TJ (Titus John) Ka’apuni seems to be a laid back surfer-dude. I sat down with him on a snowy day in Leavenworth. I wondered how a kid from Hawaii got here and why we couldn’t have met over there for our time together! He’s from the big island of Hawaii where the sunshine and warm water seems to be the place anyone would want to live. But that’s not the life that TJ knew.
TJ was born and raised in a rural part of Hawaii marked by profound poverty, high crime, drug trafficking and the like. His family situation was very difficult. Their house had no electricity. He never remembers seeing a toilet seat in their bathroom. In their rural town, meth drove a significant portion of the economy. This was not the Hawaii you see in the travel brochures, to be sure. But poverty exists in the nicest of places.
Entering his teen years, TJ and his buddies met Ward Gardner, a Younglife leader at his local high school. Ward showed up in their tough and dangerous neighborhood and became known for his genuine care for kids, for their families, and for their futures. He didn’t try to convert kids, he just loved them. He told them the gospel and he lived it out for them. He surfed and hung out with them. Soon, TJ and Ward became friends.
Ward invited TJ to camp around 2007. The nearest camp was Woodleaf in California and, somehow, Ward got a kid with no money and no toilet seat in his bathroom there. For 3 years Ward took TJ and others from the little town of Pahoa to camp and, for 3 years, TJ resisted the invitation to accept Jesus as his savior. But on that 3rd trip his best friend did. Kaipo gave his life to Christ.
Back home, 6 months later, sixteen year old Kaipo was killed in a car accident. During that time, TJ got real honest with God and questioned why He would take his friend away. He was angry and alone. Somehow, during that painful time, the love of Christ wrapped around this tender young warrior who had known mostly hardship and hurt. And TJ surrendered to the God who loved him, who loved Kaipo, and who Ward had been pointing him to.
TJ got plugged into church and decided that church-folk weren’t so weird after all. A family from Chelan was living nearby and had some kids his age that became friends. After high school he moved over to live with that family in Chelan. He started attending church with them and there he met the girl of his dreams, Miranda. They were married soon after and started their life in marriage and ministry together. It didn’t take long to discover that finding your way in ministry is difficult. Life and ministry opportunities took them back to Hawaii, off to Colorado, on to California before they found themselves back Central WA without a clear sense of exactly where they should be serving.
But they remained available and committed and soon the opportunity came to them right here in Leavenworth.
TJ became the Area Director for Younglife in Leavenworth 2 years ago now. One of Hawaii’s furthest out kids, a kid that knew nothing of Christ or the hope He brings was introduced to the love of God by a guide named Ward who resisted the urge to convert him and simply became his friend. He found a way to get him plane tickets and camp fees for 3 years and, well, here he is now.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” Is 55:8
TJ and the Leavenworth Younglife team are building a strong and impactful mission here in Leavenworth. The poverty they work with may not be like the poverty TJ grew up with but life without Christ and the touch of His life on us is the most profound poverty of the human condition.
TJ and Miranda are excited about their future! They are dreaming of starting a family soon and perhaps buying a house before too long.
I asked TJ how we could encourage his leaders, his committee, the mission of Younglife in Leavenworth. His hope was that we would pray for the ministry, that leaders would continue to grow in their love for Christ and that new leaders would rise up in both the community and amongst teachers in the schools, that folks like us would have faith that our investments of time, talent and treasure in this ministry actually does impact kids. *I would add that folks like us in the community who support the camp scholarship fund opportunities – let’s keep that up and raise the bar in faith!
Way to go, TJ, Miranda & the rest of the YL team in Leavenworth! Way to go, Ward! Way to go, Jesus!