In 1946, four college students from Texas flew to Hawaii to lead a revival, leading to the creation of BSU Summer Missions, now known as Go Now Missions, a Texas Baptists ministry that mobilizes students to go on mission all over the world. This summer, Go Now sent four students back to Hawaii to help a church plant on the 75th anniversary of the inaugural trip.
The students, who came from universities across Texas, helped Connections Church in Kapolei prepare for their official launch in September. Pastor David Whitehead and his wife, Nancy, moved to Kapolei in April 2020 after feeling God calling them to start a church in the area. Connections Church meets in the city’s water park, holding weekly Bible studies in addition to preview services that happen monthly. Preview services are once-a-month Sunday services that give the community a chance to see what weekly worship at the church looks like before the church has formally launched.
During their summer with the church, the Go Now missionaries were able to help Whitehead prepare for the official launch through hosting Vacation Bible Schools (VBS), training up a worship team, raising community awareness and more. By the end of the summer, the church had grown from 46 to 78 in attendance. They also had a record high attendance of 119 on VBS Parent Day.
“They helped us so much,” Whitehead said. “We had this long to-do list, and I kept filling it up and they kept getting it done.”
McCartney Holeman from Tarleton State University was one of the Go Now students who served with Connections Church. She helped establish the church’s youth group and explained that they garnered interest by holding a weekly youth event in a local park. The first week nobody came, but after that more and more youth came every week to play games and participate in a short Bible study. Two families with teenagers also joined the church during the summer.
“One of the other things we really prayed for was the youth group, because the church didn’t have any, and by the end, we had 17 kids show up,” Holeman shared. “Having youth in the church is important because they are the next generation of helpers and leaders.”
The missionaries also participate in many “acts of kindness” with the church, handing out drinks at busy intersections and hosting a free car wash. Whitehead explained that these events were important because they helped break down negative perceptions many non-believers can have about a church.
“We’re trying to give back to the community because in many unchurched places the perception is that the church is trying to take from the community,” he explained. "We also want to show that, 'For God so loved the world that He gave…’ as we begin the first step toward sharing the Good News."
Reaching the unreached at home
During the free carwash, a man named Christian stopped to get his car washed and began talking to the students. When he heard about Connections Church, he got excited. He had grown up in the church, but had fallen away and lived apart from God for a long time. Two Go Now students, Andre Velasco, from The University of Texas at El Paso, and David Thomas, from Sam Houston University, began meeting with him to study the Bible. On the third meet-up, Christian said that he wanted a relationship with God.
“He shared that he wanted to have a faith like Andre and me,” Thomas shared. “He so desperately wanted a relationship with God but felt like there was just a barrier between him and God. I felt the Holy Spirit flaming within Andre and I as we eagerly were led to share that the way to break through that barrier was through Christ. As we shared the Gospel and the truth that Christ is the mediator between us and God, I saw a dawning realization appear on his face. To the glory of God, he gave his life to Christ on July 22nd in a Five Guys Burgers and Fries.”
On August 15, Christian was baptized at Connections Church’s baptismal service.
For Holeman, one of the most unexpected experiences was meeting a family who had never heard of Jesus.
“My entire life I thought I had to go further and outside the U.S. to find someone who’d never heard of Jesus, but I didn’t. They were right there, and they’d never heard,” she said.
Addy Strange, from the University of Houston, met with the family and got to know their kids. She even met with one of the older children and shared the gospel with her.
“She heard the gospel for the first time from me and was pretty open to it,” Strange explained. “She told me she’s always lived here on the island and has always thought there had to be a God who created it all. I’m excited that God allowed me to plant a seed."
Since their initial visit to the church, the family has come weekly to participate in Bible study and preview services.
Whitehead explained that on an average Sunday, less than 10% of the population in Hawaii attends church. Still, as Christian and the family that Holeman talked to show, people are very receptive to the gospel.
“The people are fairly responsive. We just need more helpers, prayer and support,” Whitehead said.
The Go Now missionaries were able to provide some of that support as they honored the trip that started Go Now Missions so many years before.