Leeward church of Christ in Oahu, Hawaii

We were in Hawaii for the first time, celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. It had been a pretty easy sell, talking John and LeAnn Elliott, some besties from our home congregation into joining us for the first half of our trip. We would be on the islands a total of seventeen days, and the first Monday through Saturday was on the little remote island of Molokai because John had a colleague in the medical field who owned a condo he was willing to rent to us for a screamin’ deal. The breezy little loft condo even came with the use of a beat-up old car we named “Edna”, that was parked among all the other cars in an open field near the tiny airport with the keys in the ignition. She wasn’t good at first impressions, having introduced herself to us bearing a flat tire we had to immediately fix, but, surprisingly enough, once we’d dealt with that, she never let us down. 

Once back on Oahu for the remainder of our trip, we rented a convertible we named “Tina Louise”, who was herself a whole different animal. We spent a night in Kaneohe, so we could worship with the Christians we greatly admire given that it’s no easy undertaking this pursuit of holiness in a culture where the more natural thing is to pursue the pleasures all around in a place many consider almost paradise. We had already met one young couple a few months back who was doing just that and had extended to us an offer of hospitality, housing us for several nights, and now we were eager to meet the rest of our dear Christian family in this delightful locale. 

We were the first to arrive where the small band of believers worship on the Island of Oahu, so we chatted at the bottom of the humble little church house steps of the Leeward church of Christ, enjoying the tropical breeze and feeling especially grateful given the fact that back home in Oregon, it was closer to 40 degrees than 80 degrees. The first member to arrive was a Filipino brother, a few years older than any of us, quiet, but very welcoming as he told us a little bit about himself and his congregation.  As more and more brethren arrived, it was a delight to see how many in the congregation were also Filipino, as well as many other ethnicities who had all come together to form a spiritual family.

The building was older, well-kept, and tidy. We enjoyed the slatted glass windows that allowed the tropical breeze to blow through and noticing the local lizards clinging occasionally to the screens as if participating.  “Sit anywhere. I’ll let you know if you’re sitting in a place that belongs to an "auntie”, the young preacher from Indiana jested, helping us to not disappoint any sweet, elderly Filipino woman, but instead stay “in favor” to build a good rapport.  This preacher’s smile seemed to take up the entire bottom half of his face when he started Bible class with an enthusiastic, heartfelt “Aloha church! Can I get a smile?!” 

In class, we were reminded that when we are expressing our earnest desires to God in prayer, He already knows what is best for us, and we do best to not tell Him how to answer but rather leave that up to His perfect mercy and omniscience. It was a reminder I took to heart. As the class progressed, latecomers arrived, and they got the same genuine smile and equally enthusiastic "Good morning, Guys!  Happy Lord's Day!” The class continued with good participation, just a few inside jokes and plenty of useful, biblical teaching.

The order of services was posted, which was handy. And then as worship service was about to commence, something unique was announced by one of the men volunteering to open the service, so unique that I thought, “What a difference this could make for good!” Though I can’t recall the exact wording, it was along the lines of, “We often end the sermon with an invitation for anyone in the assembly to be baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins or for those already a Christian to ask for prayers or restoration. Today I want to offer that invitation first so that if anyone is here with either of these needs, you can today joyfully participate in worship and partake of the Lord’s Supper with a clean conscience and a new life.” “Hmm”, I thought, “Brilliant!”

I’ve always appreciated in the churches of Christ that during this highlight of our gathering, those volunteering to serve on the Lord’s Table are allowed to speak freely and unscripted, expressing their own heartfelt thoughts about the impact that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has touched our lives and has changed everything. The Filipino man servicing us took his time emphasizing how holy the moment was that we were about to experience. “Am I right?” he’d ask every few minutes, humbly looking around looking to be entirely open to anyone who might be able to state a truth he’d spoken with even more precision.  I appreciated his vulnerability. 

In fact, vulnerability is what I loved most about this congregation.  Initially, I recognized the preacher’s vulnerability by the fact that he had both a question box where anyone could place a written Bible question and (even scarier!) a suggestion box. Yikes. If that doesn’t scream “go ahead and criticize me or anything else, if it means we could do better”, I don’t know what does. They recognized that vulnerability truly is the birthplace of everything we long for…intimacy, faith, creativity, joy, peace, and more.  I’d agree with what someone once noted: “Don't call it faith if there's no vulnerability in it”. I’m so grateful for the quiet kind of boldness that his little suggestion box represents, and how it gives an opportunity for annoyances to be remedied before they turn into resentment, as well as offering everyone a voice so that the best ideas get heard, no matter their source. 

As it turns out, the sermon itself was based on the Bible questions members and visitors had put into the box the previous weeks. (There’s one way to know your sermon is relevant!)  “Good question!” the preacher would communicate in one way or another in honor of the asker, no matter how foundational the question he had just read. As he moved from question to question, he stood beside a PowerPoint screen, so that he could physically touch the words within the text of scripture he wanted to emphasize— the exact words that God used to answer the asker’s question. Bible answers for Bible questions!? Hallelujah. That’s how we roll.  

The preacher was not the only one who showed vulnerability. A teenager serving on the Lord’s Supper said in his prayer about Jesus, “You are our everything.” Well. I guess the world knows where this faith-filled young man stands. And the older Filipino man we had met outside the building before services, showed his willingness to be vulnerable by heading up a weekly local radio program (kndi.com) where he speaks truth to the Filipino population after the preacher does so in English. 

This same man had written a prayer a few years ago that he read at some point during worship. It was so meaningful, that upon my request, he allowed me to photograph it. Rather than simply asking for safe travels and such, he had clearly taken to heart the weighty and awesome reality that he was actually leading us toward the presence of the Creator’s throne to what our eternal souls really needed even more than any physical need. 

While we were singing after the sermon, someone with a heavy heart went to the front to request prayers over the burden she could no longer carry alone. She whispered her situation with some detail to the preacher, then as we were finishing the song, went and sat back down in the back. “Good for her”, I thought, for being vulnerable enough to know when she needs help and to understand that she was free to go sit back down to watch the compassion in the body language of an empathetic congregation, instead of unnecessarily feeling eyes behind her if she had remained sitting on the front row. As a congregation, we prayed for her, and then she and I ended up talking extensively and praying together deeply about her burden during the course of our visits, often being among the last to leave.  

By the time we left Hawaii, we had bonded so much with the Leeward church of Christ that it seemed we’d been there longer than we had, and a few expressed their desire that we’d stay forever and how much they would miss us. Most touching was when, upon our departure, a Filipino brother shook my husband’s hand to say “Goodbye”, then gently pulled him in closely until they were forehead to forehead, explaining warmly, “In our culture, this means I respect you.”


Leeward church of Christ
94-1233 Waipahu Street
P.O. 970094
Waipahu, HI 96797