In the second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote that the faith of his grandmother and mother was also in him (II Timothy 1:5). We feel that we have the same kind of family legacy. My father and my grandfather were pastors. Debbie’s great-grandfather was also a pastor. Both of our mothers are women of faith.
But this legacy does not begin and end with our natural family. We also have a spiritual family legacy, which begins with the revolutionary ministry of John Robert Stevens, and continues with Gary and Marilyn Hargrave.
Our Brazilian Roots
I grew up in Brazil, and went to a church there that was a part of The Living Word Fellowship. I met John Robert Stevens—the founder of our fellowship—in 1981, when I was fifteen. My father took the whole family from Brazil to California. It was impressive to be around John because you could feel the sense of destiny in God that surrounded him. I didn’t want to go back to Brazil! But I was too young to stay.
Once I graduated from high school, I went back to California. But it was too late. John Stevens had passed away.
At that time, there was a controversy within the churches he had founded about which direction the leadership should take. So I went to the Lord and said “I don’t understand what’s going on, but I give my spirit to You.” The next morning, the Lord gave me a revelation from the Scriptures about how Marilyn Hargrave was like a mother in the Gospel to me (I Thessalonians 2:7; I Corinthians 4:15; Philippians 2:22). Just as Paul referred to himself as both a spiritual mother and a father to those in the early church, Marilyn, and her husband Gary, were to be my spiritual parents.
Later, I saw even more references in the Bible to this kind of experience: Ruth and Naomi, Elijah and Elisha, and of course Jesus and His disciples. I spent the rest of my trip—nine months—taking every chance I got to be with Gary and Marilyn; they had been given the ministry of speaking the Word to The Living Word Fellowship by John Robert Stevens. When I went home, I connected to Silas Esteves, who had been commissioned by John as an apostle in Brazil, and was also being trained in his ministry by Gary and Marilyn.
Around this time, Silas had a vision for a “prophetic community,” a group of people who would live a family lifestyle in Christ together. He realized this dream at Monte Sião, which translates, from Portuguese, as Mount Zion.
That was the church where my wife Debbie and I met. We helped build the church; we were laying tiles on the roof of the church when we first started dating! We were also translating Gary Hargrave’s Word into Portuguese together. So the Word of God is really a fundamental part of our relationship, and Gary Hargrave’s voice is rooted in our hearts.
The two of us were very involved in the Monte Sião church. I bought a parcel of land on the Monte Sião property with a vision to build a house in the prophetic community. Debbie and I created and oversaw the youth ministry; our hearts were fixed on imparting the love of God to the next generations. Over the course of fifteen years we watched the kids at Monte Sião grow up. When we were married, we not only made vows to one another, we also committed to be deeply involved with the Body of Christ at Monte Sião. It became more than a prophetic community to us, it truly became family, with Silas and Shuma Esteves as a father and mother in the Gospel, just as much as Paul was to the early Church. Our lives were centered at Monte Sião and we were just beginning to see years of prayer, faith, and hard work pay off. Nothing would have driven us to leave it all behind, except a Word from the Lord.
Our Move to Maui
In 2007, on Debbie’s birthday, we were seeking the Lord about the next steps for our lives. That day, she read something John Robert Stevens wrote about how we can’t say that we’re giving our lives to Jesus, but reserve the right to say no when He leads us. The next day, Silas and Shuma talked to us and said they felt a strong witness from the Lord that we were to move to Maui and pastor a church there! This was what the Lord was preparing us to hear the day before. When they spoke it, it was confirmed to our hearts. We knew right then and there that the Lord was leading us, and we immediately said yes.
Three months later, we moved.
We left Brazil confident in our destiny in God, and driven in our commitment to recreate the miracle of a spiritual family that we had experienced at Monte Sião.
When we arrived at Hale O Nā Kāula, the church was just starting to come out of a long court battle with Maui County over our first amendment rights to use our property as a church. Hale O Nā Kāula purchased new land to build a new church in the mid-1990s, but little did they know that it would take more than a decade to finally be allowed to worship there.
In our first week on Maui, some of the elders came to us and said that they felt as though they had failed in what the Lord set before them. The people were discouraged. The younger ones felt lost and didn’t know what to do. The years and years of delay on the vision for Hale O Nā Kāula Church was devastating to the spiritual life of the congregation. But we had found a treasure buried in the field (Matthew 13:44). We determined that Hale O Nā Kāula had not gone through anything in vain. After receiving so much from our spiritual parents, God had brought us to the place where we had to become spiritual parents, ourselves! We took personally what Paul said to Timothy about stirring up the gifts (II Timothy 1:6). So we began to refresh the life of Christ in the people by stirring up their gifts.
What we did was simple: we simply loved everyone at Hale O Nā Kāula with the love of Christ. We personally felt His love through John Robert Stevens, Gary and Marilyn Hargrave, and Silas and Shuma Esteves. That experience of the love of God being ministered through family is the fruit of the Gospel of Christ and the focus of our ministry. We’ve seen the fruit of this in our lives, and now we’re seeing the fruit of it here in Maui.
All we had to do was remind the people at Hale O Nā Kāula Church about how they are all new creatures in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17), and remind them who the Lord made them to be! Out of that, the congregation has grown. People are continuing to find a purpose for their lives in the Lord, and the church has been thriving. The feeling of family is being established.
When Debbie was little, she read a book which talked about a feeling called saudade. It is a Portuguese term for the feeling of missing your country and family so deeply that you feel sick. This is the feeling we had about leaving our family at Monte Sião, but our passion to create the same kind of spiritual family here in Maui is the vision the Lord has given us, and we are pursuing it with all of our hearts.
This is the vision the Lord has given us, to see the Body of Christ functioning as a family in Maui. We know that the Lord, by the Holy Spirit, will bring it to pass.