A Wellspring in Paradise

Post a Comment » Written on August 5th, 2008     
Filed under: News
By J. Monty Stewart

AIEA, HI (August 5, 2008) – Emerging from the Honolulu International Airport on the island of Oahu, you get your first whiff of paradise. Verdant palm trees wave in the seawater-scented breeze, and you can almost taste the mango, papaya, coconut, and pineapple. People fly in from all over the world, drawn to luxurious locations like Waikiki Beach and famous landmarks like the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor or the Aloha Stadium, home of the NFL’s yearly Pro Bowl.

In the nearby community of Aiea stands Wellspring Covenant Church, the first Evangelical Covenant Church plant in Hawaii. Pastors Randy Furushima and Dale Vallejo-Sanderson planted Wellspring in 2001, the result of both tenured pastors desiring to be more justice-oriented in the scope of their ministries. Wanting to see justice and righteousness prevail, they envisioned their new church as being contemporary, invested in the lives of people, and making a difference in the local community.

Then the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, rocked the nation. People immediately began returning to church, but it was mostly to the mainline denominations. The pastors regrouped and prayed about finding a niche, something that no one else was doing on the island of Oahu. They discovered that while many churches were involved in jail or prison ministries, reaching out to incarcerated folks, no one was helping children stay in touch with their incarcerated parents, particularly the mothers.

They applied for a separate non-profit and launched Safe Place, a ministry for kids of incarcerated adults. “We want to see a generation of children who rise up and do not follow in the paths of their parents,” says Furushima. Wellspring works predominately with children of incarcerated mothers, but has worked with children of incarcerated fathers as well.

They began by consulting with staff from the Center for Family at the University of Hawaii, building relationships in the community, and seeking to integrate the prisoners’ families into the local church. Right next to Aiea, in the shadow of such tourist magnets as Aloha Stadium and Pearl Harbor, lies the community of Pu’uwai Momi, a public housing development and one of the largest and most challenging neighborhoods on the island.

“We decided to take the church to Pu’uwai Momi,” explains Furushima. “Too many times we say that we are the church and people should come to us. We took the church to the people.” This involves providing Christmas for the families, picking up local youths so they can participate in church events, and providing Mother’s Day celebrations for those children whose moms are incarcerated.

Eventually Wellspring came to understand that their various activities were not simply an offshoot of the main ministry of the church, but something intrinsic to their ministry, a natural manifestation of who God was calling them to be. With this in mind, in 2006 Wellspring absorbed Safe Place into the church, canceling its separate nonprofit status, for they no longer see the ministry as separate from the church.

On Easter Sunday, Wellspring took the church to the local women’s correctional facility, thanks to the rapport the church body has developed with the authorities over the past few years. They brought in food, games, crafts – and the inmates’ children. Volunteers from the church, including people from Pu’uwai Momi, joined with the incarcerated moms and their children in worshipping the arrested, incarcerated, tortured, executed, risen Christ. On that memorable day, they were no  longer separate entities – Wellspring Covenant Church, incarcerated moms, etc. – instead, they were simply one body, the church of Jesus Christ experiencing his grace through the resurrection story.

In addition to erasing the walls between the church, the community, and the prison, Wellspring has established both the Wellspring Arts Institute and Hawaii Theological Seminary. The Arts Institute is a place where writers, painters, sculptors, and musicians can express their faith and where the church body can embrace and benefit from their gifts. “We believe that the arts are another significant way we can impact the world,” explains Furushima, who also serves as president of the church’s small accredited graduate theological school. “Our goal is to equip leaders for ministry in a variety of settings,” he says of the seminary, “especially in Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, and Asia. We will soon become the graduate school of a college currently in Guam with campuses on several Micronesian islands.”

While tourists wander the nearby beaches enjoying a brief stay in what they call paradise, little do they know that heaven is really happening in the local prison, public housing neighborhood, and a small church with a big heart. For paradise is wherever righteousness and justice prevail and wherever Christ’s church understands her call to be his bride.

Editor’s note: J. Monty Stewart is the pastor of Kona Church of the Nazarene, a multicultural church in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. This edition of his column, Making a Difference, is used with permission.

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