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Hawaii pastor answers call to help new church grow

WAIKOLOA, Hawaii (BP)–More than 1,000 people made professions of faith in Christ at Mililani Baptist Church in Oahu, Hawaii, over a five year period, and at least 300 church members were trained in the FAITH ministry of Sunday School evangelism.

Emerson Wiles, then pastor of Mililani, heard that two churches on the Big Island had lost their pastors, so he assembled a list of pastors he knew from the mainland and started praying for God to call them.

“I was really encouraged to pray for this list of guys because I believe if you come to the islands and preach the Word and love the people and invest yourself, you can build a church,” Wiles said. “One day God told me to stop praying for them. ‘I want you to go,’ He said.

“I said, ‘Don’t you know we just received an award for being in the top one percent in the nation for evangelism, that we just put new floors in our house, that our son is starting college here, we still owe close to $1 million on our new educational building, and that we have 53 families from our church with members who’ve just been deployed to Iraq? They need a lot of ministry.’

“He told me, ‘You let me deal with the timing. You deal with the call.”

As June morphed into July, Wiles left a church where about 500 people attended Sunday morning worship, to Waikoloa, where 48 people called him as pastor.

Waikoloa Baptist Church in Waikoloa, Hawaii, was stop No. 56 Oct. 7, the final stop on SBC President Bobby Welch’s tour of Southern Baptist churches across North America. In kicking off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign, Welch is urging heightened evangelistic efforts to “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

“The great thing is, we’re in a planned community, one of only two in Hawaii,” Wiles said. “This church owns 12 acres of property. In the other church, we owned three-quarters of an acre.

“The potential here is unbelievable,” he said. “The resort areas are six miles down the mountainsides, multi-millionaires’ playgrounds. They’re an unreached people group, and we can reach out and touch them!”

Waikoloa Baptist was started 16 years ago and was given its property by the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention some time later as part of a mission thrust. A building was constructed about eight years ago that primarily was used as a preschool with the idea that the preschool would bring people to the church, which met in the same facility.

Initial plans called for a family life center as a second building, then a worship center, then the development of the rest of the property as a retreat center. So far, there’s just the preschool building.

“Basically this church is sitting here ready to do something,” Wiles said. “I think God brought me here to be a part of it.”

The preschool is equipped for 50 children ages 2-4, and there’s a waiting list. When school started in August, Waikoloa Baptist added an after school program for youngsters through the sixth grade.

The church also recently started MasterLife as a precursor to FAITH training. Both are programs developed by LifeWay Christian Resources.

“We’re trying to get discipleship started because we believe if you’re going to win someone to the Lord, you need to have something in place for them,” Wiles said.

Getting members involved in ministry is a key strategy for the church. Two women already lead Bible studies at a local prison. Other members, who work at the resorts, can help open doors to ministry there, the pastor said.

“Of course, the devil is always there,” Wiles said. “This island probably has more ice users [an illegal drug] than anywhere else, especially in Hawaii. It’s a challenge to get our young people involved in church and godly things.”

Another challenge is the fact that for resort workers, the weekend is their busy time. Wiles said he is developing ways to meet their spiritual needs at times other than Sunday morning.

A third challenge: “This community was probably planned as a retirement community,” Wiles said. “We have people here from all over the world. They say they have tried church. It didn’t work before so why should they try it again? We need to let them know the church is important and has something for them.”

FAITH training for evangelism through Sunday School is an important element in growing a church and its members, he said.

“I think for years we as Baptists have been blessed with discipleship materials,” Wiles said. “We have plenty of opportunities to acquire knowledge, but we need to use that knowledge. We need to apply it. In my mind, that’s what’s so great about FAITH. You don’t just talk about it, learn about it. You do it. We need to get outside these walls and take Christ to the people.”

What about Mililani Baptist, a church with 500 in Sunday morning worship, which now is without a pastor?

“Mililani didn’t miss a beat,” Wiles said. “That’s the beauty of FAITH. It becomes a lifestyle. Wherever they are, they tell people about Jesus Christ — even telemarketers who call to sell them a credit card. Mililani’s still doing FAITH, and it’s going great.”