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Finding his faith.

Byline: Bob Welch The Register-Guard

On a recent Friday night, a man in sunglasses on a Harley-Davidson - baseball cap on backward - rode into a New Hope Christian College Midnight Madness basketball rally, wrapped his hands around a harmonica and played some soul- cleansing blues.

That it was the school's 59-year-old president might be surprising enough. That he absolutely rocked the song might be, too. But the deeper mystery of Wayne Cordeiro might be what an internationally acclaimed pastor - he has "planted" more than 120 churches in the Pacific Rim from his base in Hawaii, draws more than 30,000 to five Easter services on the islands, and turned down a chance to lead suburban Chicago's trend-setting Willow Creek Community Church - is doing here in the first place.

It is among a handful of enigmas that emerge about a man who spends most of his time in Hawaii - he lived much of his childhood there and in Japan - but an increasing amount in Eugene.

A man who, though only a few years away from collecting Social Security, writes books about how churches must change with the technological times, promotes classes at New Hope in hip-hop dancing and is an unabashed believer in the college's all-student "iPad Orchestra."

A man whose message, at its core, is bare-bones Christian gospel but whose teaching on leadership draws the raves of such folks as "One-Minute Manager" author Ken Blanchard.

A man who, after hopping around the world with seemingly boundless energy, suffered an emotional breakdown four years ago so severe that he sought healing in a monastery and began redefining his life's priorities.

Which brings us to Eugene, where Cordeiro now heads up the same school - then known as Eugene Bible College - that he attended in the early 1970s.

And where he has come, he says, to slow down, to write and to get lost in the therapy of training horses on his farm west of town - even if Cordeiro's slow gear might be most people's overdrive.

Cordeiro is director of New Hope International, the leadership and church-planting arm of his ministry; director of New Hope Christian Fellowship, with 31 churches in Hawaii; and, since 2010, president of New Hope Christian College, which has campuses here and in Hawaii with 140 and 90 students, respectively.

"I love people, but more so I love the potential that lies within people," Cordeiro says. "I see a younger person on campus and I see an ambassador, a president, a missionary, an entrepreneur, a husband, a wife, people who change our communities. And it fires me up."

Thus, his decision to not only head up the Eugene college but to regularly teach classes on life skills and leadership.

Not that he's everybody's cup of evangelical tea.

Some within the fold think him not right-leaning enough - and wrongly bent on the flash and dash of entertainment and special effects.

"I use the arts a lot - music, dance, lights," he says unapologetically. "Because when you look at young people's standards for music these days, it's not traipsing down memory lane with organ music. ?

And he has ruffled a few feathers with what some see as a sort of "Manifest Destiny" approach to growth, at times at the expense of other churches.

"Some see their memberships threatened," says Mary Adamski, who retired last summer after 20 years as a religion writer for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

That said, if Cordeiro has done well in the real-estate market and lives comfortably - his 30-acre farm is worth $948,000, according to Lane County records - he doesn't fit the money-grubbing evangelist stereotype, she says. "I'm skeptical of charismatic leaders and organizations," Adamski says, "but there's nothing scandalous about him."

Though he wouldn't offer precise figures, Cordeiro said that of the three New Hope entities, he's paid a salary by only New Hope Christian Fellowship - and that it isn't anything outlandish. He is paid a royalty for the sale of his books - he's had 11 published - but all profits beyond that go to the ministry, $1.3 million last year, he says.

Benefits aside, Cordeiro has built an enthusiastic audience with a Christian message wrapped in his island charisma, artistic talents and self-effacing humor.

"He's a little bit larger than life," says Brendan LeLaCheur, New Hope college's recruiting coordinator - and a recent graduate - "and yet he doesn't expect a red carpet to be rolled out for him."

Cordeiro's five weekend services in Hawaii draw up to 15,000 people - not to some glass-sided megachurch but to a high school auditorium that requires a volunteer staff of 1,200 to set up and take down each week. The church does ocean baptisms - occasionally 100-plus people at a time - and ministers to the families of some 2,000 prisoners.

And his Bible-based sermons - less fire and brimstone than nuggets of wisdom for daily life - are broadcast on radio and TV stations internationally, including locally.

So, again, why Eugene, for a guy with enough air miles to go to the moon and back, a guy who speaks Japanese, Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Hawaiian? In other words, a guy who could be comfortable in lots of other places?

A chance to slow down, for openers.

"A crisis is a terrible thing to waste," Cordeiro says, in explaining how his breakdown refocused his priorities - and led to his decision to slow down and spend more time on his farm.

Family played a part, too. He and his wife, Anna, have two daughters and a handful of grandchildren here. (A son, also a pastor, lives in Hawaii.)

Plus, he embraces the area's ambiance. "I like the eclectic feel of Eugene," says Cordeiro, who favors jeans and Hawaiian shirts. "I'm a former hippie from my rock 'n' roll days in the '70s."

And, finally, there were sentimental reasons. This is where he met Anna - a Springfield High School grad whose great-grandmother was Oregon Trail pioneer Agnes Stewart, for whom a Springfield middle school is named.

This is where his faith blossomed at Eugene Bible College. And where a man who didn't grow up with much in the way of permanency still feels some roots.

"My life back to Christ"

Cordeiro spent much of his childhood in a low-income area of Honolulu, the son of a Japanese woman and a Portuguese-Hawaiian man.

The two divorced when Wayne was young. He bounced from Hawaii to Virginia to Japan to Trail, Ore., northeast of Grants Pass. Raised Catholic, he was studying to be a priest at a California seminary when, in 1968, his mother's health began failing in Japan. She sent a letter asking for him to visit but his father never showed it to him. Cordeiro only learned of it after her death.

The revelation - and his mom's passing - crushed him. He wallowed in bitterness. Got into drugs. Got kicked out of seminary And wound up moving to Portland and playing for a rock band, Highwater.

When, in 1970, a friend invited him to a Christian rock concert, Cordeiro came away impressed - not only with the music but with the idea that "Christians aren't all that bad." It was a catalyst for re-evaluation. "I dedicated my life back to Christ."

At Eugene Bible College, his faith deepened. He married, worked with Youth for Christ and served as a high school pastor at the Eugene Faith Center.

Then Hawaii called.

In 1984, at age 31, he opened a church in Hilo, Hawaii, that drew 35 people. By 1991, the congregation - New Hope Hilo - had blossomed to nearly 2,000.

"If there's an 'X' factor, he has it," says Duane Daggett of Eugene, a New Hope board member and longtime friend of Cordeiro.

Four years later, Cordeiro "started over" in Honolulu, building what's now a church that spun off a handful of satellite churches. And, beyond that, helped plant more than 100 churches in such places as Japan, the Philippines, Australia, Los Angeles and Seattle.

"He doesn't walk on water - he's a very humble man - but when you travel with him to different events, you realize he's a rock star," says Lanu Tilton, who is New Hope International's creative arts director.

Tilton says she butted heads with Cordeiro for years when he agreed to counsel her after she and her husband, also on the New Hope team, had a falling out. Looking back, she saw it was her own anger that caused the friction. "He was," she says, "amazingly gracious with me."

"Building people"

At New Hope International's headquarters in Hawaii, a staff of 100 operates from a 40,000-square-foot office in a leased building. Rather than spend money to build huge churches on high-priced Hawaiian land, New Hope favors leasing schools for services. "We like building people, not churches," Cordeiro says.

Rather than live in some sprawling Hawaiian seaside estate, Cordeiro and his wife live in a condominium - albeit a very nice condominium.

Closer to home, New Hope Christian College is, according to the Evangelical Council for Financial Responsibility, "an accredited member in good standing."

Still, New Hope angered some in June when a partner organization, Pacific Region of Open Bible Churches - the parent organization of Eugene's Lighthouse Temple - filed a lawsuit against the church, alleging that it was being mismanaged and asking for the removal of its officers and directors.

Pastor John Torres denied that that was the case; nevertheless, the church and Pacific region reached an out-of-court settlement in August.

"We finally waved the white flag," Torres said. "They had legal grounds to do what they did and we yielded eventually."

Torres has begun a new church in Eugene, Word and Spirit International. Pacific is leasing Lighthouse Temple to New Hope, which hasn't decided how the property will be used, says Scott Alldridge, chairman of both the New Hope International and New Hope Christian College boards.

"A lot of pastors see Wayne as a threat," Alldridge says, "but what he does, eventually, is raise the bar for everyone else."

"Whether it's a new church or playing the guitar, ukulele, banjo - everything he does is stamped with excellence," Daggett says.

Despite a schedule that includes preaching, teaching, speaking and writing, Cordeiro, say those who know him, still takes time to look people in the eye, share their pain and encourage their growth. "The first week of school I think he knew the name of just about all 140 students on campus," says LeLaCheur, the recruiting coordinator.

When Daggett's wife died unexpectedly five years ago, Cordeiro turned his weekend preaching over to someone else and took his friend to Mexico for a week to help recover from the blow. "I was in pretty sad shape," Daggett says, "but how many people in a position like his would do that? He's the real deal."

Feeling overwhelmed

In 2007, though, Cordeiro's pace caught up with him. Before leading a weekend conference in Southern California, he was jogging when he suddenly found himself sitting on a curb in tears, feeling overwhelmed by the demands.

"I just snapped," he says. "I'd become the poster boy for over commitment."

"He's like the guy in 'Schindler's List,' " says Mary Waialeale, his personal assistant. "He never feels like he's helped enough people. There's always one more."

A psychiatrist told him he crumbled not because he was living wrong, but because he was living right.

"It's exciting seeing people's lives change," he says. "But the doctor said: 'You have to learn to recharge your batteries.' "

Among other things, Cordeiro went to a California monastery - no speaking or coffee allowed - for a week, which did more to point out the problem than help solve it. "One morning after 5 a.m. prayers, I sneaked out, found an Internet cafe and started e-mailing people I didn't even know," he says, laughing.

"Trying to do too much is his Achilles' heel," Alldridge says.

A heart attack in 2008 hastened Cordeiro to not laugh off his compulsion to commit. And, slowly, he says he's learning.

"It's the space between the notes that makes the music," he says.

Thus, he and Anna find themselves in Eugene, where he spends time with the grandkids, drives tractors on the farm and trains horses.

"I haven't taught the horses," he says. "They've taught me."

If the horses help him slow down, the college gig allows him to focus more on his passion of equipping others to lead.

Eugene Bible College, affiliated with the Open Bible Church, was struggling financially when the opportunity arose for New Hope to buy out the school, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

With new ideas, enthusiasm and $2.75 million from the sale of a camp in Hawaii, Cordeiro and New Hope have revitalized the college. Enrollment is up 65 percent since New Hope took over. Thanks to donations, every student receives a free iPad.

"Repainting buildings, adding offices, 'rebranding' the school, the whole campus is a credit to him," says LeLaCheur, who says New Hope is seeking a more "contemporary, consistent, welcoming" image.

In the interest of slowing down, Cordeiro will, next year, hand the presidential reins to Guy Higashi - president of the Hawaii campus and part of New Hope for 16 years - though he will become the college's chancellor.

"I want to do less and coach more," he says, meaning developing leaders.

Cordeiro sees himself as what he calls a "dream releaser," someone who helps people discover their faith, purpose and passion.

He tells a boyhood story of buying a bird in a cage from a street vendor in Japan. When Cordeiro began to walk off, the man asked when he was bringing the cage back.

"You want the cage back?"

"Of course," he said.

"No, don't you see," said the man. "The money you paid is to let the bird go free, not to take it home."

Says Cordeiro: "When I let that bird go free, I understood what it meant to be a dream releaser."

Decades later, he's still doing it, whether that means preaching to 30,000 people in Hawaii, or singing the blues to 140 college students in Eugene.


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Title Annotation:Local News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9HI
Date:Nov 13, 2011
Next Article:Project's neighbors await finding.

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