In 2008, New Hope Windward (NHW), a growing Christian church on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, launched the Live Like You Were Dying growth campaign which encouraged a radical new approach to living a transformed life. The series, inspired by the award-winning song by Tim McGraw, focused on the themes of Loving Deeper, Speaking Sweeter, Giving Forgiveness, and Embracing Eternity. Hundreds of church members participated in the series that spanned four weeks, hearing special messages at Sunday services and participating in weekly small group meetings. The series changed many lives. One family in particular continues to experience the fruit of this campaign. Here is the testimony of Madona, Ben and their daughter Scarlet.
To fully appreciate God's mighty hand on this family, we need to step back in time. At age 20, Madona was living the fast life, filled with drugs and partying in Southern California. One day, quite accidentally, Madona happened across a Bible. She recalls thinking, "This is the most controversial book in the world -- I have to read it!"
So began Madona's double life -- Bible reader by day and party girl by night. She began listening to Pastor Greg Laurie's A New Beginning radio ministry. She read a chapter of the Bible every day until finally she heard God ask this question: Do you love smoking dope more than you love me?
As God would have it, a friend invited Madona to attend service at Calvary Chapel one Sunday and there was Pastor Greg. Madona would participate in the alter call on that day giving her life to Jesus.
As for Ben...well, he wanted Madona. "I knew if I wanted to be with Madona, I would have to go to church, too," said Ben. "But soon I could see that this was the better way to live. I will always have Madona to thank for that." Ben, who graduated from Kalaheo High School on Oahu in 1995, was then living in California. Through reading the Bible and going to church, Ben's lifestyle began to transform as well.
The couple married and soon decided to move back to Ben's home town. "We lived in a house right across the street from Castle High School," said Madona. What they didn't know before moving in was that there were people living in and coming around, struggling with the very addictions which they themselves had escaped from just years prior. God had a plan for the time they would spend there!
"It was ironic," said Madona as she recalled holding Bible studies at that house before they were fully aware of the reputation of their new residence as the "chronic" house. Clearly, God was aware, as some fellow house dwellers were successfully "dragged" into those studies; a few ultimately attended church as well.
The house was conveniently located across the street from New Hope Windward's Sunday service, which at the time was held in the high school auditorium. Soon Scarlet was born and the family was well rooted in NHW's church family, participating in just about every activity offered and serving in a variety of ways.
In 2007, the church offered a 6-week growth series called "Freed up Financial Living." As usual, Ben and Madona participated wholeheartedly. "Money had always burned a whole in my pocket," said Ben, recalling that the series introduced some impressive, new Biblical principles by which to steward their money. "We knew we had to clean up a mess," said Madona. As a result of the series, Madona and Ben produced their first family budget and implemented the envelope system whereby they would now live on money allocated for specific use each month. The family was able to pay down thousands of dollars of debt.
"We also came full circle on tithing. Now, we don't worry about it anymore -- if we get a big check, we immediately tithe on it. This thing is HUGE," said Ben. "When it comes to finances, tithing is the headline. When you do this, He just keeps providing."
God then began providing the stability the family had longed for in Ben's employment. Lest you think that the blessing came without sacrifice, you must know that before God moved mightily in Ben's life, he gave up his dream of being a boat captain. Ben's passion for boats was sparked during his single "sailor days" when he repaired boats for a living which eventually led to Ben getting his able seaman license and on his way to becoming a boat captain. However, with a wife and daughter, Ben decided that he needed a land-based job so that he could always be available to his family. He began working in the construction industry but soon learned of the unstable reality of his newfound livelihood.
It was soon after "Freed up Financial Living" that God shifted Ben into another department where work is now consistent and steady. "I wasn't even trying for another position, I just kept my head down, worked hard and the blessing just came," said Ben. The family cleared up enough debt and eventually got the green light from God to buy an apartment in Waikiki. Despite the great distance, they decided to stick with NHW, making the trek over the Ko'olau Mountains each Sunday to attend service.
In 2008, New Hope Windward launched the "Live Like You Were Dying" series. Of course, Madona and Ben signed up for the study.
Question: If you were dying, what is the one thing you would do that you haven't done in this life?
"I remember thinking that I wanted an adventure in my life," recalled Madona. "I was grateful for the apartment in Waikiki and loved our daughter so much, but I didn't want an 'average' life for my family," she said. Believing that God would deliver on the desire of her heart, as He had done so many times before, Madona thought carefully before writing down her answer to this question.
Answer: To sail across the ocean in a boat.
Thus began their cautious quest to find not just a boat but a good sailing vessel and a "liveaboard." "Although it was Ben who had the earlier passion for boating in his life, now I was trying to convince him that we should buy a boat and then live on it," said Madona. We eventually started casually looking around. The requirements were pretty straight forward -- there must be a room for the kids (they were expecting their second child at the time), and the boat must be able to accommodate Ben, who stands 6'4" tall.
The search began to pick up steam when they decided to meet with a broker. They searched, they prayed, and they said "no" to several options that were beyond their means. One boat in particular seemed quite perfect; however, the price was out of their range so they walked away. Some time had passed and the search continued. One night Ben and Madona decided to add one more requirement to their list. They wanted to be sure that the boat they purchased would be large enough to hold Bible study, a tradition they had carried on consistently to this point. The very day after making that decision, Madona and Ben received a call from their broker. The boat they had liked so much (but could not afford) had a price reduction of $25,000. It wouldn't be long before the boat would be theirs.
On January 21, 2010, Madona, Ben and Scarlet walked onto the boat as a family, immediately praying over their new home and thanking God for it. They named their boat "Living Water" in honor of the One who continues to provide for them. After all they had been through they wanted no part of the traditional boat renaming ceremony which involves much superstition and a reverence to Neptune, the Roman mythological god of the sea. Instead, Ben simply scraped off the old name and put on the new -- much in the same way that God allowed him to simply scrape off his old life and put on the new one nearly 6 years prior. As God would have it, he ended up a boat captain after all, with his wife as his first mate and two little deck hands.
Despite the miracles they've seen in their lives, Madona and Ben see themselves as a constant work in progress as Christians. They quickly point out that they are not perfect people but believe that the one thing they did do right was to only walk through doors that they were sure God opened for them, building faith upon obedience.
Madona is excited about what the future may hold. "Let's see what God wants us to do next -- who knows, maybe we will cruise the world in our boat," she said with a wide smile. Surely the desires of Madona's heart will continue to catch God's attention as she and her family continue to keep their eyes and hearts fixed squarely on Him.
2 Chronicles 16:9 (NLT) The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.
Sherrie is a believer in Jesus Christ, a wife, a mother and a freelance writer. She resides with her family on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, where she was born and raised.
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