Church History

Liberty Life Church was planted in Whakatane in 1973 and started it’s life as Whakatane Christian Fellowship.


Liberty Life Church began as Whakatane Christian Fellowship out of the passion of a couple named Don & Eileen Onekawa. It was officially registered as a church in January 1973 and for almost a year the congregation numbered just two. They meet in the Scout Hall in McGarvey Road (the building was later moved and is now used by Ohope Christian Fellowship). Don faithfully preached the Word regardless of attendance and legend has it that the church’s first convert was a black cat that stepped over a line that had been drawn in the dusty floor (he backslid the following week!).

However, God was building his church and gradually numbers were added. For  several years the church met in the CWI Hall in Lovelock Street then in 1980 the church began negotiations to purchase the Old Methodist church on King Street (now Willetts Funeral Services). Almost a year later this building became our first permanent place of worship.

At the beginning of 1982,  Bruce McDonald who had assisted Pastor Don took over as Senior Pastor. Pastor Bruce and his team of leaders led the church through a time of significant growth and it wasn’t long before the King Street property was too small for the family! Over the years several projects for expansion were initiated and each one was frustrated by opposition. But this frustration bore great fruit as Whakatane Christian Fellowship planted seven churches, an average of one church a year for seven years (Taneatua, Edgecumbe, Ohope, Matata, New Plymouth, Rotorua and Opotiki).

Around this time a family in the church sold a piece of property and donated $40,000 for the purpose of a new building.

Finally the future came into sight when Ted Matthews let the elders know about a property at Wairaka Road. The two acres of land were the rocky, overgrown remains of a quarry and it was due to go to auction in eleven days.

A church member, Warwick Armstrong went to the auction on behalf of the elders with strict instructions to bid to $98,000. The night before Pastor Bruce became aware of a building syndicate with substantial money who were interested in the land. At $92,000 it was the church and the syndicate going at it bid for bid before we made our last bid, the auction went quiet and the hammer fell in favour of  Whakatane Christian Fellowship.

In spite of this miraculous intervention on our behalf, finance for the building was slow coming.

In the mean time the adult congregation was meeting in the Caledonian Hall while the children met at the church building, both in King Street.

Alan & Gayle Dean approached Pastor Bruce with an incredible offer of finance and free labour to build the Stage 1 plans for the Liberty Centre. Alan, who was a self employed builder, ably assisted by many other volunteers took one year to complete the initial project.

The building was dedicated in 1993 and in October of that year Bruce and Maude McDonald and their family left WCF to pastor a church in Auckland.

Carl and Doreen Jukes who had been assistant pastors took over as senior leaders. Pastor Carl led the church through the building of the Stage 2 Project in which the main auditorium was completed.

In 1996 Rob & Beryl Wheeler, apostolic leaders of the New Life movement were brought in to pastor the church during the transitioning of leadership after the departure of Carl & Doreen Jukes to Auckland and to take responsibility for the appointment of a new leader.

At the end of 1997 Ian & Christina McDonald former elders and long time members of WCF were set in as Senior Pastors.

The church name was changed to Liberty Life Church in 1999 to incorporate the locally recognised name of our building; Liberty Centre and our connection with the New Life Church movement.

In December 2007 we celebrated 10 years with Pastor Ian & Christina, we have been blessed by their servanthood, the stability of their leadership and their desire to release people into the purposes of God.

In 2011 Ps Christina became sick and was diagnosed with cancer.  Through much prayer and fasting miracles happened and she had an amazing journey through chemotherapy to come out clean the other side.  There was much rejoicing and praising God.  Unfortunately a new cancer soon sprung up and this time aggressively took over.  Ps Christina passed away in August 2011.  It was an incredible time of sorrow and yet support.  Ps Ian was an inspirational leader during this time and kept it real.

However after much prayer Ps Ian decided to step down as Pastor in mid 2012 and elders Grant and Abby Bateson where appointed as the new Pastors later that year. They continue to lead the church with fresh vision and heart.

The church celebrated 40 years of Liberty Life Church in 2013 and 20 years in Liberty Centre building.  It was a great time of celebration and remembering what God has done and looking forward to what He has in store for us.

Church Covering

As a Church we choose to be part of New Life International.  It is a movement of Evangelical Pentecostal churches that was formally established in New Zealand in the 1960s.


The movement was led for many years by Rob Wheeler, and Peter Morrow.

Early influences date from the 1940s when a series of meetings conducted by overseas ‘Bethel Temple’ missionaries resulted in the planting of congregations in New Zealand and Australia. Some of its early leaders, including Morrow, attended a Bible college in Sydney in 1951. Further evangelistic campaigns and training occurred   after 1957 and throughout the 1960s.

The movement continued to grow throughout the 1970s and 1980s with the establishment of new churches in New Zealand and the Pacific, and missionaries continued to be sent overseas. In 1987 both Peter Morrow and Rob Wheeler were  formally recognised as apostolic leaders.

Then in 1988, the New Life Centres of New Zealand changed its name to the New Life Churches of New Zealand.

The New Life Churches are now an international movement with affiliates in Australia, Asia and the Pacific. Each local church is autonomous as under God. We are not governed centrally. Our churches are in unity with a diversity of expression.   Regional Leaders are nominated by the Pastors in each of the regions throughout the world. These leaders meet together several times a year for fellowship, prayer, and accountability and to discuss what God is doing amongst the churches.

NLI churches believe in the fundamental truths taught in the Bible. There is an emphasis on the Lordship and Centrality of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit and the authority of the scriptures as the Word of God.