Hawaii churches increase ministry amid devastation of COVID-19 shutdown

Over the last year, Pastor Randy Pauley of Kahului Baptist Church has preached messages remotely from several areas around Maui, hoping to offer “some measure of joy,” he said.
BP photo

Hawaii churches increase ministry amid devastation of COVID-19 shutdown

By Scott Barkley
Baptist Press

The front desk workers and bellboys. Food service. Concierge. Restaurant staff. Custodians. Maintenance workers and lifeguards. Surfing instructors.

Those are just a handful of the jobs lost at Hawaiian hotels and resorts since the onset of COVID-19. Other businesses feeling the damage include helicopter and fishing tours, sunset cruises and Uber and Lyft drivers. Retail businesses ground to a halt.

When COVID-19 all but put a plug into Hawaii’s tourism pipeline, the state suffered like no other in the union.

Even when they could get there, travelers didn’t care for the 14-day quarantine upon arrival and certainty of getting ticketed should they leave their hotel without permission.

In December 2019 daily airline passenger counts for Hawaii approached 43,000, but by late March 2020 those numbers had plummeted to below 500. That plunge put the state at Depression-era employment levels.

Push in ministry

“Nearly everyone in the community is connected to the resorts or schools,” said Chris Martin, Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention executive director, on how the economic downturn affected those areas.

However, he noted that churches continued to push in ministry and reaching others with the gospel.

“Our churches have been very active in missions locally. And while they haven’t been able to engage directly with people as in the past, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in training and preparation by churches for ministry in this day,” he said.

The HPBC consists of 155 churches, 121 of them located on the Hawaiian Islands.

The rest are spread across the South Pacific Baptist Association (American Samoa and Samoa), Baptist Association of Micronesia (Guam and Saipan) and the Asia Baptist Network (Okinawa, Mainland Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines).

The physical expanse between convention churches led to an unusual timeline for adjusting to the COVID-19 shutdown. Members of the Asia Baptist Network were the first to directly experience its effects as Freedom Church, located in Seoul, suspended in-person worship in mid-February, a month before churches in Hawaii did so.

Craig Webb, assistant executive director, had been visiting HPBC churches in Asia at that time and rushed back to Hawaii as COVID travel restrictions began taking shape.

Governmental regulations, he said, had a definite impact on how churches were allowed to gather.

“Hawaii is a more liberal state, so we’ve had more shutdowns. Things have opened up somewhat. Most of our churches have been able to start meeting again in person, but the recommendations to do so can be confusing. Still, we’ve gathered as best we can,” he said.

Food distribution

In the meantime, churches ministered through outreach efforts, primarily through food distribution.

Those leading the way included Lahaina Baptist, Kahului Baptist and Waiehu Baptist churches on Maui and Life Christian Church and Central Baptist Church on Oahu.

Hawaii Chinese Baptist and Living Faith Church in Honolulu partnered to donate more than 1,000 face shields to medical workers.

Guam Christian Life Fellowship partnered with other churches to provide weekly meals to the homeless in a park.

Pastor Jay Wright of Lahaina Baptist Church said members stepped up their ministry efforts, and the church witnessed “a tremendous increase in active volunteers.”

Serving the community

“Roughly 60 percent of our church members are out of work and spending their time serving people in need throughout the community,” Wright said. “Many are delivering groceries to the elderly and shut-ins and working with one of our weekly outreaches to the homeless.

“We’re seeing many new relational bridges develop between our members and those disconnected from the local church.”

Martin said the early experience HPBC churches in Korea had with COVID essentially gave those on the Hawaiian Islands about a month to prepare logistically for ministry during a shutdown.

Churches’ responses were marked by determination to continue serving not only in their community but through fulfilling the Great Commission.

“We witnessed our pastors and church leaders exercising great faith in the … months of the pandemic,” he said.

“They embraced the uncertainty and faced the difficulties, determined to show the power of Christ to a world searching for hope.”

And despite the bad economy, Martin said Cooperative Program giving in 2020 actually exceeded its budget by 3%.

Likewise, 2021 brought a promising start.

“Our churches have been incredibly faithful. Even though their primary avenues of ministry were hindered, they found new ways,” he said. “They didn’t throw their hands in the air and wonder what they were going to do.”