Okinawa Elects New Governor, But Japan Continues to Ignore Okinawan’s Protests

By H.E. Leon Siu and Rob Kajiwara

 

okinawa protest henoko

70,000 people protest the construction of the new military base at Henoko Bay, Okinawa. Photo taken August 11, 2018, courtesy of AP.

November 8, 2018.

The “Hanauma Bay of Okinawa” is under grave threat of destruction as the Japanese government and United States military continue construction of a new military base that, if completed, would pave over Henoko – Oura Bay in spite of the overwhelming peaceful resistance by the Ryukyu / Okinawan people.

The protests of the late Okinawan Governor Takeshi Onaga, elected on the basis of stopping the construction of the new military base, were largely ignored by both the governments of Japan and the United States, respectively. Governor Onaga had previously rescinded the permit for the landfill of Henoko – Oura Bay, removing any legal jurisdiction for Japan’s central government to continue with the construction. Then, on August 8th of this year, Governor Onaga suddenly passed away due to complications with pancreatic cancer. The intense stress of attempting to stop the base construction is said to have been a prominent factor in his sickness, as well as the illnesses and premature deaths of several of Okinawa’s previous governors. Onaga is being hailed as a hero of the Ryukyu / Okinawan people.

henoko coral fish

Henoko-Oura Bay is home to hundreds of rare and endangered species. Photo courtesy of Okinawaiken.org.

In a spot election to fill the vacant role of governor, the Ryukyu / Okinawan people overwhelmingly elected Governor Onaga’s handpicked successor, Denny Tamaki, in what has been termed the “biggest landslide victory in the history of Okinawa.” Tamaki, whose mother is Okinawan and father American, believes his American heritage will help him convince the U.S. government to stop the construction of the base, though Tamaki speaks little English and has never met his father. Tamaki’s election is being called a major step in the self-determination of the Ryukyu / Okinawan people.

The Japanese central government, however, has continued with the base construction despite Tamaki’s victory and Onaga’s revocation of the landfill permit. Japan’s Ministry of Defense filed a lawsuit using the Administrative Appeal Act demanding the Japanese government’s other Ministries review the revoked landfill permit, while also filing a petition to override Okinawa’s revocation. Rather than wait for the result of the petition, the Ministry of Defense has pushed through with the construction anyway.

“Without a doubt, this is the behavior of a conquerer,” wrote Ryukyu’s largest newspaper, the Ryukyu Shimpo. “It brings into doubt the foundation of Japan’s democracy.”

dugong

Henoko – Oura Bay is one of the few remaining habitats of the endangered Okinawan dugong. Photo courtesy of Science Magazine.

The landfill is the most hotly contended part of the construction, since it is the most environmentally destructive. If continued, it will destroy the natural coral reef of Henoko – Oura Bay, home to hundreds of rare and endangered species, including the Okinawan dugong. Clearly the Japanese government is hoping that by pushing through with the most controversial part of the construction before any legal measures can be completed, the Okinawan people will see resistance to the base as futile and give up their protests.

According to the Ryukyu Shimpo, the Administrative Appeal Act was passed with the intention of aiding private individuals against government organizations. For the Japanese central government to refer to itself as a private individual and file a lawsuit against Okinawa Prefecture is “a heavy-handed strategy many legal scholars consider illegal.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has avoided responsibility in the matter by stating that this is “an issue between the Japanese central government and Okinawa Prefecture.”


H.E. Leon Siu is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Hawaiian Kingdom. In 2017 he became the first Hawaiian nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. www.hawaiiankingdom.net

Rob Kajiwara is a Hawaiian Kingdom Special Envoy to China and the Ryukyu Islands. www.RobKajiwara.com

The True Vine

This is the transcript of the message I shared with the Leeward Community College Campus Crusade for Christ not long ago. If you are a LCC student, looking for a college-level group of Christians to fellowship and grow with, or just curious to see what it’s about, I encourage you to check it out. The group meets Thursdays at 12:30. 

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:5

My grandma and I have a little garden in our backyard. We grow tomatoes, sweet potato, chives, mint, and some other plants. But perhaps our most successful plant so far has been a hyutan, which is the Japanese version of squash.

When I first decided to take up gardening I was really enthusiastic. I envisioned us growing and eating all these different types of vegetables. But then I hit some struggles. Our first attempt at growing hyutan failed. It never caught on, and died shortly after I planted it. The eggplant my grandma had, which had previously been fruitful, had been stung by flies and shriveled. I had planted marigold, but they died too. With the struggles came discouragement. My initial enthusiasm had faded. Had I been on my own, I probably would’ve given up on gardening. But because I shared the load with my grandma, I pressed on.

After the initial struggles, the garden has flourished. As I mentioned, our squash has been doing well. It’s grown like crazy. It started off as just a tiny plant with a single leaf, but with each passing day it grew more and more, quickly turning into a large vine. Within just a couple of months, we harvested our first fruit. Just a week later we harvested our second fruit. They were huge, much bigger than I expected. Squash sold at grocery stores is about 6 inches long. Ours is about 2 feet long, weighing 8 pounds. This plant really exceeded my expectations.

To think that this ever-fruitful vine started off as just a tiny seed. Now it’s growing so well that we’re able to not only feed ourselves, but also give to our neighbors.

The same is true with our lives. We start out as seeds, and sometimes we struggle to grow into anything fruitful. But when we accept Christ as Lord of our lives, he grows us in amazing ways. He’ll give us incredible dreams, goals, and ambitions, and he’ll grow us faster and to greater heights than we thought possible, bearing much fruit for him.

As I said, the garden is flourishing, and the plants have been doing well. But you know what’s also been flourishing? Weeds.

Intermixed in between the good, edible plants are lots and lots of weeds. But even so, the vegetables have so far been okay. So you might think that a few weeds aren’t a big a deal, right? I mean, everyone has weeds in their yards, and most people don’t even have any fruit-bearing plants.

The problem is, if weeds are left unmanaged they will eventually overtake the other plants. They suck up vital nutrients from the soil, and take up space, preventing the good plants from reaching their full potential. If you really want to maximize your harvest, you need to get rid of the weeds.

This is like sin. So often we try to justify sin in our lives. We compare ourselves to other people, thinking, “Everyone sins. Mine are small compared to other people’s. It’s not like I’m committing murder or anything. I’m a decent person. I mean, I go to church every week, and I’m involved in ministry. A small sin won’t hurt anyone. No one will even notice it.”

I remember once I was doing yard work for a lady. Her entire yard was full of weeds. The yard hadn’t been touched in years. There was a tree in the corner of the yard about 12 feet tall, and I thought it looked like some kind of exotic fruit tree. But it was actually a giant weed. It had been allowed to grow for over a decade, and had grown so big that you could no longer even tell it was a weed. It didn’t produce any fruit, it wasn’t aesthetically appealing, and it didn’t have big leafy branches to provide shade or serve any of the other vital functions that trees do. It was just a giant weed taking up space in the yard, sucking nutrients out of the soil. The roots were thick, and buried deep into the earth. It took a long time and a lot of labor to get rid of it.

This is how sin works. It’s so deceptive, sneaking up on us like weeds. When we try to justify sin, it grows within us. We might think, “A tiny sin won’t hurt anyone. I won’t let it get out of control.” The thing is, it spreads without us even realizing, growing far greater than we could have foreseen. Let a few weeds grow, and more sprout up. Let a tiny sin into your life, and more take root. Without realizing it, sin grows a stronger and larger grip on us, and we grow further and further from God. Unchecked, it will grow so big that we will no longer even recognize it as sin, but instead think of it as a normal, productive part of our lives. We won’t realize the damage it’s doing in our lives, until one day we may look and find a huge 12 foot tall weed taking up space and sucking out our energy. It’ll take a lot out of us just to get it removed.

Sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

James 1:15

If we want to maximize our harvest, we need to get rid of the weeds. If we want to be fully used as servants of Christ, we need to abandon sin.

So I try to weed my garden. But the longer weeds are allowed to grow, the more difficult it is to remove them, and unfortunately it’s nearly impossible to take out the weeds without also accidentally damaging some of the good plants in the process. Likewise, the longer we allow sin to grow within us, the more difficult it is to remove, and in the process we are damaging the good, productive parts of our lives, since we’ll have to focus our efforts on removing the sin that we’ve grown so accustomed to. God is always willing to forgive us our sins, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have deal with the consequences of our actions.

A lot of times we think of sin as big things, like murder. But sin includes seemingly “smaller” things as well, such as lying, gossiping, or cheating. I remember one time my friends and I were planning on seeing a movie. We were talking about sneaking in some snacks, because food at the movie theater is ridiculously expensive. But my friend’s mom overheard us, and she told us not to sneak in food, saying it’s dishonest, and that as Christians, we shouldn’t do it. She added, “I know you guys are college students and on a tight budget, so I will give you guys money to buy snacks at the movies. Just don’t be dishonest.”

At first I thought what she said was kind of extreme, but I came to agree with it. While it may be true that movie theaters overcharge, that doesn’t make it okay to break their rules. After all, we don’t have to go to their venues. God doesn’t say it’s okay to be dishonest if people are overcharging you. He never says it’s okay to sin if someone does you wrong. God never justifies sin. He wants us to pursue righteousness at all times, even when we’re being treated unfairly, and he wants us to have faith that he will provide for us.

We live in an impure world. As long as we are here on this Earth we will, from time-to-time, sin. You could drive yourself crazy living a life trying to avoid temptation out of fear of falling. The good news is, we need not worry constantly about sinning. We don’t have to live in a bubble in an attempt to never sin, we just have to keep our eyes on the Lord. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. When we live for Jesus, we will avoid sin. God is more than willing to clean out our lives. We just have to let him change us. Give up the things we know are wrong, and listen to him when he tells us to let it go. Let God weed out the sin in your life, and learn to nip it in the bud right away whenever it does pop up. Flee from sin, and sin will flee from you.

When we have a relationship with Christ, we experience abounding love. When we’re focused on serving Jesus – the light of the world – how can we sin? Remain in the vine and keep his commands, and God will make our lives more fruitful than we ever thought possible, turning even desolate plots into flourishing gardens. Share the fruit of our lives with others, and we in turn will find true riches beyond compare.

Jesus is speaking:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”

John 15: 1-17

 

Where the Sky Seems Lower

This was published in the April issue of The Pearl, the monthly newsletter for the First Baptist Church of Pearl City.  If you’ve already read the printed version, this online version has pictures that were not included. 


“Expect God to do something great today,” said Aunty Adele as she briefed us of the day’s activities over breakfast. “I don’t know why, I just feel it. This morning I got up and I felt God telling me something great is going to happen today.”

Building a house in Cambodia was a great experience, one that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. We were not only doing this to show goodwill toward a Cambodian family, but also to witness to the surrounding neighborhood. A bunch of Cambodian men would stop by to help work on the house. That’s what they do in Cambodia. When someone needs help with something, all their friends, neighbors, and relatives drop by to help out a little. The Cambodian men didn’t say much, they just quietly went about their work. But Adele reminded us that God was using us to sow seeds, so even though we didn’t talk much with them, being there and working with them was an important witness.

Building that house was some of the most intense work I’ve ever done. I’ve played competitive sports for a long time, so I thought I was in good shape and used to intense workouts. But shoveling dirt in the intense humidity of Cambodia was a workout like no other.

We took a break from working, and admired the scenery around us. “The sky seems lower here,” said one of my companions. Cambodia is mostly a very flat country. The area we were in had no no elevation to be seen anywhere. Every direction we looked we saw flat fields, tall coconut trees, small houses made out of wood and grass, but no hills or mountains, creating a surreal feeling, as if the sky were indeed somehow lower in this country than in the rest of the world.

A stupa stands at the site of one of the killing fields. The stupa is filled to the top with skulls of some of the field’s victims.

Cambodia is a beautiful place. Almost everywhere you look you can see green fields which seem to stretch on endlessly. It’s a tranquil scene. But the beauty takes on a new perspective when you think about it’s haunting past. These fields, which seem so serene today, were not that long ago fields filled with terror. So much killing, torturing, raping, and pillaging occurred in these very same fields. Here so many people experienced unimaginable horror, and had their lives changed forever. Babies were taken from their mothers, family members were turned against family members, and people saw their loved ones murdered in front of them.

Cambodians taken from their homes and forced to work in brutal conditions for the Khmer Rouge.

After taking a break, we continued work on the house. In Cambodia, when it rains, it pours. The weather can be extremely bipolar: it can be sunny one minute, pouring rain the next, and sunny again a moment later. But during monsoon season, rains typically come during the mid-afternoon, and continue throughout the evening.

It was about three in the afternoon when clouds rolled in. They were some of the darkest clouds I’ve ever seen, and they were heading straight for us. It almost looked like a tornado was going to form. We knew we’d have to work fast if we wanted to beat the storm.

We were on the ground shoveling dirt and moving bricks, but there were guys working on the roof of the house. They were using electric tools to weld the roof in place, so any rain would halt the project. Our schedule was tight, since we were only supposed to be in Cambodia for two weeks. Rain had already cut short some of our work days, and any further delays might keep us from being able to finish the house in time.

Racing against a storm while shoveling dirt out of Adele’s truck.

We worked as fast as we could, trying to get the day’s work done before the rain started. The clouds looked like they were ready to burst at any moment, but they somehow held up.

Finally, right as 5 o’clock hit, we finished with the day’s work. At that moment, seemingly as if God had been making the clouds wait just for us, the rain started to pour, and it poured all night.

“Adele did say to expect God to do something great today,” said one of my companions, reminding us of what we had talked about at breakfast.

In addition to working on the house, we did Vacation Bible Schools for the neighborhood kids. In doing this, we got to know some of the locals.

The Khmer Rouge took pictures of their victims before they exterminated them.

Rows upon rows of pictures are now on display at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh.

One of the people I became friends with was a boy named Kaiyi. If you saw him you might think he’s about 10 or 11 years old, but he’s actually 17. His growth has been severely stunted due to malnutrition. When I first met him he had a large bleeding wound on his ankle. Aunty Adele, who made me a medical assistant for the trip, had me treat it. As I bandaged it I noticed his entire leg was deeply scarred, running from his thigh all the way down to his foot. Adele told me that his family used to beat him, and finally his leg got so bad that a metal rod had to be placed in it. He has a weak immune system, which is why the wound on his leg reopened and started bleeding for no apparent reason. He also has an enlarged spleen. The doctor’s can’t remove it, since it’s already too big. If his spleen ruptures, he will die.

Another guy we became friends with was a 22-year-old named John. John was a neighbor of Kaiyi’s. When John found out about the way Kaiyi’s family was beating him, he had him come and live with him, and eventually adopted him. But one time Kaiyi missed his family and ran away to see them, and his family beat him again. This was when Adele had to explain to Kaiyi that he can’t ever go back.

John and Kaiyi.

We took the kids to Adele’s house and did a VBS in her yard. Kaiyi and I stood there listening to the women tell a Bible story. I put my hand on his shoulder. He looked up at me, smiled, grabbed my hand, and examined it, looking at how big it was compared to his. He swung my hand back and forth, and played with it the way little kids do. Then he simply held my hand, and didn’t let go until we had to leave.

The government of Cambodia does not persecute Christians. The persecution instead comes from the people themselves. Theravada Buddhism plays a huge role in the social structure of Cambodia. Almost everyone in the entire country is Buddhist, and if you’re Cambodian, that’s what’s expected of you. Everyone from your family, neighbors, friends, classmates, and coworkers practices Buddhism and expects you to do the same, for that is how it’s been ever since Buddhism first came to Cambodia some 2,000 years ago.

This is what makes it so difficult for Cambodians to accept Christ. Doing so isolates them from society as they know it. Their friends, peers, and coworkers will shun them for turning away from their long-held beliefs in favor of a foreign unseen deity. Men will have a tougher time finding jobs, since people don’t want to hire someone who turned from their traditions. Their own family will disown them, and in the case of women and children, they’ll probably be beaten.

This is something that we in America just can’t relate to. In some cases we might be criticized, made fun of, or looked down upon for being a Christian. But we won’t be entirely isolated from society the way Cambodian Christians are.

For Cambodians, to accept Christ is a giant leap of faith. It’s dangerous and lonesome, and can often seem to hinder one’s success in life. But Cambodia is a nation that desperately needs a Savior. There has been so much suffering and anguish, much more than I could describe to you in a few short articles. Cambodia is still haunted by it’s past. Recovery is slow and painful. But the Cambodians who have accepted Christ as Lord of their lives exhibit very different traits from their non-Christian counterparts. Their countenance and demeanor is different. They seem happy, and full of hope.

Cambodian Christians have so little, yet they’re satisfied. Here in America, we’re so often focused on our material things: our computers, iphones, cars, status, and money. Would we really be happy if we didn’t have those things? It seems as if because of our materialism, we do not always recognize this simple truth: that God alone is the real joy giver, and that apart from him, we are nothing.

In Cambodia, where the sky seems lower, it felt in a way as if I was closer to God. In America, with our wealth and materialism, it’s easy to be “lukewarm Christians” and get wrapped up in our own lives and forget that God is at the center of it all. But for two weeks while I was in Cambodia, the emphasis was on spreading the love of Christ to those around us, and it felt as if I was “working full-time for Him,” which is how it should always be, regardless of where we are.

When we let God work in our lives, great things happen every day. When we let go of our worldly ways and keep our eyes and hearts focused on his righteous ways, we let his light shine through us. Not only does this help others see him, but it also brings us joy like no other. It’s a joy that can never be taken from us, and it’s a joy that lasts for all eternity. o

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5: 3, 14-16

Cambodia Sharing

(Published in the November issue of my church’s newsletter. This was originally the transcript for my sharing about Cambodia to the church’s congregation, with minor alterations made to ease accessibility to readers.)

 

Cambodia is a land of wonder. At one point in history it was one of the world’s richest civilizations. Today it is one of the poorest countries in the world, where most people live on less than 2$ a day. Food is extremely scarce, and malnutrition is a constant problem. Disease runs rampant, since most people cannot get adequate medical treatment.

During the 1960’s Cambodia was heavily damaged by the effects of the Vietnam War, which in turn helped fuel their own civil war, which laid waste to the country. During that time, the country also experienced a terrible famine, and for years, many people died of the fighting, disease, or starvation. In 1975 Khmer Rouge soldiers entered the capital of Phnom Penh, and the people cheered, thinking that their suffering had finally come to an end. They had no idea that the worst had yet to even begin.

The Khmer Rouge implemented dramatic reform, doing their best to transform modern Cambodia back into the Feudal Age. They forced the cities to be abandoned and turned the entire population into forced laborers working on rice fields. Schools, libraries, and anything modern was destroyed, as they did their best to wipe out technology and culture. Teachers, artists, doctors, and anyone they considered “smart” were killed. People too old to work, people with disabilities, and people who wore glasses (who were thought of as “smart”) were also killed. People who couldn’t handle the labor, who were too malnourished, were killed, people whose clothes were too clean or hands too soft were killed (as this was a sign of not working hard enough), and some people were killed at random, for no apparent reason. Even though everyone was forced to work on rice fields, food was scarce, and many people starved. 

Children were reeducated, brainwashed, and turned into killing machines for the Khmer Rouge. Mothers were forced to watch as their babies were taken and brutally murdered. It was common for soldiers to grab kids by their legs and swing them against a tree like an ax, smashing their heads against the trunk.

If, for whatever reason, someone was accused of being a spy or rebel, they were thrown in jail, tortured until they confessed to doing something they never did, and then executed. The Khmer Rouge did this to even their own members.

This was one of the trees that Khmer Rouge soldiers used to execute babies and children on. It now stands as a memorial.

In just 5 years, anywhere between 1 and 3 million people died as a result of the Khmer Rouge. The entire population of Cambodia at the time was only 8 million.

Our mission going to Cambodia was to build a house for a family Aunty Adele has been working with, deliver supplies for her to distribute at her discretion, do Bible school for the kids, build relationships with the people there, and spread the love of Christ. Here you can see the house they were living in previously.

Cambodia is a heartbroken country. The Khmer Rouge is gone now, but their devastating effects remain. Everywhere you look, you can see the scars that still linger.There remain over 4 million undiscovered landmines throughout the country. Poverty, and everything that comes with it, is a part of daily life. I think the rest of the world has largely turned a blind eye to the devastation that took place so recently in Cambodia, which is why I felt it necessary to share a bit about the history with you today.

Corruption runs rampant in Cambodia. Everyone from the government, to the police, to the kids and teachers at schools, are expected and encouraged to cheat and bribe their way through daily life. With cheating such a regular part of life, the people just know no other way of living.

In Cambodia, people with disabilities are ostracized. The Buddhist culture there dictates that people with deformities are cursed, and that they must have done something bad in a past life to deserve their punishment. People don’t want to be associated with “cursed people,” so the handicapped are often rejected by everyone, including their own families.

We became friends with many people who have been through so much more than what we could imagine here in America. People like Hia, a boy we became good friends with, who was sold by his mom, and is forced to work at a crocodile farm, where he takes care of hundreds and hundreds of crocodiles by himself. Or this girl in the wheelchair, Gemaryan, who was born missing both her legs, her left arm, and with only 3 fingers on her right hand, and because of her disabilities, was beaten by her family. Or Kaiyi, another boy we befriended, who suffers from severe malnutrition, an enlarged spleen, and many other diseases, and was also beaten and rejected by his family.

These people have been through so much suffering, and lived in fear. But it’s amazing to see Christ at work in their lives, as they are transformed into new, stronger people. Like, Visnae and Pisae, two girls we met who have become leaders in their communities, and recently started attending medical school in Phnom Penh.

We did a lot of VBS’s for the kids. They were a lot of fun to work with, and seemed to really enjoy the Bible stories, crafts, games, and just hanging out.

One of the most memorable faces in my mind was not someone I met in person. While at her house, Aunty Adele handed me a photo album to look through. In it were pages and pages of pictures of people she’s met over the years, many of whom were suffering from giant tumors the size of softballs sticking out of their neck, forehead, and other odd places, many were missing limbs, and many had other terrible diseases and deformities.

Then I saw a picture of a girl who was about my age. Acid had been poured all over her body. Her face is horribly scarred, with the skin permanently removed, and her facial features missing, out of place, or otherwise hanging in odd positions. I cannot describe to you how terrible it is. It is easily the worst deformity I’ve ever seen. I can’t get her face out of my mind.

This was the house the family had previously been living in. (Family of 7.) It's a typical house for a Cambodian family.

The world might call these people ugly. Their country may be ashamed of them, and their culture, and even their own families, may have rejected them. People tend to look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. God only makes beautiful things. These are exactly the kinds of beautiful people I find so much joy working with.

The finished house. It’s not much by American standards, but for them it’s their dream home. For a family as poor and desperate as they are, where getting enough food to eat is considered a good day for them, a house like this seemed impossible, nothing but a pipe dream. But for God, all things are possible. This house was built entirely by Him. It was such a huge blessing to get to work on that house, and I thank God for giving me that opportunity.

People live in little house boats on Tonle Sap, a very polluted lake.

Our tour guide and interpreter for the trip was a man named Viloth.  He’s a pastor, but he doesn’t get paid at all for his ministry work, and instead supports his family by working as a tuk-tuk driver.  He works hard to serve the Lord, and God has blessed him. Whereas most people in Cambodia are undernourished, somehow Viloth is able to provide enough food for his family, and they are all at healthy weights. Their nine-month old baby, Elijah, was born with down syndrome. Normally kids with disabilities are rejected by their families, but it’s clear that Elijah will always be loved.

If you’ve never been on mission to a third-world country, I encourage you to go. It is a great opportunity to see God at work in so many different ways. But you don’t need to leave home in order to be a blessing. You don’t need special skills or a lot of money, just a willing heart. There are so many people right here in our neighborhoods who need help. All we have to do is be willing to obey when God calls us to act.

Accidentally On Purpose

 

(Published in the May issue of the Hawaii Baptist Newspaper.)

 

Accidentally on Purpose

I wasn’t supposed to go on the trip to Pu’u Kahea. Money has been pretty tight for me lately, and anything that hasn’t been truly necessary has been cut out of my budget. So when I saw the price tag for the Gathering conference being held there, I automatically assumed there was no way I’d be going. Besides, I had never been on a retreat before, I didn’t really know what it was about, and it didn’t seem like my type of thing.

But then Arjay Gruspe, director of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry, came to me and said, “I didn’t see your application for the Gathering. Why aren’t you going?”

“No money,” was my reply.

“If we could cover your fee, would you go?”

I didn’t like the idea of going for free, while everyone else paid full price, so I was hesitant to accept the offer. But people kept encouraging me to go, telling me what a great experience it would be, so I figured God might have some sort of purpose for me to be there.

I had no idea what to expect.

The Gathering is a weekend retreat held annually for college-aged people. It’s held at Pu’u Kahea, a plantation-turned-conference center along the Waianae coast. The building itself is three-stories, with the kitchen and dining hall on the first floor, a large lanai on the second, and a main conference room on the third. The grounds outside are lined with royal palms, and there’s plenty of room for field games, outdoor seminars, and other activities.

Pu’u Kahea has long been used for Baptist retreats, but if you haven’t been there recently, they’ve made some nice improvements. All the cabins have been renovated. They’re now completely air conditioned, with new, comfortable mattresses replacing the old, flimsy ones people say used to be there. There’s a newly built prayer garden in a tranquil spot off to the side, complete with benches and a little koy pond.

Around 50 people attended the event, with ages ranging between starry-eyed 18-year-old freshmen, to post-college guys likes me.

The guest speaker for the trip was Michael Kelley, a young, energetic man from Nashville. It was his first time in Hawaii. The title of his presentation was “Life on Purpose.” In the opening message delivered on Friday night he talked about our walk with God, and encouraged us to ask ourselves what we are doing to live a meaningful life.

After the worship we gathered into small groups organized by our year in college to discuss the message we had just heard. Each group consisted of roughly a dozen people. We sat in a circle and introduced ourselves, each of us sharing our most memorable story from our time in college. The guys tended to tell stories about pranks they had pulled, while the girls mostly told about weird things that had happened to them.

One girl told of how she met her significant other. It was a lengthy story, but she was so obviously in love that one couldn’t help but overlook the length. I guess that’s the difference between a casual relationship and being truly in love. When you’re truly in love with someone, they always seem to be on your mind. You can’t help but talk about them at every chance you get.

In the same way, when you walk with God and have a relationship with Christ, not just a casual relationship, but when you’re truly in love and committed to serving Him, he is always on your mind, and you’re constantly looking for ways to spread his glory.

As a group we spent so much time sharing stories that we didn’t get around to covering the remaining questions of the lesson, but I think it was time well-spent. The story each person chose to share seemed to be an indication of who they were and where they were in life. Some stories were funny, others were more serious, but all were revealing. We seemed to learn a lot about each other in that way.

We had some free time on Saturday afternoon, so a bunch of people decided to go to the nearby water park, some went to the beach, and some stayed at the plantation and played on the giant slip and slide they have there. But I and a few others decided to go on the hike to Kaena Point.

I’d never been there, but had heard that Kaena Point was the most remote point on the island. The only problem was that the person who was supposed to be our guide for the hike had decided to go to the water park instead. So the rest of us figured we would go on our own.

Coming on the hike was a guy who said his first love had been marine biology. He was forced to switch his major to psychology in order to graduate on time, but he still loved marine life. Also coming was a young freshmen couple. They were both about the same height, on the shorter side, kind of shy, and held hands for practically the entire time. They were inseparable, and seemed like they were made for each other.

Rounding out the team was Michael, and his wife, Jana. I guess I had assumed that as the speaker he would be too important and busy to want to go hiking with us, so it was a nice surprise.

But when Michael heard that none of the rest of us had been on this particular trail before, he seemed to get a bit uneasy. Not only that, but the sunny weather we had had in the morning had been replaced by dark clouds, so there was some uncertainty as to whether we should go at all.

We went anyway. We hopped in the back of a truck, and drove past the beaches of Makaha, the makeshift homeless camps, and the high ridge mountains. After about twenty minutes, we came to the end of the road, which is where the trail began.

The first part of the trail was covered with deep mud holes, but we were able to work our way around by forging through smaller paths in the brush. We were thankful for those alternate paths, because none of us wanted to walk through the mud.

As we made our way along, the muddy parts ceased, the trail became friendlier, and we had more time to enjoy the natural scenery. On our right was a large, green mountain with portentous clouds circling it. On our left was the ocean, pounding against the rocky shoreline.

Eventually we saw a large arch made out of rocks. It’s the type of thing you might expect to see at the Grand Canyon, but not so much in Hawaii. We stood admiring it. Michael decided he wanted a picture of himself underneath it, but to get there meant having to go down a rocky slope, which was unstable-looking enough to think that with one false step, you could fall and break a leg, or hit your head on the sharp rocks that lay below. There was no trail to follow.

But Michael really wanted to check out that arch.

“I’m going down,” he said, taking off his backpack.

“Are you serious?” asked his wife. “Don’t do it.”

“I’m doing it,” he replied. “You only come to Hawaii once. It’ll be fine.”

He started making his way down, as Jana continued to urge him not to.

The younger guy traveling with us finally let go of his girlfriend’s hand, and boldly said, “I’m going too.”

“Don’t…” pleaded his girlfriend. But of course at that point he had to do it, whether he still wanted to or not.

Jana said something about men being stubborn. I replied, “If I had someone to impress, and she were here, I’d probably do it too.”

As the younger guy made his way down the slope, rocks fell towards Michael. But the two of them continued on carefully, and made it down alright, posing underneath the giant stone arch.

“You got down okay, but how are you going to get back up?” asked Jana.

They kept walking and before too long they found an easy path that led them back to the main trail. Turns out they could’ve gotten to the arch without ever having to go down that risky slope.

Michael was having a good time. “So glad I did that!” he said. I think Jana was a bit perturbed by his risk taking, but glad he didn’t get hurt.

We continued on our way, and eventually came to the end of the island, the most remote point of Oahu. Looking out into the ocean, we saw whales. Directly in front of us were seals resting among the rocks.

“I love whales!” exclaimed the psychology major. “They were the reason I first got into marine biology.”

It was a peaceful scene, different from most beaches in Hawaii. It’s a natural wildlife reserve for birds, like the Nene, and native plants that can’t be found in too many other places. The land is shaped in a way that makes it look like it really is pointing to something out over the horizon.

“I’m glad we did this hike,” said Michael. I think all of us were.

There were a lot of things that could have interfered with our enjoyment of the hike. It could have rained, someone could have gotten hurt, or we could have simply decided it would’ve been more trouble than it was worth, and not have gone. Decision making is a constant in life. Sometimes you don’t know which way to go, or if you should even go at all. Maybe you wandered away from the trail and are unsure of how to get back. Or maybe you just don’t know what it is you can or should be doing. But when you put your trust in God, the path is always revealed.

In one of our devotionals, Michael reminded us about the story of Joshua, who led the Israelites to conquer the large, fortified cities of Canaan, most notably the famous walled city of Jericho. Such a task was daunting, and I’m sure there were a lot of people who thought it was an unnecessary and foolish risk. But had they simply gone around the city, they would have been left vulnerable to attack. Joshua placed absolute faith in God, and God told him what to do.

There are times when we may find ourselves hesitant to act on things because of the perceived risk of failure. But when we walk with God, there is no risk.

Michael wrote, “Maybe faith isn’t the absence of doubt, but the ability to give your doubts and apprehensions to God, and move forward against the walls anyway… Might God be calling you to take a risk for him?”

As part of his Saturday evening message, Michael talked about ways we could glorify God. He used the example of Christian movies, which tend to be preachy and boring. Movies are supposed to be entertaining. So if a Christian movie has good preaching, but isn’t fun to watch, who, really, is going to be moved to develop a relationship with Christ? Michael suggested that to glorify God, you didn’t need to make films that preached Christianity, just quality, entertaining movies with good values and messages.

Committing your life to God doesn’t mean you have to become a pastor, a nun, or a speaker. Not everyone has that calling. I think it simply means doing ordinary things with God in your heart, for when you do that, you are living life with a purpose, and actively seeking ways to make a significant, lasting impact.

“Christians are frequently speaking out against gay marriage,” said Michael. “But what if a heterosexual Christian couple spoke about the joys of their relationship, showing people what they are for, instead of what they are against?”

A lot of people seem to think of Christians as boring, stuffy, and judgmental. We talk a lot about the things we’re against. We’re against drugs, abortion, gay marriage, and other things that some people find acceptable or enjoyable. Michael’s point was that being a Christian shouldn’t be about telling people what they can’t do. It should be about showing people the right way of doing things.

If people come to see Christians not as stuffy and judgmental, but as contributing leaders of society, I think people will be more willing and interested in hearing about Christ. In this way God’s glory is spread.

Saturday night we sat around a campfire, making smores, and talking story. People sang songs, and played guitars. We even had a ukulele player and a violinist. Most of us stayed up far later than we probably should have, but we were having a good time making new friends, and getting to know old friends better.

As our gathering wrapped up on Sunday morning, Michael’s closing message cited Matthew 24:14-

Revalation 22:21, the very last verse of the Bible, says, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with everyone.” Not just some people, but with

We packed and cleaned, and thanked the Pu’u Kahea staff for their hospitality. As we left, Arjay reminded us not to leave anything behind, but to apply it to our everyday walk with God.

I wasn’t supposed to come on this trip, but I’m thankful I was given the opportunity. I didn’t come to Pu’u Kahea with a specific purpose in mind other than to grow closer to God. It so often seems we live life waiting for things to accidentally come our way. But when you walk with God, nothing is really an accident.

When we devote our life to a great cause, when we are willing to take risks and live not to serve our own desires, but to glorify God, we are living a life full of meaning and significance. We are able to achieve our fullest potential, and make an impact that outlasts us. We are making a difference that matters.

That’s what a life on purpose is.