Church aims to remain in Happy Valley

WAILUKU – Living Way Church of Maui, facing possible loss of its place of worship in Happy Valley with its landlord in foreclosure, is seeking to raise as much as $34,000 in the next two weeks to buy the property at auction.

As of Aug. 2, property owner Revitalize Wailuku LLC owed First Hawaiian Bank more than $340,000, including interest, according to court documents. Revitalize Wailuku incorporated in 2003 and lists Giovanni Rosati of Wailuku as its manager, according to state business records.

Attempts to reach Revitalize Wailuku officials were unsuccessful, and the phone number listed for the company has been disconnected.

The outstanding balance is the maximum amount that the bank could ask for during the property’s auction on March 14 in the lobby of Hoapili Hale, the state courthouse in Wailuku.

Court-appointed commissioner Mark Reck said that there is another potential creditor that could increase the bid price. A hearing on that creditor’s inclusion will be held March 12.

The county has assessed the property and buildings at $769,200, according to property tax records.

If the bid price does not rise, the church would need to raise at least 10 percent of the $340,000 – or $34,000 – which is required in cash or certified check at the time of the auction. There is no guarantee that even if they raise the money that they will be awarded the property in the foreclosure process.

Still, the church will try. It is a vital center of the community, more than a place of worship, that hosts town meetings, family building courses and weekly narcotics anonymous seminars and offers a nursery for mothers with young children and temporary housing for those in need.

“We need to be down here,” Pastor Greg Dela Cruz said of the Happy Valley church in a portion of the old T.K. Supermarket building. The church “really keeps the community together and is a safe place for people to come.”

The church that opened in 2003 is a sanctuary for 150 to 200 people to worship every Sunday. Like other churches, Living Way hosts funerals and weddings and a youth Bible college.

“There’s so many people that call this their church, and they don’t even go to church,” he said. “Any day of the week, people come to church . . . and it’s far from a religious place. It’s a place that focuses on family, education, sports, you name it. We encourage families to get out of drugs and out of jail, and every nasty thing you can think of.”

On Tuesday afternoon, church member Ramona Rodarte and her boyfriend, Robert Kihoi, visited Dela Cruz for a couples coaching session inside the church.

“I was 18 when I first met him, and now I’m 32,” Rodarte said of Dela Cruz. “I come to see him every time I need help.”

The couple said they have struggled with drug addiction for much of their adult lives, resulting in jail time and losing three children to state authorities. They said the church and Dela Cruz have helped them while “society gives up on us.”

“There’s a lot of us guys that come down here,” Kihoi said of methamphetamine users. “It’s about breaking the cycle of cynicism and changing our lives. (Dela Cruz) puts good, fresh values in you and for the past six years my life has changed. I have not gone back to jail, and I do whatever it takes” to keep it that way.

In a backroom of the church that runs parallel to the old Habitat for Humanity ReStore building, members were busy preparing a rummage sale for a bazaar fundraising event.

The event from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 8 will include a silent auction, laulau plate lunches and music.

Among the volunteers was Jill Paresa Rogoff, who has lived in Happy Valley since 1979 and joined the church about seven years ago. Rogoff said the church has helped many more than the hundreds that show up during Sunday services.

“If everybody who actually calls (Dela Cruz) pastor came, there wouldn’t be enough room here, and this I can say with all heartfelt gratitude,” Rogoff said.

In between sweeping the floor and organizing hangers for clothes, Rogoff recalled her personal experience with the church and how a run-in with an old friend led her to join.

“We started talking, and she just seemed so nice,” she said of her old friend. “I said, ‘You seem kind of different. What’s up with you?’ And she goes, ‘Auntie, I came into the Lord, and I go to the church down the street.’ ”

Rogoff said she could not believe her friend’s transformation.

“She was a hardcore drug addict. Her and her husband – criminals. Just not nice people,” Rogoff said. “She used to bust people up, and she was a tita . . . to the max.”

At that time, Rogoff was looking for a new church and said that her friend invited her to Living Way Church of Maui.

“As soon as I walked in, one of the first things I noticed was it was predominantly Hawaiian, which is pretty rare for any church on this island,” she said. “And everybody hugged me. Every single person hugged me, and I was like, ‘Wow this is really lots of aloha.’ ”

Alongside Rogoff and also preparing for the rummage sale were Jackie Burns and Sabrina Mindoro. Burns, another longtime Happy Valley resident and church member, said she remembers when “people used to do drug deals right outside the building.”

“We’re full of people that other people don’t want,” Burns said.

Despite the church and the surrounding area’s reputation for criminal activity, Rogoff said she has “never seen this place as a negative,” and that people go to the church “because they know they’re not going to be judged.”

“It’s so easy to love lovable people,” she said. “But what about the guy on the street. How easy is it to love him? Let me tell you, I had a hard time. I still have a hard time. I got all my judgments. But how in the world are you going to help people if you can’t get close to them because you think you’re all that? That’s what I’m learning” from Dela Cruz.

While the Happy Valley community members could potentially lose their church, Dela Cruz could lose his home, as well. He and about a dozen people live in a building on the foreclosed property. Dela Cruz, who has five family members living with him, also provides temporary housing for other families. He said a single mother with two children moved out last month.

In facing the daunting task of raising thousands of dollars in only a couple of weeks to save his church, Dela Cruz was unwavering.

“We came out here with a purpose. We came out here to start a church,” he said.

Monetary donations are being accepted at the church and bazaar.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at