If there is one word that describes the work of Lutheran Indian Ministries in Hawaii, it is COMMUNITY.
On the island of Oahu, where churches and communities are becoming more disconnected, Vicar Clarence DeLude (Native Hawaiian) works to create missional communities and bring church bodies together.
Building Missional Communities
In the case of mission work in Hawaii, Clarence follows the directions of Jesus.
When Jesus appointed the seventy-two and sent them out in front of him, he tells them, "When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you." (Luke 10:5-6)
Clarence's main goal is finding a door into a new community and seeking that "person of peace" with whom he can build a relationship and start a missional community, (a missional community is a small group of Christians, about the size of an extended family, who work and serve in a particular neighborhood or area). Thankfully for Clarence, he has a lifetime of acquaintances and work associates from his previous work in education, as well as being involved in a number of organizations, to tap into to find the right person.
In many ways, the work Clarence does in Hawaii is similar to the work we do in Alaska. Because of the vast distance between villages in Alaska, our work is to proclaim and disciple Natives to reach their own peopl and continue mentoring that individual in the years to come. In Hawaii, the villages are not geographically far apart, but there are cultural and historical differences between the groups that can make it difficult for an outsider.
One off-shoot of missional communities are house churches which have begun to spring up in many small villages. They function in much the same as the early church, individuals gathering together in a home to worship and learn about Jesus.
Clarence explained that these gatherings are more than a Bible Study, and he enjoys being involved because it gives him a chance to further practice the worship leadership he is studying in seminary.
There can be a downside to these gatherings, however, and that is a lack of Biblical knowledge.
Clarence currently meets bi-weekly with a group of Native Hawaiian house church leaders, and at times, he is concerned about the theology being preached.
"My training at the seminary has been invaluable. Because of my studies, I am able to redirect the men toward the truth of the Bible, so they can better lead their groups," Clarence stated. "We forget how easy it is to lose our way without good leadership, and I feel like my involvement in this group of leaders is helping to keep them close to the Bible and God's will for us as Christians AND Native Hawaiians."
Clarence's ability to interact and mentor house church leaders gives him a reach into communities he might not otherwise be able to get to and perfectly illustrates what we talk about when it comes to discipleship within Lutheran Indian Ministries.
Clarence hopes, in time, to bring together these different house churches, as well as the established Lutheran churches, for bigger events, in order to share in fellowship and in resources. He particularly see the need for a larger church community when it comes to child and youth ministry.
"Many of these small groups, as well as many of our churches which have declined in recent years, have only a couple teenagers and a handful of children. It's hard to run a proper youth program with only two teens or a Vacation Bible School with a few children, so I look forward to connecting different groups. Not only will it enrich the program, but the teens and children will understand that there is a larger Christian community out there. Youth really need to know they aren't alone in their faith," Clarence explained.
proclaiming and outreach
Beyond the discipling, Clarence also proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ through a variety of activities.
One method of reaching new communities is through park clean-ups.
Clarence leads and participates in a variety of Bible studies, and one, in particular, has a heart for outreach. So, once a month, after their Bible study is finished, they go to a local park to pick up trash and do minor maintenance work around the area.
"It's really important for us to be present in the community," explained Clarence. "But more importantly, we need to be seen working in the community. Anyone can show up and hand out flyers, but by taking the time and effort to clean up the local park, we're showing we genuinely care about the community and its resources."
Clarence also has a passion for the extensive homeless populatino in Hawaii. Due to the high cost of living, Hawaii has the highest rate of homelessness in the country. The problem is so big that in 2016, the governor of Hawaii declared a state of emergency because it had grown out of control.
There are a number of homeless camps around the island of Oahu, but Clarence's current focus is a newer, smaller camp.
"There is a prominent camp nearby with 200-300 individuals, but a new camp has popped up and currently contains around 30 shelters. It breaks my heart to drive past because you see kids bikes sitting outside the tents, and you know there's a family living there. We are going to start our efforts at this smaller camp which is more manageable for our small team, and see where God takes it," Clarence stated.
The plan: to reach out to the people of this small homeless camp with coffee and prayers.
"We aren't going into the camp with sermons. We plan to simply show them God's love," Clarence detailed. "We'll offer coffee and tea for the adults, hot cocoa for the kids. We'll have a charging station for phones, and we'll be available for prayers or to answer questions. The homeless problem is so big here, but no one is doing any type of ministry in the camps, so that's what we're going to do!"
The big picture
Clarence is keeping busy with his various projects in Hawaii, as well as working toward ordination, but he manages to always keep the big picture in mind.
"I am so excited for the extra support from LWML this year, it will really make an impact in Hawaii, not only as it pertains to Native Hawaiians, but for our Lutheran churches, too. This national grant from the LWML, the first ever given to the California-Nevada-Hawaii district, can help us to open the eyes of Lutherans in Hawaii to the needs that surround them," explained Clarence. "All of these little projects, serve to benefit the whole church of Hawaii, which benefits the Native Hawaiians, which grows Christ's kingdom! This is going to be an exciting year!"