Small Hawaii church making big waves in struggling community

Kaitlyn Williams
Thursday, February 23, 2017

Karli* first became a Christian at the age of 16, when her dad was in the military in Tennessee. At the age of 18, she moved to Hawaii and, as she drifted away from God, took a job dancing, which led her into prostitution for the next 20 years.

But God had not drifted away from Karli. Through the committed outreach of a local Nazarene church in the island of Oahu, God’s grace and persistence led Karli back to Him, something Karli is now eager to share with others.

ImageOn the Pacific island of Oahu, part of seven inhabited islands that make up the U.S. state of Hawaii, a church of about 35 people meet and worship weekly, working to create more life-change stories like Karli’s. Wahiawa Community Church of the Nazarene sits at the top of a hill in the older town of Wahiawa, which, in scenery, is rural and relaxed compared to the nearby city of Honolulu and much of the rest of the island. Though Wahiawa’s population is only 25,000 people, it has one of the highest rates of prostitution and substance abuse in Hawaii. More than 200 homeless reside here, 90 percent of whom are addicted to various substances.

The community is multi-ethnic, with the highest proportion tracing heritage to or immigrating from Asian countries.

“I think if the apostle Paul would have been here, he would have been so happy because he would have so many opportunities to reach so many different cultures,” says Senior Pastor John Miller, who moved to the island with his wife and three children about five years ago to lead the Wahiawa church.

Having been healed and restored from his own alcoholic past, Miller has helped lead the church even deeper into compassion-oriented ministries.

ImageDespite its small size, Wahiawa Community is bringing Christ to the people of Wahiawa through transformation ministries such as Celebrate Recovery for the addicted, Healing Arts for abused and trafficked women, feeding programs for the hungry, and more.

Mobile food ministry

A new ministry to address homelessness is led by Rev. LeVander McQueen, a board member at the church, also a military veteran and retired pastor. McQueen was first connected to the church by attending a pastor’s association meeting where he met Miller. McQueen has dedicated his life to food truck ministries, and found in Miller an enthusiastic supporter. He quickly decided to join Wahiawa Community Church.

“My mother once told me that ‘If you are not doing something for the Lord, you are not doing anything at all.’ So, I have to be doing something for the Lord,” says McQueen.

The church’s new ministry uses a food truck to reach the hungry. Eventually, McQueen and the congregation plan on setting up a food bank at the church, as well as clothes, housing financing, and medical help. The food truck will not only feed the hungry, but will partner with other agencies to help economically struggling people reclaim their financial independence.

“You have to have a heart for people. You can tell by looking into a baby’s eyes; you can tell what they need is food. I continue to do this, but on a daily basis I get my heart broken. However, someone had to love me back to health, so I think we should love others back to health,” says McQueen.

Miller himself is involved in a collaboration of churches in the area to pool resources to help more people. This past Christmas, Wahiawa Community partnered with other churches and organizations to host a large Christmas celebration for the homeless community.

The planning and implementation of the event was made possible by the Wahiawa Homeless Alliance, which is made up of churches, non-profits, local residents, and businesses, as well as the state government. State Representative Marcus Oshiro was the driving force behind the formation of the Alliance and continues to be very active in its ongoing outreaches. The first members of the Alliance were ALEA Bridge and the Wahiawa Community Church.

   5x wze3People were asked what three things they wanted for Christmas, and then the groups purchased them. Since holidays can be especially depressing for those not celebrating, the goal was to bring some joy to people who may be experiencing sadness. The event had widespread support from the Wahiawa community, with about 200 people attending from churches, the state government, the local hospital, and businesses.

“We sat together, we ate together, we prayed together… it was the most hopeful event I have ever seen,” said Miller.

Healing through art

Rev. Marissa Greentree, the compassionate ministries pastor at Wahiawa Community since October 2016, has started a Healing Arts ministry, which works primarily with women who are abuse survivors.

Greentree herself came out of an abusive marriage in 2010 and spent many years healing and rebuilding her relationship with God. She dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder and doubting Christianity in general, but then began researching domestic violence and learned that she was not alone: the statistical numbers of women suffering violence were staggering. That is when Greentree believes God told her eventually she would open a center for abused women.

ImageShe began studying and attending trainings to learn as much as possible about how to help the abused. Greentree trained churches on how to respond to domestic violence, and a couple of years ago started her Healing Arts ministry, which helps women engage in art projects that are accompanied with a healing message and related Scripture.

When she and her 8-year-old son moved to Wahiawa, she established the ministry there. Art can be used to bring emotional healing through creativity. Some studies have shown that participating in creative activities such as painting, dancing and music stimulates the body’s own natural healing processes, reduces anxiety and depression, and calms the mind.

“If we are created in the image of a creative God, we are creative. It may be through words, through art, really anything. We want people to learn of their creative ability through Christ,”
Greentree said.

The program is reaching out to girls and women who come out of sex trafficking, domestic violence, rape and prostitution. Many of these women are homeless, as one third of homelessness includes domestic violence (according to ALEA Bridge and The National Coalition for the Homeless). In addition to this, 40-61 percent of Pacific Island women in Hawaii will experience domestic violence, according the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Honolulu's location also makes it a prime port for sex trafficking through the U.S. and Asia.

Healing Arts is also partnering with shelters and organizations nearby to help support girls and women in coming to art therapy in a safe space, by providing transportation to and from events, the materials for events, and the opportunity to build relationships through the program.

Healing Arts’ strategy is a “multi-layered approach,” starting with Healing Arts projects, followed later by a Bible study, then a support group, and finally attending church on a regular basis. The goal is that through this healing ministry, ladies will also find Christ – the ultimate healer. All such participation would be optional.

ImageWorking together

Wahiawa Nazarene church’s reach into the community has been extended even further by the short-term assistance of Work & Witness teams. Wahiawa Community has previously been a site at which mission teams have helped to expand the building facilities, as well as served the community alongside the congregation. In the last five years, three teams have served, and four more are planning visits in 2017. Workers to assist the Healing Arts program are needed, as well as workers for outreach to other places on the island. By partnering with the local church, Work & Witness teams have the opportunity to make a significant impact in a short amount of time. As new ministries are picking up momentum, more people to love the community alongside Wahiawa Community are needed, along with prayers and financial support.

Miller hopes that what his church is doing can be adapted or even replicated by other churches in other communities.

“I want other churches to know that they can do it [outreach ministry], too. It is not about me, and I want models to be made that can go other places,” Miller said.

For more information about Wahiawa church’s ministries or to donate, go to:

*Full name omitted for privacy reasons.