Early Christian History Between Hawaii and the United States

Early Christian History Between Hawaii and the United States

By Robert Hernandez Kajiwara

Christianity played a pivotal role in the early histories of both the Hawaiian Kingdom and the United States. This short article will briefly examine this early history.

In 1809 five young Hawaiians arrived in New England via an American trade ship. Among them was Henry Obookiah (or Opukahaia), a young man who would go on to play a huge role in Hawaii’s history.1 Opukahaia displayed much academic and linguistic aptitude, eventually studying at Yale University and converting to Christianity.2 Opukahaia spoke and wrote about his home islands, asking that churches in New England send missionaries to Hawaii to share the gospel.3 Opukahaia tragically contracted typhus fever and died at the age of twenty six before he could return home.4 His death, though, sparked a wave of interest among New England Christians, dozens of whom would eventually become the first Christian missionaries to Hawaii. This is well-documented in Opukahaia’s own writings, as well as in the writings of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missionaries (ABCFM) and Lyman Beecher, who was Opukahaia’s pastor.

The first American missionaries arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in 1820. Through 1848 the ABCFM, a Congregational and Presbyterian organization, would send around 150 missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands.5 Several other denominations, such as Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, and Roman Catholics, would later send their own missionaries and establish thriving churches, some of which last to the present day.

Many of these early missionaries displayed a prejudice and xenophobia towards Hawaiian people, their culture, customs, and lifestyle, as can be seen in their writings. History of the Sandwich Islands: with an account of the American mission established there in 1820, compiled by Ephraim Eveleth and published in 1831 in Philadelphia, is a collection of documents (mostly letters) written by these missionaries. They tend to portray Hawaiians as poor, barbaric, uncivilized, and oppressed by their leaders, which the missionaries would use to justify their eventual takeover of Hawaiian land and government. It should be noted that Hawaiians of the day (including Hawaiian Christians) considered Hawaii to be a thriving, prosperous, and advanced society where poverty and homelessness were practically non-existent, and where good health and longevity were the norm.6

Not all of the missionaries were prejudiced, however. Some were respectful towards Hawaiians and assimilated into Hawaiian society. Perhaps the most important positive contribution of the missionaries was their promotion of literacy. Over the next several decades they would write several works of Christian literature in both the Hawaiian and English languages, and conduct wide-scale literacy campaigns that proved very effective. By 1860 the literacy rate in the United States was approximately 74%, while in Hawaii it was at over 90%.7 “The standard of intelligence among the native Hawaiians is higher than that of any other nation in the world, with illiteracy being practically unknown,” wrote Charles Gulick, whose parents were among the first missionaries to Hawaii.8 Gulick was one of the few members of the missionary families to support the Hawaiian Kingdom during the illegal overthrow in 1893, and today there is a street named in his honor in downtown Honolulu.

The original instructions from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to the missionaries to Hawaii had been to work “for no private end, for no earthly object” and “wholly for the good of others, and for the glory of God our Savior.”9 By the 1840s, though, the interests of the missionaries had turned to business and politics, and they began acquiring large amounts of Hawaiian land for themselves. Later in the century the missionary families had developed into a business oligarchy collectively known as the Big Five, exerting a large amount of political-economic control over Hawaii that would last until the mid-twentieth century. In 1893 a group of these American missionaries conspired with the U.S. ambassador to invade the Hawaiian Kingdom and overthrow the monarchy at gun point in what is considered to be the single most harmful event in Hawaiian history.10

The missionaries, most of whom were young adults when they came to Hawaii, used religion to amass political-economic power for themselves and oppress Hawaiians. By taking advantage of Hawaiian interest in Christianity, these missionaries, who had little in the way of accomplishments back in their home towns, found a tremendous amount of personal wealth and influence under the guise of “missionary work” in a foreign land. Many of their descendants enjoy the fruits of their wealth to this day, while Hawaiians, who had sincerely converted to Christianity, continue to be oppressed, marginalized, and even homeless within their own home islands.

Primary Sources:

American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.. A narrative of five youth from the Sandwich Islands, now receiving an education in this country. New-York, 1816. 42pp. Sabin Americana. Gale, Cengage Learning. Liberty University. 19 November 2019.

Beecher, Lyman. A sermon delivered at the funeral of Henry Obookiah : a native of Owhyhee and a member of the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut : … Elizabeth-town [N.J.]; (Elizabeth-town), 1819. 31pp. Sabin Americana. Gale, Cengage Learning. Liberty University. 19 November 2019

Eveleth, Ephraim. History of the Sandwich Islands : with an account of the American mission established there in 1820. Philadelphia, 1831. 200pp. Sabin Americana. Gale, Cengage Learning. Liberty University. 19 November 2019.

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1894, Appendix II, Affairs in Hawaii. Retrieved 19 November 2019 from: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1894app2/d306.

Instructions of the Purdential Committee of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to the Sandwich Islands Mission (Lahainaluna, 1838), 19-20, 27-28.

Kamakau, Samuel (1815-1876). Writings, later published in several collections: Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii; Ka Poe Kahiko: The People of Old; The Works of the people of Old: Na Hana a ka Poe Kahiko; Tales and Traditions of the People of Old: Na Moolelo a ka Poe Kahiko.

Secondary Sources:

Charlot, John. “Two Early Hawaiian-Christian Chants.” Anthropos105, no. 1 (2010): 29-46. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25734737.

Coffman, Tom. Nation Within: The History of the American Occupation of Hawaiʻi. Duke University Press. 2003.

Kajiwara, Robert. Hawaii, Christianity, and the United States: A Complicated History. Honolulu: Kaji Books. 2019. https://www.amazon.com/Hawaii-Christianity-United-States-Complicated-ebook/dp/B07Z2K93F3/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=robert+kajiwara&qid=1574205062&s=digital-text&sr=1-1

Kuykendall, Ralph S. The Hawaiian Kingdom, Volume 1, 1778-1854, Foundation and Transformation. 119-120.

Shulz, Joy. Hawaiian by Birth: Missionary Children, Bicultural Identity, and U.S. Colonialism in the Pacific. University of Nebraska Press. 2017.

Williams, Ronald Jr. “A Nation Refuses to Forget.” November 25, 2017.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9CTLnKoUI8

1 American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.. A narrative of five youth from the Sandwich Islands, now receiving an education in this country. New-York, 1816. 42pp. Sabin Americana. Gale, Cengage Learning. Liberty University. 19 November 2019.

2Ibid.

3 Beecher, Lyman. A sermon delivered at the funeral of Henry Obookiah : a native of Owhyhee and a member of the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut : … Elizabeth-town [N.J.]; (Elizabeth-town), 1819. 31pp. Sabin Americana. Gale, Cengage Learning. Liberty University. 19 November 2019.

4Ibid.

5Schulz, Joy. Hawaiian by Birth: Missionary Children, Bicultural Identity, and U.S. Colonialism in the Pacific. University of Nebraska Press. 2017. 1.

6 Kamakau, Samuel (1815-1876). Writings, later published in several collections: Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii; Ka Poe Kahiko: The People of Old; The Works of the people of Old: Na Hana a ka Poe Kahiko; Tales and Traditions of the People of Old: Na Moolelo a ka Poe Kahiko.

7 Williams, Ronald Jr. “A Nation Refuses to Forget.” November 25, 2017.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9CTLnKoUI8

8Foreign Relations of the United States, 1894, Appendix II, Affairs in Hawaii. Retrieved 19 November 2019 from: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1894app2/d306. 766.

9 Charlot, John. “Two Early Hawaiian-Christian Chants.” Anthropos105, no. 1 (2010): 29-46. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25734737. 34.

Instructions of the Prudential Committee of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to the Sandwich Islands Mission (Lahainaluna, 1838), 19-20, 27-28.

Kuykendall. The Hawaiian Kingdom, Volume 1, 1778-1854, Foundation and Transformation. 101.

10 Coffman, Tom. Nation Within: The History of the American Occupation of Hawaiʻi. Duke University Press. 2003.

Ministering to the Homeless

 

Found this quote by a homeless Christian blogger:

 

A person who spends all their time trying to convert the already converted, and ignores or neglects their needs, is nursing a dead faith.

– A Homeless Christian

 

God has had me doing a bit of ministry to homeless people, and I feel like he’s calling me to do more. Not sure yet where this is going to lead me, but it sounds exciting. I think the above quote hits the nail on the head. A lot of homeless people are already saved. It’s their physical needs that need to be attended to. I live in a small city that has lots of homeless people, and lots of churches. If there are so many churches, you would think homelessness wouldn’t be a problem, right? Because Jesus said he expects his followers to minister to those in need. He said we are to share the kingdom of God with others, and in the kingdom of God, no one is needy. Unfortunately, it seems that many churches seem to think that by preaching to people, that fulfills the “ministering” quota. It seems many churches have forgotten about the part about ministering to people’s physical needs as well. Jesus himself ministered to peoples physical needs, as well as their spiritual needs.

 

Another quote by the same person:

Most people who feel compelled to bring Christianity to the homeless will declare the inerrancy of the Bible. The justification goes thusly – if the Bible is perfect, and they are preaching “from” the Bible, then the words they speak as they preach are also perfect, to be considered dutifully, without question. Such proclamations made so often at the begin of chapel services at the mission has caused many, including myself, to automatically turn off my attention, and dismiss whatever the chaplain is saying. On the other hand, if the chaplain starts out on the right foot, with humility and practicality, I’ve give him a listen

 

I think it’s important to remember that just because someone is homeless, does not mean they are unsaved.

My God Will Meet All Your Needs

Summer is right around the corner, and you know what that means? Yeah, VBS is coming up. VBS was a lot of fun last year. Our theme was Sonrise National Park. The songs were really good. I posted one of them before. Here’s another one:

Then I had the privilege of serving on mission last year to Kohala to help with their VBS, and they used the Amazing Wonders Aviation theme, which was also a lot of fun.

This year at my church, our theme is Kingdom Rock. Here’s the logo:

 

Pretty cool, huh? We’re also planning another mission trip to Kohala this year. I was the lone missionary to Kohala last year, but thankfully, this year there will be a lot more people going. We’ll be using the same Kingdom Rock theme when we do VBS at Kohala this summer.

I’m also probably going to be helping out at the VBS at one of our sister churches, and their theme will be Colossal Coaster World:

Yeast Spreads

I have a missionary friend who serves the Lord in a restricted country. (Can’t say the name of the country, or names of anyone, for security reasons.) Not long ago she returned to the States for a sabbatical. While she was gone, one of her disciples went out and was discipling someone else. Then the two of them went out to some villages and started preaching the Good News. They met one man in one of the villages who was particularly interested in what they were teaching, so they continued to go back to teach him. He accepted Christ, then went and told everyone else in his village about the Lord. The entire village was saved.

God worked through one person, who worked through another, who worked through another, to save an entire village. What may he be calling you to do?

 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Matthew 13:33