It’s no secret that Hodge and I have a special connection to Hawaii. While living on Maui, Hodge learned a lot about ministry, surfing, and living "the good life". Years later, we began our life together as we married and honeymooned on that same island. The truth is, we could one day see ourselves living there. The beauty and the easygoing lifestyle are very appealing to us.
I think one of the reasons we love our city in Portugal so much is because it holds a lot of similar characteristics to Hawaii. There is a certain relaxed way of living, where value is founded not in work but in relationships and where endless hours are passed with family and friends instead of in front of the television. It could be because of these characteristics that every time we have friends from Hawaii visit us, they just seem to fall right into place when it comes to culture and ministry.
We saw this theory proven yet again as we had a group from Pawa’a Community Church from Oahu join us in ministry last month. For those unaware, Pawa’a (pronounced pa-vá-á) is our sending church. The story of how God has used them to help us, guide us, and love on us is one with extraordinary details from the very beginning. We met the pastor through a colleague the year we moved to Portugal. Back then, our common interests were founded in a desire to use surfing as a way to love on people and share the truth about Jesus. The first group of university students that they sent actually helped us get into the surfing community here. Since that first summer and every summer following that we have lived in Portugal, Pawa’a has sent groups to help us meet people and love on our community. They have been walking along side of us from nearly day one, and they are an integral part of our very ministry in Portugal. So, it’s no surprise that when we were leaving the sending agency that we had been working with, and we were looking for anyone willing to help us stay in Portugal, Pawa’a stepped up. We are incredibly grateful for everything that they do for us.
This year having them with us was a bit different. After nearly four years of living here, we are pretty well-established in this community. We have had the great fortune of meeting and sharing life with a lot of Portuguese people. We have also had the opportunity to start many spiritual conversations with those around us. As it is our desire to challenge others to think differently about God, Jesus, and the Bible (than what their culture has taught them), we have found that most Portuguese are genuinely interested to carry on these types of conversations. So, this year, having the Hawaiians with us was more about going deeper in the relationships and the conversations that we had already started. And just like the three trips before it, this trip was incredibly fruitful, leaving us with much follow-up to do.
Another reason why this church group does so well in connecting with people is because of the way they do church. You see, Pawa’a Community Church is a house church that serves their community well and regularly meets in a home to worship the Lord together. Imagine it. About 100 people, packed into an average sized home. Some standing, some sitting, some outside on one of two porches. It’s what I imagine the early church looked like. It’s the idea that the church is the people, not the building. Pawa'a represents a lot of what we want for a church in Portugal, but beyond that, they represent how we imagine church would work best in Portugal. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has done a lot of damage when it comes to the word “church”. In the Portuguese language, “igreja” (“church”) strictly means the building. However, in studying the Bible, not once is the word “church”, which appears 114 times in the New Testament, used to mean “a building”, “a location,” or “an organization.” Instead, “church" means “the people of God.” This is why we also are meeting in a home, to show that we are the church.
A final reason this church group resonates with us is the very meaning of the word that encapsulates their existence. Pawa’a is a Hawaiian word meaning “wild” and “untamed.” As stated on their website, "God has us on a wild journey led by the Holy Spirit and not by man.” Since moving to Portugal, we have seen this to be absolutely true. Our daily life is full of unpredictable ups and downs, lefts and rights, but despite it all, I can look back and clearly see how the Spirit was working and moving to bring us to where we are. This wild journey that we are on is one that has led to a deeper trust in what God is doing in our own lives and what He is doing in the lives of those around us. We have no other choice than to completely trust that God is in control and it is His Spirit leading.