At age 80, Sylvia Waiwaiole-Hopfe has found her calling in an unlikely place — the Internet.
She starts nearly every day doing what few her age have attempted: using a computer to host a live broadcast in which she shares her Christian faith and words of encouragement.
Waiwaiole-Hopfe was introduced to the technology in 1998 and was taught to use the revolutionary tool known as the World Wide Web for email, but she did not understand at the time how it would change her life.
"It was the beginning of the dot-com generation. I didn’t know anything about computers," she said. "I thought you put the mouse on the screen (and was) hoping that it would work. That’s how ignorant I was."
Waiwaiole-Hopfe became more tech-savvy in recent years when a friend showed her how to videoconference to reach a worldwide audience.
"That was it, I was on my way," said the longtime Kailua resident, who on a recent morning did a broadcast with more than half a dozen people from as far as New Zealand in her international prayer room at meetwithsylvia.com.
She shared biblical teachings and a few PowerPoint presentations accompanied by songs of worship, and prayed with attendees whom she addressed by name.
The online ministry, "Reaching the World for Christ," that drives the senior in her golden years starts at 7:45 a.m. six days a week except Sundays.
The room has spread through word of mouth and has resulted in a number of pastors and participants sharing God’s word from all over the globe.
"That’s what excited me — that I could use this tool to reach the world to do some good in the world," Waiwaiole-Hopfe said. "My priority is to build that prayer room. It’s a thousand times better than Skype. My passion is what I’m doing right now."
Esther Correa, a retired kumu hula living in the San Francisco Bay Area, said she looks forward to logging on every morning.
"I’m so happy at my age, 89, and barely have any knowledge on computers, that I am able to get up in the morning and turn on the computer, which is so easy to get to ‘Reaching the World for Christ,’" Correa said. "After hearing the music and you and the different pastors speak from all over — New Zealand, Washington, Hawaii — it really makes my day."
Morris Williams, from Christchurch, New Zealand, said the online ministry "has enabled me to continue my faith when I have been unable to leave my home due to illness."
Before starting her ministry, Waiwaiole-Hopfe, a single mother of four, had worked in direct sales for 52 years.
Her life was sidetracked in 1990 when she developed breast cancer. That was around the time she began marketing an immune system-boosting supplement in Australia and New Zealand.
But after getting "carried away" in sales, her two boys got into drugs and she said her life went into a slump.
"That was a very hard blow because I was always so busy. My priorities were out of order," she said.
She said she sought God out of despair. In 2004, she attended Bible college and began to reprioritize her life.
"There was a change of heart that there’s more to life than money. You have to have God first. I realized that," she said.
"That’s when my life changed. Sometimes we have to change for our kids to see. We have to be role models."
She got involved in a drug prevention program, No Hope in Dope; was appointed to the board of directors of the Bible college; and even served as commissioner with the Honolulu Fire Commission for six years.
Her first online conference took place in 2011, drawing 45 attendees.
"I could see this opportunity and it was almost like fulfilling a dream for my life," Waiwaiole-Hopfe said. "I’m not a computer person, definitely not, but I saw the vision. Most of the programs are self-taught. I saw the vision and all I had to do was take a little time to learn how could this be possible.
"When you don’t have vision in life, you have nothing."