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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, August 13, 2001

Rod Ohira's People
Ex-judge given New Hope

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

His persona seven years ago at age 40 was that of a man who seemingly had everything going for him. A former star volleyball player for Kamehameha Schools and Graceland College in Iowa, Elwin Ahu had become an attorney and then a state judge.

Elwin Ahu, executive pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship O'ahu, and wife Joy sing hymns during services at the church. Ahu resigned as a Circuit Court judge to became a full-time minister in 1999.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

But backstage, out of the public's view, his personal life was a mess. When he was appointed to a District Court judgeship in 1994, Ahu's second marriage was on the rocks and would eventually end — like his first one — in divorce. "I never saw the arrow pointing at me," he said of his marital problems. "It was always everybody else that was doing things wrong."

The big change in Ahu's life occurred in October 1995, when he started attending New Hope Christian Fellowship services at what is now Stevenson Middle School in Makiki. Pastor Wayne Cordeiro had come to O'ahu that year to expand the ministry he started in Hilo in 1984.

"The message to turn my life around came through Pastor Wayne," said Ahu, who resigned as a Circuit Court judge in 1999 to become a full-time minister. Ahu had been elevated to a 10-year term on the circuit bench in 1997.

As executive pastor for New Hope Christian Fellowship O'ahu, he has been Cordeiro's top associate since Jan. 1, 2000.

The stated mission of New Hope Christian Fellowship, an affiliate of Los Angeles-based Foursquare Gospel, is "To present the Gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that turns non-Christians into converts, converts into disciples, and disciples into mature, fruitful leaders who will in turn go into the world and reach others for Christ."

Ahu is a fulfillment of that mission.

When he speaks of what embracing Jesus Christ has meant to him, he does it with the crystal-clear perception of someone who knows what an empty life is about. "I teach out of experience," he said. "Instead of telling someone the wall is hard because I heard it was hard, I can say the wall is hard because I'm still bleeding from it."

Ahu is the youngest of Isaac and Alice Ahu's four children, and the brother of state Rep. Lei Ahu Isa. He was raised in the faith of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and attended a college in southern Iowa that was affiliated with the church. Ahu graduated with a degree in elementary education although he had no interest in teaching.

Acting on the suggestion of a friend, he attended law school at the University of Hawai'i in 1976. "I was not very focused," said Ahu, who was married at the time. "There was nothing I was shooting for. Even when I went to law school, I didn't foresee myself as a lawyer."

After earning his law degree, Ahu worked six months for the Legal Aid Society on Moloka'i but returned to O'ahu when he learned his wife was pregnant. He landed a job with the public defender's office and worked his way up to felony trials. Looking to better his $21,000 salary, Ahu went into private practice.

"By 1988, I felt I was on my way," he said of his professional career. But his private life was again crumbling. The relationship with his second wife was becoming strained.

"It wasn't so much the workload but the lack of character and integrity on my part," Ahu said. "I was looking more at ways to satisfy myself than looking after my wife's needs. I just couldn't see the faults I had."

In terms of personal relationships, Ahu hit bottom during his first year as a judge.

"The problem I had then was whenever I had a problem, I always felt I could fix it," he said. "But because I had no point of reference, no matter which way I turned, right or left, I dug myself into a deeper hole.

"One day, some friends at District Court gave me a tape of Wayne Cordeiro. I thought, I'm a guy who has built himself up to be a judge from Legal Aid. I'm sitting on a bench with a robe on and you want me to listen to a guy named Wayne Cordeiro tell me how to lead a better life? I threw it my car and never listened to it."

Months later, while stuck in traffic, Ahu played the tape.

"He was funny, entertaining," Ahu said. "I didn't focus on the message but I thought he was interesting."

Ahu attended one of Cordeiro's services, came back the next week and again a week later. "I felt like he was talking to me the first two times but by the third time, I knew it wasn't a coincidence," he said. "I felt something real. I went home that night and asked the Lord for forgiveness."

Today, the point of reference in his life is clear. "Once I put God first in my life, everything went click, click, click," said Ahu, who has been married to his third wife, Joy, since 1998. "I saw it wasn't them but me. Now, I can see where the arrow is pointing."

Reach Rod Ohira at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8181.