’s Christian reach into communities.
“We now have six campuses around Auckland and one in Whangarei, plus an online congregation. This [Botany] is still the largest, but they’re all pretty large churches. I was the senior pastor over all of it, and we put a lead pastor in each of the campuses and we’d model what we were doing here. They’ve all grown strong.
“The same has happened with the school. We’ve got the campus here, the one at Golflands, Mt Albert, and we’ve recently bought Laidlaw College in Henderson. That will become another church-school campus.”
Elim Church and its communities is also a very large-scale business and Brough admits it has been a big learning curve to navigate operations.
“There’s a huge business component. I was self-employed. I had a small business making furniture, so I was probably wired that way. As it [Elim] got bigger I never had the experience in a large business or corporation. But I got people into the team that had that experience. We’ve got some pretty outstanding people now. It’s a huge operation.
“We have a 10 per cent shareholding in Christian Savings as well. One of our people sits on its board.
“It’s very difficult now for someone to start a Christian school, unless you’ve got a resource base. We’re able to do that, and to work with the Ministry of Education, meeting their requirements for property and buildings.”
Education for students is delivered by Elim’s “special character” schooling.
“Ninety per cent of people who come here have to come from Elim or a likeminded church. The school is for Christian families who want their children to go to a Christian school.”
The idea for Elim Church centre now in Botany Rd started in September 1985.
“The following June, I started looking for property, land,” Brough says, “somewhere in this area, on the doorstep of old Howick and Pakuranga, and the new areas. I’d been to Manukau City Council and seen where the new growth was going to be – the East Tamaki corridor.
“There was about 60,000 people in Howick and Pakuranga then, and another 40,000 projected. There’s a lot more than that now. I thought, 100,000 people, that’ll keep me busy for the rest of my life.”
He discovered Sunline Homes owned the land in Botany Downs and was advertising for expressions of interest.
“I said we wanted to have a church, a school, and I had worked out how much we needed. We’ve got 1.6 hectares here. Sunline Homes said yes and we caught them just at the right time. They agreed to sell the land to us.
“We only had 100 people in our church. At the end of our first year we voted to buy this land. It was pretty amazing. We needed a $14,000 deposit for the $140,000 price plus GST.
“We only had $10 in a building fund when we started negotiating to buy. Money that had come from Mel and Georgina Meehan.”
The remainder of the deposit fund came from contributions from the Elim congregation. “It has been the whole way through.
“There are quite a few miracle stories behind it all, because there was no way we could afford it.”
Around 1990, the shell of the building was constructed by Canam Construction for $500,000 and volunteer graft completed the main auditorium and the kindergarten.
“The kindergarten gave us an income stream straight away. The school followed.
“Christian Heritage School was in Mt Wellington, a small private Christian school. They were on property owned by Auckland City Council and had to move out. We said no initially, but one of our leaders, a secondary schoolteacher, came on their board and put a lot of work into it.
“After about a year they came on our site, and then passed over the school to us. We integrated it, meaning teachers’ salaries were on par with the state, and fees were realistic, as many of our families are not rich families.”
Brough says Elim is “very much a community church” and in the Auckland region has churches and a mix of community facilities and activities in Botany Downs, the city, Manurewa, Pukekohe, Papakura, West Auckland, and further north up in Whangarei.
“When we started this church, we never advertised outside of this community. Probably 95 per cent of our people came from living about five- to 10-minute drive away. That’s the same thinking for our campuses, which midweek are very community oriented.
“We bought the old Jehovah’s Witness’ headquarters in Mahia Rd, Manurewa, for the campus there, as well as our Bible College, soup kitchen, and car-boot sales.
“In Botany, we used to run holiday programmes before the city council did. We used to run some of the biggest summer holiday programmes in the country. Then after-school programming.”
Elim is well-appreciated for its long-standing commitment to the East Auckland community during the festive season.
“We do Christmas boxes and have for 20 years. We’d raise from the congregation around $100,000 each time. We didn’t want the Christmas box to be just another food parcel handout. We wanted it for people who had something difficult happen to them during the year. To let them know someone was thinking of them at Christmas.
“We also started working with the Police with Victim Support. We still do. They know of people, families, that have had tragedies. Now we also work with Fire and Emergency and Plunkets. There are a lot of groups doing great work in the community.
“We do missions programmes – building schools in places like India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan; we’ve got a drug rehabilitation programme in China. People give generously to those things.”
There are 40 Elim Churches in New Zealand and Brough was the national leader for about 12 years.
“I’ve retired now. It’s an interesting stage. I’m 75. I obviously want to still be involved, but not in the day-to-day.
”Steve and Rebecca Green are the senior pastors, in charge of the day-to-day running. I still chair the board and am a trustee.”
As for his own approach to faith, Brough says he’s “not a deeply spiritual person”.
“I try to cultivate communication with God in everyday life. I’m not likely to lock myself away for an hour in prayer. Part of that is knowing your own motivations. Reasons for doing things. If you can read your spirit is important.”