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'Compelled by God'

Aqua Hotels and Resorts encourages its employees to do good works, and the Eastmans excel at it

By Allison Schaefers

LAST UPDATED: 11:15 a.m. HST, Feb 12, 2014

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Every time Aqua Waikiki Wave housekeeper Saipele Siatini picks up a mop, he sings religious praise songs thanking God for the job that has given him the opportunity to start cleaning up his life.

The 35-year-old Siatini, who served eight years in prison for offenses related to drugs, already knew how to be what he calls "free on the inside" thanks to Aqua Hotels executives Bulla and Lynette Eastman. He said the pair, who lead a team of volunteers at the Free Inside Ministry, the prison ministry of the First Assembly of God, and others are now teaching him what it means to be free on the outside.

"These people are my family," Siatini said. "I thank God that they're in my life."

Siatini credits divine intervention with introducing him to the Eastmans, because an inmate typically wouldn't get an opportunity to meet Lynette, the area general manager of Aqua Waikiki Wave and Aqua Waikiki Pearl, or her husband, Bulla, the company's corporate director of safety and security. The couple, who worship at First Assembly of God Wahiawa, say they were called to action in 2010 when asked to assist by Pastor Scott Sonoda, who became a minister after overcoming a 30-year addiction to cocaine and heroin.

"We feel compelled by God to make a difference, and we're glad that we work for a company that encourages us to get involved," said Lynette, who along with Bulla also serves in a key leadership role with the Convoy of Hope Hawaii, another First Assembly of God program that has grown into one of the state's largest religion-based charitable giveaways.

Aqua sets itself apart by encouraging employees to be committed and involved in the causes that they support, said Elizabeth Churchill, the company's senior vice president of sales and marketing.

While the Eastmans are involved in religious efforts, other Aqua employees support everything from the Waikiki Aquarium to the LGBT community and the Make-a-Wish and Patsy Mink foundations. The company also participates in the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association's annual charity walk, and plans are underway to launch more women's and conservation initiatives, Churchill said.

"We promote diversity within our employee base and our guest population," Churchill said. "We allow a lot of creativity in our company. People have different values and things that they are passionate about, and we want to make sure that they feel free to focus."

The Eastmans, who were married in 2006, are standouts even at Aqua Hospitality, where community service and high performance are encouraged. Lynette, who starts her day early enough to meet with the night shift, was named 2012 Manager of the Year at the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association's Na Poe Pa‘a­hana Awards. And Bulla's got her back making sure Aqua's hotels stay safe. The irony of working in law enforcement by day and ministering to inmates at night hasn't escaped his attention.

"When we first went into the prisons, I expected to know the guards, but what surprised me was how many of the inmates that I knew," he said. "We encounter people who should never see daylight again. However, many people that I come across are just at the wrong place at the wrong time making the wrong decision."

The Eastmans have brought renewed passion to the prison ministry, said Sonoda, who now oversees the First Assembly of God's Harvest Ministries, which includes the prison outreach.

"Much of the program's success goes back to their leadership," he said. "Most ministries have lay volunteers, but few put in the hours that they do."

While volunteers from most church prison ministries spend two to three hours a week with inmates, the Eastmans have increased First Assembly of God's local prison ministry to about 40 hours a week. They've also bolstered the ministry's volunteer pool to about 30, who faithfully give of their time at local facilities including Wai­awa, Halawa, Oahu Community Correctional Center, the federal detention center and Windward Women's Facility, and even at the prison in Saguaro, Ariz., where many Hawaii inmates are housed. Last year the couple and a team of volunteers provided 345 chapel services, reached 13,700 inmates and witnessed more than 3,400 salvations, which in many Christian faiths means that the person's soul was saved from the consequences of sin.

"We're in the prisons six nights a week," Lynette said. "To whom much is given, much is expected."

Bulla, who is a licensed minister, also reaches out to the "incarcerated, the lost and the broken" on his "Free Inside Ministry" radio program, which airs Monday to Friday at 9:30 p.m. on 99.5 FM. He addresses his listeners, even the hardened criminals, as "beloved" and at times speaks in pidgin.

"We bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those that are lost and broken to let them know that they do have a hope and a future," Bulla said.

Aqua hotel employees including Gabriel Reyes, Kathy Gunderson and Flora Bumanglag say the Eastmans bring the same level of optimism to their workplace, which has been blessed by the addition of Siatini.

"He's been excellent on the job," said Bumanglag, who made the choice to hire Siatini. "I'd do it again. If there was another one like Sai, why not give them a chance?"

Reyes said Siatini and the Eastmans have inspired him to be more active in his own church, the Good Samaritan Worship Center in Wai­pahu.

"Through God everything is possible," Lynette said.

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