Experts in Weakness

In the face of all the “trouble in paradise” that the people of Puna District face, I am consistently floored by the endurance and faithfulness that our people also display.

There seems to be a common theme drawing people to the Big Island, specifically to the Puna District: the desire for a restart. Sometimes that restart is an escape from the rat race of the mainland or other slow down, to appreciate life again. Many times that craving for a restart is a break from previous poor choices, family, associates, or life direction.

It was clear as Ray and I began ministry here almost 3 years ago (we’re still very much newbies here), that we had a lot of listening to do. As we got to know our people, we heard incredible stories of moving here with simply a suitcase or two, or perhaps even less, and the great sacrifices made to simply arrive. Those stories are astounding...and terrifying to the over-planner in me. We heard stories of being forced here by the growing prices of other islands and areas of this island. We heard stories of faithful lay persons and those with identified calls to ministerial service to move to this area. Most of the time those calls came without a lot of clarity - simply the call to, “Come and see.” We’ve heard stories of sweeping change as individuals recounted their family’s experiences over the last century - some changes for the better and some that you can’t help but feel are worse.

Beyond the stories of how people got to Puna, we also hear the present stories that are still being navigated. In these stories we often see deep hurt, and we’re often appalled by the way we can injure one another as humans. Stories of violence, theft, abuse of all varieties, loss of loved ones to age, illness, or drugs, and the ripple effects of poverty are common around here. Yet as these stories are told, often with tears, I will say again that I am consistently floored by the endurance and faithfulness that our people also display.

One of the tables of our people at Game Night

Worship team faithfully practicing together - barefoot is our norm

The congregation clumped up in groups for discussion questions as our response during worship one Sunday

Weekly we see people choosing to lay down the racial prejudices that have been spoken into them, choosing to see their brothers and sisters in Christ truly as family, no matter their ethnicity. We see our people grappling to see all people in this light of Christ, not just the Church.

Weekly we see people choosing to fight against the trauma that they’ve experienced, choosing hope over surrendering to the darkness. I see our people encouraging one another in love, and with true empathy because they too know how dark the dark can be.

Weekly we see people navigating tight finances - either in their retirement years, following long seasons of job loss or disability, and the growing costs of living here. I see our people display much greater trust than I often have that God will provide for His people.

Weekly we see people live with their hands open, and hearts full of compassion. I am consistently amazed how our people from all parts of the economic spectrum will give generously to others. They give what they can to spark the hope of Christ in the people around them. Most of the time this isn’t a monetary handout: it’s a ride to the store, a tank of gas, a shared meal, a hug, a safe place to stay, a haircut, or remembering a hitchhiker’s name and story...sometimes admittedly it’s a cigarette or blunt handed in love. There is so much I am learning...

Weekly I see people choosing to move from vengeance of their enemies to the harder work of loving their enemies. This is an ongoing work week in and week out when it seems that attacks often hit those who are already in a hole.

Weekly I keep seeing our people believe that God is with them, fighting for them, and longs to transform them. Over and over again I am so thankful that our congregation is full of adults, teens, and keiki alike who are passionately seeking Christ and to be like Him in our world. This should be the norm in every church, but I know it’s not. People’s live are actually changing. People are actually discovering that Christ can and will make them holy...even in Puna.

I’m not saying that we’ve got everything figured out, but I can say that I am a very thankful pastor. I felt convicted that many of these posts have seemed to be downers about life in Puna, but the reality is this Church keeps us here. Weekly we get to gather, worship, talk, drive, and eat with some of the best people I’ve ever met. People who show me how to follow Jesus more passionately and lean into His grace more dependently.

Pastor Claudine recently passed along to me a book called The Vulnerable Pastor by Mandy Smith. I haven’t finished it yet so I can’t give you a full recommendation, but I have been intrigued by the last sentence of the first chapter as I think about our church: “What could it mean to be experts in weakness?” I think we’re on to something here...

““My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 
So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, 
so that the power of Christ can work through me. 
That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, 
and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, 
and troubles that I suffer for Christ. 
For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9b-10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

- Pastor Malorri


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