White sandy beaches. Turquoise water. Clear skies and beautiful sunsets. They’re usually the first things that come to mind when people think of Hawai’i.
But what about not knowing where your next meal will come from? What about not knowing where you’ll sleep tonight? For the members of Maui’s community who are houseless, those questions are very real.
They’re just as real to God. And he laid these struggles on the hearts of one InterVarsity chapter, from the University of Hawai’i Maui College, and called them to act. They were inspired by two stories—one helping them truly see the realities of their houseless brothers and sisters and another encouraging them to step out in faith to serve.
Last year’s spring semester wasn’t easy for Kahala. By 4:45 a.m., she was up already and moving the van she’d slept in. By 6:30, she needed to be done getting washed up after finding an open bathroom. An hour later, she had to be at her school’s student lounge with microwaveable meals ready to heat up for breakfast. And she had to do all this with three children. For six weeks.
The day Kahala had to gather up the kids, hurry them into the van, driving away from their home, it started pouring across Maui. “The entire time we were homeless and sleeping in our van, that same heavy rain continued,” she said. “I felt as though the heavens were crying with me.”
Kahala did her best to stay strong and confident for her kids, attending small group Bible studies and church just like normal. “This was tremendously hard,” she said. “But we knew that we were doing the right thing, which solidified our faith. We knew it was a matter of time and any other thoughts were banished from existence, even if we cried all night.”
Having lived on the streets of Philadelphia’s inner city when she was younger, Kahala couldn’t help thinking of those times as she tried making the best of her situation in Maui with her kids. “Each day brought plenty of obstacles, emotional baggage, and an ounce of despair,” she said. “Each day equally brought new people who would try to help.”
Throughout this challenging season, God faithfully provided for Kahala and her family through the generous love of her community. Classmates opened up their homes. Kahala was able to deeply connect with new people. And on Valentine’s Day, just when it felt like she couldn’t handle much more, God provided Kahala with an affordable apartment. The landlord, knowing her situation, even covered the first month’s rent.
“Our faith [has been] renewed, and our family reminded of why we are supposed to stick together,” Kahala said.
Faith Over Fear
“Have you thought about planning that outreach event I mentioned a few months ago?” asked Brennan, InterVarsity’s Area Director for Hawai’i.
“Uh . . .” Naomi’s eyes dropped to the floor as she answered her supervisor. “Not yet.”
Brennan’s voice came over the phone, gentle and gracious. “How come? Is there something holding you back?”
“I’m not sure,” Naomi said.
Overall, this past school year had been really encouraging for her. Serving as the campus minister of a newly planted ministry, Naomi had seen 15 students drawn to the chapter at the University of Hawai’i Maui College. Four had either made first-time decisions to follow Jesus or recommitted their lives to him. God had also renewed Naomi’s passion for ministry and Maui, her home island. He’d even giver her the opportunity to serve as the prayer leader for the school’s Hawaiian Club.
But still there was this outreach event . . . she’d been putting it off for months.
“Naomi, are you still there?” Brennan asked.
“Yeah,” she switched the phone to her other hand. “Honestly, I’m not sure what’s holding me back.”
Brennan continued asking questions, listening carefully. Together they discovered the reason behind her procrastinating: Naomi was afraid of failure.
“I didn’t think that talking about not planning and doing one specific event would lead me to such a deep revelation about the internal, emotional work that God was doing,” she said later. “I felt God’s challenge to be unafraid and move forward. Brennan reminded me it wasn’t about just crossing something off the list but about the heart behind it. It was clear that my heart wasn’t fully in it, and that needed to be changed.”
Brennan went on to ask Naomi to pray for faith over her fears. “[Those prayers] would help her to lean into Jesus for his mind and heart,” he recalled. “Naomi responded faithfully . . . and saw God show up in transforming her heart and mind.”
Reminded that God wasn’t asking her to come up with a perfect event but rather was just asking her to try, Naomi took a step of faith planning an outreach event for Maui’s houseless in the city of Kahului to offer them help and hope, tangible encouragement.
Naomi began the outreach by gathering five students together around a picnic table on campus. Kahala was among them and felt led to share. “One thing I have learned very early on is that we need to be the living example of what we need to see,” she said, looking back on that moment. “This leading by example is inspiring to others.”
Kahala began opening up about her own experience of houselessness and how she had just found an apartment a few weeks earlier. She spoke of how her faith has grown in God’s provision, how he’s called her to give generously to other families who are struggling, even when she didn’t have much. The others listened intently, coming around to comfort her as she began to weep.
“The students . . . could tell that even though [Kahala] shared about her own generosity, there was much more she has given but wasn’t sharing,” Naomi recalled. “They were able to see [her] heart of generosity, aloha, and humility.”
Naomi went on to read Acts 2:42–47. Her longing to see this kind of beautiful community, when combined with Kahala’s testimony, inspired the students to give their own money to cover some of the supplies for the outreach event.
They then took to the streets of downtown Kahului to hand out blankets, towels, and feminine products, spending time listening and talking to their houseless brothers and sisters. Moved by all they’d heard, the students boldly stepped out in faith, inviting many people to upcoming chapter events.
“Being seen on the streets . . . meant that folks who knew the students might have seen them and been concerned or worried for their well-being or just wondered what they were doing out there in the middle of the afternoon talking with houseless folks,” Naomi said. “This would provide opportunities for these students to have conversations about their faith or about God.
“I saw students grow in determination and their heart for other people,” she continued. “I knew they loved each other, the small group on campus, and their classmates, who they were close with, but seeing them reach out to strangers, to talk and even pray with them was a side of them I hadn’t seen all the time.”
“[We] listened to the hearts of those who wanted to share their journeys with us,” Kahala said. “We were able to pray with them and provide support. It felt great to do this with our brothers and sisters in faith and not through an existing human service provider. It showed us how much our friends in faith truly cared and that we were all ready to stand to make a difference.”
As Kahala continued to cling to her faith through a difficult season, as Naomi faced her fears head-on through God’s grace and power, many lives were changed. Maui’s houseless tangibly experienced the love of Christ.