My first year as an officer

Adjusting to the island lifestyle brings challenges and rewards.

By Lt. Kelly Pensabene

Kona, Hawaii! Are you kidding me? Did I really just get sent on my first appointment as a Salvation Army officer to a tropical paradise to minister for Jesus? God is indeed very good!

Behind the excitement, however, was fear—fear of my own insufficiency. Do I have what it takes? Along with this gnawing question, I also felt gratitude because I could rely on God’s sufficiency for every task. One thing I knew for sure was this: I was ready to do some kingdom building with my husband in a place we’d never been before, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, we had to adjust to a whole new lifestyle. Even though it’s called “the Big Island,” Hawaii can feel pretty small at times. The cultural diversity of people is broad, including Hawaiians, Caucasians, Filipinos, Portuguese, Japanese, Marshallese, Chukkas, Tongan and Samoan—and all combinations thereof.

The common thread joining all cultures is the importance of ohana. All island inhabitants respect the family—even extended family. It is common to call those older than yourself “Auntie” or “Uncle” as a sign of respect, even if you’ve just met them for the first time. How great is that—instant family! You quickly become a part of the bigger family of God. Both Matthew, my husband, and I are called “Uncle and Auntie” far more than we are addressed as “Lieutenant.” It’s a term of endearment and trust, an honor to have bestowed upon you and I wouldn’t dream of trying to change it.

Island time, however, required me to slow down. Hawaiian time gives new meaning to “fashionably late.” Also, some disadvantages come with life in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, particularly when ordering repair parts or nervously awaiting the arrival of an impending natural disaster (tsunami). But there’s a definite enjoyment to be experienced in the familiarity of a small town. Seeing my cashier from Costco earlier in the day riding the bike next to me in spin class at the end of the day is a nice touch. And while enjoying community theater, it’s nice to recognize a majority of the faces in the audience.

When we arrived, we hit the ground running. Any given day for me involves spiritual leadership, Christian education, discipleship, pastoral care, managing a thrift store and pre-school and an outpost in a nearby community. Decisions must constantly be made—some tough and painful—concerning all of these areas. Of course, there are church services and preaching on Sunday at our corps. And how can we forget our first kettle season in the Islands? The first year in the field can indeed be a little rough!

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. This verse (Philippians 4:13) is always on my mind. Every morning I center myself by saying to the Lord, “God, all this is yours. How can I be of service?” Somehow this takes the pressure off me by giving it all back to God—and then following his lead. He works everything out a lot better than I could ever plan. My faith has grown immensely through this process. The most important lesson I am continually reminded of is that I need to stay out of the way and let God do the work.

I am humbled that God regularly uses me to bring hope to the hopeless, love to the unlovable and a friend to the friendless, while at the same time leading his children along their spiritual journey.

What I love about The Salvation Army the most is you are never alone—a great big family on the Island is always ready to help with knowledge, kindness and direction that’s only a phone call away.

When the toughest day has come and gone, no sweeter sound exists than when the pre-school children are leaving and one by one each can be heard saying “Bye Auntie Kelly” and “Bye Uncle Matthew” as they head home. It warms my heart while gently erasing the stress of the day.



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