‘Reaching out to community with love of Christ’
He has also worked at the centre of a lot of community projects such as his mobile BBQ Tunutunu (to cook or grill) and setting up the Flaxmere Community Garden in 2010 — that to this day has fed hundreds of families free of charge and is open 24/7.
In 2012 he began the Flaxmere Boxing Academy which creates “warriors in the ring, ladies and gentleman in the community and champions in the home”.Flaxmere also has a heroes’ calendar that recognises locals reaching great achievements — this is distributed annually to every house for free.“You can duplicate what we’ve done in Flaxmere anywhere around the world. You’ve just got to have someone who is totally committed to drive it and Gisborne is littered with those types of people,” he said on Sunday.Mr O’Keefe was in Gisborne to support the Te Hahi kaupapa and to work alongside the police.“Whether it’s in the prison, in homes, in the court — it’s just basically spreading the love, really. This is not about doctrine, it’s not about preaching, it’s just about getting among those families where it’s needed the most.”He said he thoroughly enjoyed his time back “home” and his mandate here was to encourage the churches and the police and to make a few suggestions in regards to transforming violent environments and to use humour to help deliver his message.“We started here in Hastings where we signed up 150 volunteers led by Pastor Cliff Cherry from Red Point Church.”On a personal level, Henare and his wife Pam together fostered over 200 children as well as raising three of their own biological children over the past 20 years.In his fifth term as a Hastings district councillor, when asked why he does what he does, Mr O’Keefe simply answered “love”.“To serve is an absolute blessing,” he said.Mr O’Keefe said there was synergy between Flaxmere and Gisborne but there would always be some issues that would be unique to different areas. He talked about a new “hip-hop cops” programme he started where police officers go to different primary and high schools around the country to spread the anti-crime message.“They use rap, hip-hop and poetry to break down the stigma between the police and the community and show that the police are like you — they want to be loved and they have a sense of humour.“The catalyst is you need a champion to drive things,” he said.Mr O’Keefe stayed one night at the Emerald Hotel and appreciated the profiles of Tairawhiti “heroes” on the walls there.Some of the heroes included Cory Hutchings, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Ian Kirkpatrick.He thought it would be a “fantastic” idea to have the heroes’ pictures enlarged and posted around the city for rangatahi to look up at and be inspired by.Pastor Guthrie Boyd from the Assembly of God Church said having Mr O’Keefe speak on Sunday evening was very “exciting”.“His talk encompassed the kaupapa we were all in agreement on and already doing in our community,” Pastor Guthrie said.“We were very encouraged by his talk.”Pastor Guthrie explained Te Hahi as the local church in the community that is a mixture of 10 denominations “reaching out to the community with the love of Christ”.He mentioned that he was eager to implement the idea of a heroes’ calendar into the community as well.Mr O’Keefe said Gisborne local, ex-police officer Tui Keenan and Inspector Sam Aberahama, the current Gisborne Area Commander, were the two initiators of Te Hahi. They played a huge role in connecting the police, Te Hahi and the family harm team of 23 people called Whangaia Nga Pa Harakeke (WNPH). “Whangaia Nga Pa Harakeke (helping families flourish) is an initiative where police and local iwi work together to reduce family harm,” Inspector Aberahama said.“Police go to houses and if needed call in WNPH to help the families who are dealing with violence. When Tui came to me as a member of the public she had the idea to call on the churches in Tairawhiti to bring more help to situations like these.“WNPH ask the families if they’d like Te Hahi to go in and if they say yes, they go in with a food pack. It’s not just about religion — it’s about sharing love like Henare talked about,” he said.“Te Hahi began in 2016 and consists of volunteers — they’ve been doing things like fixing doors, clearing gardens, giving cuddles and if families are willing, they will offer prayer with them,” Pastor Guthrie said.Te Hahi now has a national co-ordinator and steering group committee who have been working hard to ensure Te Hahi has the correct policies in place. Mrs Keenan said thanks to the support of Inspector Aberahama and other police area commanders, Te Hahi now has the support of Police National Headquarters. “Te Hahi is now in Hawke’s Bay, Rotorua and Gisborne and will be launching in other districts next year. The demand is strong and we cannot keep up with it,” she said. “Te Hahi operates differently in each district and is used daily by the police and iwi family harm team.”She said the WNPH referrals include transport, navigation, pastoral care, food parcels, securing broken doors and windows, prayer, blessing houses and cell visits “to name a few”. “The unity of churches working together has never been so strong in Gisborne. The kaupapa of Te Hahi is that they will always say yes and if they cannot do something, they will find someone who can.”