Blessings of peace and all good! I was visiting the Christ Church website and noticed that the article about my ministry in Brazil was outdated; so outdated that I am no longer in Brazil but in Hawaii! The fault of an outdated website article is not yours but mine. I have failed to write in a very long time. Forgive me. So much has happened, but I will try to be brief.
I left Brazil in 2015 to help with my father’s final days and then with my mother’s adjustment to widowhood. It was during this time that I rescued my yellow lab, Angelica, from the county shelter. We trained as a dog therapy team and enjoyed the many interesting places and people the dog therapy ministry introduced, but I never stopped grieving for Brazil and its rich ministry even though I knew the time there, outside of occasional short-term visits, was concluded. But by mid-2017, I also sensed the call to family work in Ventura was completed.
Then came the “turtle trek.” It began on the final day of Bill’s and my pre-pilgrimage in Athens, Greece where we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary on June 22. We encountered two turtles, one basking near a cat by the Areopagus, and the other sunning in the middle of a trail we were unsure about. We had become a bit lost hiking down from the Philappos monument. Sighting the turtle gave us the pause we needed to gain our bearings and continue on the correct path. These turtle sightings gave me cause to entitle the pilgrimage to the Holy Land we were blessed to be on “turtle trek;” it was a call to walk in peace with perseverance, determination and serenity. Little did I know the totem was beckoning beyond the remarkable experience of the Holy Land to a new ministry.
It was at a point of deep angst in September, that into my inbox landed an inquiry from Fr. David Gierlach, rector of St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church of Honolulu, Hawai‘i who was seeking one or two Franciscans to convert the former rectory, now unoccupied, into a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality. Honolulu has the nation’s highest per capita houseless population, many of whom reside near this inner city parish. St. Elizabeth’s is located in downtown Palama, the immigrant gateway into a new life in Hawai’i. Unfortunately, too many do not climb out of poverty and find themselves houseless. The community consists primarily of native Hawaiians, as well as Chinese, Japanese, Chuukese, Marshallese, Taiwanese, Filipino, African American, Samoan, and Tongan. Already St. Elizabeth’s has a strong ministry with the houseless who sleep on the grounds at night, enjoy shower and toilet facilities, food pantry and a weekly hot meal.
A drop-in center is located on site for the Micronesian and Marshallese people where they can find assistance with housing and jobs, homework, and the women socialize while practicing their sewing skills. And, St. Elizabeth’s uses 6 languages during its main Sunday liturgy to assure welcome to all.
Being a Franciscan Catholic Worker, the fit seemed too good to be true. The time was right to move on, but Hawai’i? Who would have thunk it? In early November, I took a week to visit Fr. David and St. Elizabeth’s in Honolulu, to complete the discernment process. None of us had any doubt, God’s call was evident no matter which way we looked. And so plans were made to open the first Catholic Worker house in Hawai’i in early January. At the end of the week in Honolulu, I arrived at the airport early and wasted time wandering around the tourist shops in the airport lanai. While doing so, I noticed something: there were turtles everywhere, on shirts, mugs, magnets, stuffed, carved, and decal-ed. Of course! The turtle, specifically the Green Sea Turtle, known as “Honu,” is the unofficial popular symbol. Perhaps it is “Aumakua”, the guardian spirit who has been guiding this turtle trek of mine. Be it so, the Holy Spirit, or both working together, the navigation was sure.
Mid-January, Angelica and I moved to Honolulu where we are getting to know the community and are listening to the needs of the community to fashion the new Catholic Worker house to respond to those needs. In March, we opened our first ministry: a laundry room where we have a brand new Maytag commercial washer and dryer. Guests from the street are welcome to come hang out and do their laundry. Or they may drop it off, and one of the volunteers, including yours truly, will do it for them. Soon, we will have a shower area next to the laundry so bodies can be washed at the same time. Recently, a bunch of art supplies, including a chest of paper, was donated. We will convert our garage into an open art studio, some days for the homeless community and other days for at-risk immigrant teens. The other ministry many have expressed excitement about is a sewing room. We have the perfect space at the front of the house to house a small sewing business for the homeless and immigrant women.
Currently, we are hosting our first guests, a Tongan clergy couple who have responded to a call to pastor the Tongan community here. They will be with us until they find affordable housing, a real challenge. It is a vibrant place here already with many wonderful people who live both indoors and out intersecting in this humble abode we call Wallyhouse Catholic Worker. If you are interested in supporting our new venture, please send donations to Wallyhouse Catholic Worker at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, 720 North King Street, Honolulu, HI 96817.
I am excited for this marvelous trek of following Jesus and hope life finds you equally engaged. What a marvelous and awesome and oh-so-inscrutable God we have! And thanks be to all of you who have enriched my life through the years. May the power of the Holy Spirit set you on fire this Pentecost in whatever unique way is hers to gift you. Amen.
barbara bennett (aka baumgarten)
May 15, 2018