Sowing seeds in paradise: Young missionaries from Tennessee follow Godâ??s call to Maui

Carol Anne Eby
Monday, December 12, 2016

A tourist paradise of sparkling water and incredible beaches, roaring waterfalls and memorable sunrises also has a darker side hidden from the average tourist’s eyes. But God sees what others may miss: homeless people who sleep on the beach, feel hunger and pain, and despair brought about by addiction.

The name of the town, Pukalani, a Hawaiian word, means "window of heaven.” A loving God sees this town, and has put compassion into the hearts of the congregation of the Pukalani Community Church of the Nazarene to bring hope and to reclaim these who are lost in “paradise.”

ImageIn the past year a young couple, Bobby and Alyssa Forest, have come to the church to join this ministry. Bobby and Alyssa are uniquely gifted by God for such a ministry and have a vibrant passion for missions. Bobby grew up on a farm in Tennessee and always had a love for agriculture. He graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Plant and Soil Science and felt a calling to use his degree to help people. Alyssa is a Nazarene preacher’s kid, and always had a love for missions, participating in five mission trips. She graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree from Olivet Nazarene University in 2007 and began her nursing profession.

Bobby had gained experience as an inventory manager with a Farmers Co-Op and Alyssa served as a research nurse specialist in the Pediatric Diabetes Clinic at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. Alyssa had been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age 10 and wanted to help other people and families that have been affected by diabetes. Although they had chosen their careers to help people, they were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their professional lives.

Alyssa felt a call to missions as a child but was waiting for God to show her where and when. Bobby felt a pull to full-time ministry, as well.

“We both believe that the Lord was waiting for us to meet before sending us out because we are more effective as a team,” Bobby said.

After a lot of research and prayer, they learned about an opening at a church on the Big Island of Hawaii, and began reaching out to the local church. Three months went by, then they discovered the church had decided to fill the position with local leaders. Although disappointed, they still felt a specific calling to that area of the Pacific.

They found a website with a listing of all the Nazarene pastors in the Hawaiian Islands, and contacted them to ask if any needed assistance with ministry. Four pastors wrote back and one of them, Pastor Mark Gudmunson of Pukalani Church, received the inquiry with great joy.

Image“Previously I had a vision that people were coming to restore revival in this land,” Gudmunson said. He didn’t see faces in the vision, but definitely felt God was going to send people to his church, and believed the Forests were God-sent.

Although Hawaii is one of the U.S.’s 50 states, the culture of Hawaii, which includes many South Pacific Island peoples and Asian people groups, is so different from “mainland” United States that the church has recognized those who come from outside the islands to minister must approach it with the mindset of cross-cultural mission.

The Forests cleared all arrangements to serve in Hawaii with the Nazarene Global Ministry Center in Lenexa, Kansas; took a cross-cultural orientation class at Trevecca Nazarene University; raised funds; and sold their home and most of their belongings.

ImageThey arrived in Pukalani in October of 2015 and dove into ministry. Bobby felt immediately at home as he assisted caring for the church’s garden. Vegetables such as lettuce, green beans, sweet peas, broccoli, tomatoes and eggplant, as well as fruits such as oranges, bananas, papaya and coconut, were lovingly tended and harvested. The youth of the church take the produce to those in need at the church, the community, and the homeless. They pray with those who wish it, and all are grateful for the fresh produce.

The Forests not only sowed seeds in the garden but sowed seeds of friendship and spiritual nurturing as they fostered relationships specifically with the young adults of the church.

 “Bobby and Alyssa have been successful in cultivating new relationships here on Maui, reaching people for Jesus that the church never would have been able to reach otherwise,” Gudmundson said. “As we discussed job description upon their arrival, I told them the number one item for them was to seek out and build new relationships within our community. They have done a marvelous and fruitful job of doing that, building a young adult ministry from only one or two to a healthy group of 15 or more.”

ImageThey lead a small group Bible study weekly where they have food and fellowship prior to studying the Word. They mentor and encourage individuals who they hope will find a deeper relationship with the Lord and will become local leaders in the church.

A young man was drawn to the church. He was addicted to heroin, but after becoming involved with the small group, he has given up drugs and his cigarettes and has told the group that he wants to be “all in” for the Lord.

“God is changing him and God is healing him from gang activity, drugs, pain and emotional problems. He even feels God is calling him to be a pastor. He never misses a meeting. It’s so neat to see him transformed,” Alyssa said.

They sowed seeds of compassion as they joined with the weekly outreach ministry of Kihei Church of the Nazarene, spending time with the homeless, feeding them, praying with them and befriending them. Alyssa would assess needs of people with wounds and give medical attention. When she became pregnant, she stepped back from this ministry, but the church team continues to give first aid and help to the homeless each Saturday. Alyssa loves the homeless but feels God is leading her to spend her future Saturdays developing a MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) program for the mothers of the church and community. While homelessness is a huge need on the island, the church is involved in serving the entire community in different ways.

ImageThey are also the Work & Witness coordinators and are always hoping and looking for teams to prayerfully consider coming and helping with much needed projects on the island. They are hoping that next year a cottage that has sat empty for 10 years will be made ready to become the Forests’ “home sweet home.” After the cottage is complete, the church will have met legal requirements to apply for a permit to build a new church.

Both Bobby and Alyssa are in the course of study to become ordained ministers and will soon be licensed by the Hawaii-Pacific District Church of the Nazarene. They help lead worship on one of the several worship teams as well as preaching occasionally to get practice.

In September of this year, Barrick Dean Hau’oli Forest, lovingly known as “Bear,” weighing 10 pounds and 11 ounces, joined their family.

Alyssa says, “Family or ohana, in Hawaiian, is of the utmost importance to most locals, so they love that we have Bear and we have made more relationships with this little angel than we ever could have made without him.”

The church’s future in Pukalani looks bright. Pray for the Forests and Pastor Mark and their congregation, that the seeds sown will continue to produce a bountiful harvest for the Kingdom.