Living Way Church members strive for healthy community

WAILUKU – Living Way Church members put their hands to good use Sunday morning after breaking free from the financial shackles that bound their Happy Valley sanctuary over the past year.

The church, which completed the purchase of its property earlier this month, prepared around 350 free and healthy meals for the community at its third annual Happy Valley Wellness Day. The event hosted about 11 service agencies, which assisted residents in dental hygiene, eye exams and other health concerns.

“This is really what it’s all about,” Pastor Greg Dela Cruz said. “We show our community they matter. Their health matters, their bodies, their kids, their safety, everything matters. And people care. This is what we get to do and how we built our church. We give. That’s what we do.”

Volunteer agencies at the event included the Maui County Dental Society, which passed out toothbrushes and toothpaste and gave tips on how to remove food from hard-to-reach places in the mouth.

The Lions Clubs of Maui, Project Vision Hawai’i and WE – a Hui for Health parked a 35-foot mobile eye clinic in the church’s parking lot to provide free exams to identify disorders such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. The mobile van also offered blood-pressure and glucose screenings.

As hundreds of families enjoyed the fresh fruit, vegetables and health services, community members thanked the church and Dela Cruz for enduring the long road to purchasing their place of worship.

The church has flourished from a handful of members in a small retail space in 2003 to a 12,700-square-foot home to hundreds of people. The church is fit with a commercial kitchen, child care space and a host of other areas.

“It’s a miraculous story,” said member Orion Ackers of Wailuku. “It’s just a beautiful thing. He (Dela Cruz) made this kitchen not for himself but for the whole community.”

Ackers and his wife, Raedene, have five children and have been members of the church for about nine years. Raedene Ackers said that the church saved her marriage and helped her husband quit drug use, saying, “He couldn’t date me until he came to the church.”

“When he made that decision to put God first and come to church, it changed his life,” she said of her husband. “People need that, and they need a pastor who loves them and doesn’t judge them.”

Member Brooksie Kenolio of Happy Valley said that she has been with the church for a decade and it also helped save her marriage. She added that the church has become her family and has helped her countless times through family troubles – even if it means calling Dela Cruz at 2 a.m.

“He answers his phone,” she said laughing. “I really feel like these people are my family and you can be yourself. It’s not a show, you can be who you are and they love each other through the good, the bad and the ugly.”

In between helping children make keiki ID cards with the help of firefighters on Sunday, Kenolio said that the church is a vital resource to the community – it hosts town meetings, family-building courses and substance abuse programs, and is looking to provide weekly hot meals once its kitchen is completed.

“Any kind of need – diapers, people to pray for your cancer, whatever you need – you have the church family,” she said. “I don’t think my husband and I would be together without this church and Pastor Greg.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at