Extreme Makeover-Church Edition may be the best way to describe the recent transformation of three Disciples churches in Hawaii.
More than 100 volunteers descended on the churches in Oahu with hammers, nails, paintbrushes, and hearts of compassion and caring. From Aug. 16-20, the volunteers landscaped, remodeled, drywalled, sanded, and refurbished parts of First Christian Church in Honolulu, Wahiawa Christian Church in Wahiawa and Christ Church Uniting, a combined Disciples/Presbyterian congregation in Kailua.
The labor of love that included about 70 people from the mainland – primarily from the Pacific Southwest region – actually started with a conversation about a year ago between Don and Susan Dewey, co-regional ministers of the Pacific Southwest and Elaine Schoepf, pastor of Wahiawa. On a visit to the island, the three ministers talked about ways to better connect churches on Oahu with the work of the Pacific Southwest region, of which they are a part.
"We are out here so far away from everybody, that the people on the island felt separated," said Schoepf, who has served as transitional pastor at Wahiawa for the past three years. "Our goal was to figure out a way to make the Hawaiian churches feel part of the larger church family."
Don Dewey spent time thinking about ways to rebuild the connections within the Pacific Southwest churches – where the majority of the churches are in southern California and southern Nevada – with the three Disciples churches in Hawaii. His first idea was to set up a Miracle Day work project for the churches, but realized that wouldn’t be practical because of the distance of the Hawaiian churches from California. That’s when he hit upon the idea of a Miracle Week experience.
"We realized that our churches in Hawaii were not just disconnected through sheer distance, but also through programming," said Don Dewey. "I had a vision that if we stayed on the island for not just a day, but probably a week, we could really make a difference."
And what a difference the volunteers made.
At First Christian, staircase railings were painted, the chancel stage was extended, new plants and flowers were put in, and a new irrigation system was built in the court yard. About 25 miles away in Wahiawa, fresh paint now graces the church’s interior, all of the pews were sanded and repainted, two restrooms were remodeled, and new landscaping was planted. Christ Church Uniting also benefitted from a fresh coat of interior paint, new wood flooring, and remodeling of a large closet to create more storage.
"The physical changes to our churches are just amazing," said Schoepf, an ordained Disciples minister who previously served at a congregational church in Long Beach, Calif. "Although it took a lot of people and a lot of hours to do the work in our church, it’s so bright and beautiful now."
Between the congregations in Hawaii and southern California and southern Nevada, more than $23,000 was raised for supplies prior to the event. All of the volunteers, about 1/3 of whom were youth, paid their own expenses to attend Miracle Week, although some churches held fundraisers or gave donations to help with the costs.
Each evening a community celebration was held at one of the three churches which allowed the congregation to invite the community to worship. The evening event included a meal and a short program that gave organizers a chance to share information about the Pacific Southwest Region, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the local church.
As significant as those events were, both the Deweys and Schoepf say the most lasting change may be the bonds of fellowship that grew between Disciples in all parts of the region during the week-long experience.
"The relationships and friendships that were made during this event were the real joy of our experience," said Don Dewey. "As important as the various work projects were, they were really secondary compared to the significant relationships and bonding of the whole church together. To see those relationships get forged as people worked side by side was wonderful. There’s now a deeper relationship which has strengthened our sense of who we are – Disciples in southern California and southern Nevada and in Hawaii."
"It was a morale booster for everyone," agreed Schoepf. "It was amazing for our folks to meet face-to-face with so many Disciples from the rest of the region. Being able to spend quality intense time with folks from the region and elsewhere really helped build those connections."
Even through the last volunteer boarded a plane home three weeks ago, the impact of Miracle Week is still being felt on the island.
"Now that the volunteers have gone home and left our facility in such good condition, we’re being called as a congregation to think about other ways we can have an impact, such as by becoming more outer-focused in the community," said Schoepf.
Similar to television’s home makeover programs, Miracle Week event in Hawaii showed the value of hard work, caring and commitment in transforming not only buildings, but people’s outlook on their lives of faith.
By: Wanda Bryant Wills