Soon after graduating from Evangel University, Lisa A. Russi headed to Southern Asia as an Assemblies of God World Missions orphanage worker, fulfilling a childhood calling of combining overseas ministry with social work.
Russi, who grew up attending Hobart Assembly in Indiana, returned to Southern Asia as a missionary associate after obtaining a master’s degree in counseling from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. In an AGWM-connected ministry, Russi ministered to women and girls as young as 12 ensnarled in brothel prostitution.
“I sensed God telling me these are my sisters,” recalls Russi. “I felt a lifelong call to get them out of being trafficked.”
And that’s been the case. Russi, now 41, has been working with various ministries and churches, as well as being a college educator, in the effort to fight sexual slavery. In Southern Asia, in partnership with local AG congregations, she worked in a home for women and girls that is now networked with the AG’s Project Rescue.
Russi says she sensed God telling her to move to France on her 30th birthday and she complied, starting an anti-trafficking ministry called Perles de Prix in Grenoble supported by an AG church plant. With prayerful church volunteers, Russi combed the streets at night to minister to trafficked migrants, from Nigeria, Romania, and Latin America. Nine months into the effort, social workers sought her out.
“Nigerian women had been involved in voodoo so they wouldn’t testify against their traffickers,” Russi says. “Non-Christian, government-funded social agency workers recognized the need for spiritual care for these women.”
As she had done in Southern Asia, Russi turned the ministry over to local Christians once established.
Perles de Prix (Pearl of Great Price) volunteers now minister to sex slaves on the streets in Grenoble, Angers, and Poitiers. The ministry — in partnership with the French Assemblies of God, AGWM, and Project Rescue — consists of weekly street outreach and prayer, free French-language courses, cultural acclimation, and temporary housing.
In 2019, Russi started as an assistant professor at the AG’s Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington. She teaches courses in intercultural studies and missions.
Russi spends her summers in France, training local pastors and congregants to work with Perles de Prix. The ordained AG minister remains an AG world missionary while she finishes a doctorate in intercultural studies from AGTS.
“I want to motivate people into the field, to be passionate about being a light in the darkness,” says Russi, who is single. “I want to bring Christ to the hardest to reach, the most marginalized groups of people.”
She also established a study-abroad internship program through Northwest University in conjunction with AGWM in which students spend a semester learning intercultural studies with a mentoring missionary in France and a sensitive country. The first two students currently are participating in the overseas program.
“We partner with AGWM personnel who have doctoral qualifications and can teach an area studies course as well as overseeing the internship,” Russi says. “In addition, the students are required to take a language course on the field.”
Mark J. Good, who is AGWM area director in France, has known Russi since she began her missionary career two decades ago.
“Everywhere she has been it’s because she has received a specific call from the Lord and she is seeking His will,” says Good, 57. “She has focused on the marginalized with compassion and justice, sticking up for those trapped in trafficking.”
Good, who has been a part of AGWM for 30 years, commends Russi for working through national churches, even when it hasn’t been easy. He notes that few women, especially a Latina (Russi is half Mexican, half Puerto Rican), have initiated ministries in France.
“Lisa is a pioneer,” Good says. “She goes to places where there isn’t any ministry, and she establishes them.” Good says Russi is a skilled discipler who resonates with young people.
Arianna Gomez De La Mora is among the Northwest University students impacted by Russi, both through classroom instruction and in a small group study about women in ministry. In all, De La Mora, who graduated last year with an intercultural studies degree, took five classes taught by Russi. De La Mora wants to be an AG world missionary in the near future.
“Lisa is such an incredible listener and observer of people and culture,” De La Mora says. “She is grounded and has so much insight in terms of missions and outreach.”
De La Mora says she has a passion for different ethnicities and languages, stemming from her days growing up attending Life360 Church in Springfield, Missouri. Currently she is outreach pastor of a multicultural church plant of The Table Church in Federal Way, Washington.