Planting with a Purpose: Meet the Mason Ohana

They both sat on the couch.  I asked a few questions to get our “interview” underway.  Colleen was up for water, and then back down to give instructions to her daughter that got down from the reading chair.  Tony scratched his beard and looked at the ceiling recalling a story to help him answer one of my questions.  

Another daughter sat at the kitchen table completing homeschool tasks, and yet another daughter, the youngest, napped.  It was an overcast afternoon on the Hamakua Coast, and I was spending it with a homeschool family with three daughters—the Masons. 

Nothing is unusual about the Masons.  They have young children.  Their children eat lunch and nap and get off the reading chair earlier than instructed.  That is, if you were to spend five minutes in their house on a Friday afternoon, it would appear that nothing at all was unusual.  

But if you spent an hour, a day, or, as I have been lucky to do, several months with them, you’d learn that everything is different about this family.  

They have children like you and I.  They live in a modest home and have two vehicles that run (most the time).  Unlike most families, they are fallowing a call that has them doing the unthinkable—planting a church thousands of miles from family and friends and “thousands of miles” from well-paying jobs and security. But that’s just the beginning for this young family.  

Just when you realize they aren’t like your typical young family, Tony is back under the car fixing a leak or a valve, and Colleen is herding children to wash up for dinner.  Faithfully following God’s call to plant a church in Waimea is unusual and exciting; raising a family and homeschool, well, that’s pretty mundane and uneventful.   But what if you throw both of those in the same pot and stir in a burden for outsiders and those that are lost, sprinkle it with deep convictions about health and wholeness?  

Well, you get something downright radical.  

And that’s the Masons.  From afar they are a typical young family with three kids (and another on the way), but up close, they are simply radical.  As the definition of radical would suggest—from the root—the Mason are planting a church thousands of miles from what’s normal that will address the root of unhealth and estrangement, and offer a new root: family discipleship and homes securely planted in the purposes of the Kingdom.  

But let's back up a bit.  

Tony and Colleen were called to ministry separately.  They both studied in preparation at Olivet Nazarene University.  God began to stir them together, but in the spirit of adventure they up and moved to Hawaii for a year in 2004.  Evidently, that move was less vacation and more preparation.  Over the following decade they began having children, bought a home, and settled into the comfortable “pews” of life.  

But God didn’t stop stirring.  “I couldn’t ever get Hawaii off my mind,” Colleen remembers of that decade living outside Chicago. 

It took 6 years, but by 2010, they started rearranging their priorities.  “We were finished sitting in our seats and being fed,” Tony recalls, “we needed to do more, to lead.” In those couple years their home became a focus of their faith, the garden where Kingdom seeds are planted and nurtured, intimately cared for and grown.   As a result, they considered starting a house church.  

Between 2010-2012, God “did a lot of personal weeding” for Tony, and further confirmation for Colleen, which only helped to clarify where they are called.  It wasn’t to plant a church in Chicagoland (as Colleen affectionately calls their home base); instead, it was a call to plant in Waimea, Hawaii.   

When their call was clear, they sent an email to the Nazarene pastors on the Big Island: "We are sensing God calling us to come back to The Big Island and be involved in a church plant…. We would like to partner with you as we move further in this process and would love to keep you updated. Please pray for us as we seek God's wisdom and timing." 

Little did they know that Mission: Kona Coast—a call on Kona Coast Naz to plant churches along the Kona Coast—was well underway.  Little did they know that the pastor there was daily praying for leadership to plant churches in Waimea and Miloli’i. 

But what kind of church would they plant?  What was the planning, preparing, and launching process they would follow? What launch budget would they be provided?  For the Masons, these were secondary—and less important—questions than needed to be asked.  More importantly, they were asking and praying through a more fundamental question: how are God’s people hurting and estranged, and how might our gifts offer Kingdom solutions?

What they found (and are finding) couldn’t be more affirming.  God has called them to plant an upside-down church on purpose.  

If you can imagine taking all that consumes the time and attention and the institutional church (i.e. business, programming, facilities) and that which usually receives the least time (i.e. relationship-based discipleship, family-based and inter-generational spiritual formation) and flipping it over, you can imagine the church the Masons are planting.   

What does an upside-down church plant look like?  Well, you’ll have to wait in prayerful anticipation with me, as the Masons are just getting underway.  But in the meantime we can imagine, can’t we?  

Picture it: deep discipleship with our children, ministry focusing on equipping parents and whole families to lead worship, multiplication and service as a bedrock to being faithful, ongoing and intentional accountability in our marriages and relationships, work, and discipleship.  All of that before spending time on summer camp, board meetings, and midweek youth activities.  

This kind of purposeful church plant begins at home, celebrates family prayer, always looks to multiply…with no overhead or capital campaigns.  This kind of church builds everything on top of transformative relationships, deep discipleship, and service to neighbors. In other words, this kind of upside-down church once walked the streets of Palestine, offering abundant healing and everlasting freedom.   

I hope you’re as thrilled as I am to have Tony, Colleen, Ruby, Isla, Jovi, and baby-on-the-way Mason here on the Big Island.  I hope you’re excited that finally a church plant is underway that succeeds not on the exhaustion and sacrifice of the pastoral leaders, but instead, succeeds when the leadership and families involved thrive!  

Now that's upside-down on purpose!