Although the mention of Hawaii engenders for the tourist visions of sunshine, swimming and relaxation in Eden-like conditions, there is another side of life for those who live on the islands. Continual reminders of man’s depravity, of sickness, death, and destruction abound. Diamond Head, Hawaii’s most famous landmark, now a review field, was once a volcano. Near the international airport is a military hospital, where terminally ill war victims live out their lives in broken bodies or minds.
Punch Bowl Crater is now a national cemetery. At Pearl Harbor stands the Arizona Memorial with its gun turrets jutting through the surface, reminding one of December 7, 1941, when Japanese planes attacked. But most Hawaiians, like the tourists, seek to forget about death and God. They have been very successful in doing so, for 70 percent of the people of Hawaii are unchurched. This is one of the highest percentages in the nation and far above the national average of 40 percent. A 1973 survey revealed that the evangelical community numbered 14,000. By 1990 the number of Christians had grown to 20,000, but that is still only 2 percent of the state's population 1.4 million.
Among Hawaii's unchurched groups are the tourists, who are not reflected in the above statistics. For every citizen there are four tourists. Another large group is the military, who, along with their families and support personnel represent 14 percent of the populace. Yet another group is the 28,000 Waikiki employees, or "night people," whose work schedules preclude their attending church. Hawaii is a mission field, and it presents many unique problems for evangelization.
Although many mainlanders dream of vacationing in this Polynesian paradise of near-uniform seventy-five-degree temperature, their knowledge of the islands is limited to what the television camera has portrayed, which includes little more than surfing, sunbathing on Waikiki Beach, pineapples, feasting at luaus, the beautiful leis draped on travelers, the Hula dancers moving gracefully to the music of ukulele or Hawaiian steel guitar, and colorful muumuus (dresses) and aloha shirts. Americans are only vaguely aware that many races live on the seven inhabited southeastern islands, which are only part of the Hawaiian archipelago of 122 islands scattered over 1,600 miles of the central Pacific Ocean. In 1778 Captain Cook first discovered these volcanic and coral projections, which at that time were peopled only by Polynesians. He named the home of these warring peoples the Sandwich Islands.
By the turn of the century King Kamehameha had united the islands and initiated religious, political, cultural, and economic reforms. The economy depended mostly on exporting sandalwood and supplying the whaling ships that docked. But with the introduction of sugar cane (1835) and pineapple (1885), the economic base shifted. Plantation labor was provided by importing Chinese in the 1850s, other Polynesians, Japanese, and Portuguese in 1868, and Philipinos, Koreans, and Puerto Ricans in the 1900s.
At that time, when its military significance was recognized, Hawaii became a territory of the United States. Military bases were built for the various services and 60,000 personnel were stationed in the islands. Hawaii became a staging point for Pacific maneuvers and campaigns. During the Vietnam War it became a popular area for rest and relaxation [RR] for our combat troops. The tourist industry was also developed, and now nearly 4 million guests arrive annually.
Eighty percent of the residents live on Oahu Island, creating a density of 100 per square mile. Most live in the capital city of Honolulu. The second largest city is Hilo, the capital of the island of Hawaii. In addition to those two cities, only seven others have a population of over 5,000. Three-fourths of the population of Hawaii is urban.
The Korean conflict in the 1950s proved the strategic importance of Hawaii's location as the hub of the Pacific. It is only five hours from California, seven hours from Japan and eleven hours from Australia. Following the war, Hawaii's economy exploded. In 1959 Hawaii was admitted as the fiftieth state. Each of the five larger islands became one of the state's five counties.
Further exposure came during the Vietnam era beginning in 1965. Thousands of soldiers and their families visited the islands. As the word spread, tourism became the number one source of basic income.
Unfortunately, that success was not followed up with adequate training of national leadership. Sereno Edwards Bishop observed that "one of the errors of that generation of missionaries was the slowness in training competent native leadership to replace themselves." Another weakness was that little was done to reach the ethnics who flooded into the islands. A 1973 study conducted by the Southern Baptists observed the lack of racially integrated churches and the shortage of "island-born" leadership. Denominational churches seem to polarize around one racial group. They primarily attract haoles (Caucasians) and a few professional locals. There are now over 400 Protestant churches servicing 1 million residents, but according to Chester Dyer, a local Child Evangelism Fellowship director, there seems to be little evangelical fervor. Perhaps 30 percent of the populace are evangelicals.
Hawaii does not lack religion. There are over 100 cultic churches including the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormon church, which have established the Honolulu Stake, the Church College, and the Polynesian Cultural Center. Catholic churches number 70. Another 185 churches have been established by non-Christian faiths, including 100 Buddhist churches, the largest group in Honolulu. Confucianist and Taoist churches also exist.
Modern missionary activity started in the decade Hawaii attained statehood, a century after the islands were first evangelized. Nearly a dozen agencies are involved in church planting. Several Christian bookstores service the Christian community. Most campus ministries are represented on the several college campuses. There is one Christian radio station, KAIM. Two Christian colleges and one Bible institute concentrating on lay leadership training have been established, but there is no seminary.
Twenty pastors are listed in the Independent Fundamental Christian Fellowship roster. Several of those men are missionary pastors. Eleven men pastor churches that are self-supporting, and other churches are developing independent status.
Waikiki Beach is the challenging mission field of the Waikiki Beach Chaplaincy 1970. They hold Sunday services on the beach for whoever comes. Sixty-seven thousand people deplane daily in Honolulu, and most head for the beach. Almost 100,000 people pass through Hawaii each day. Innovative programs are a must in seeking to evangelize even a few of those people.
Ethnic evangelism needs to be given a higher priority by missionary pastors and the evangelical churches. Although most evangelical churches are cosmopolitan in character, they still do not reflect the ethnicity of the population. As far as can be determined, nothing is being done to win the 7,000 national Hawaiian stock.
Although the majority of Hawaii's population lives on Oahu, four other islands are inhabited with people who have spiritual needs. Kaui, called the Garden Isle, has a population of 35,000. There is only one independent church, which is pastored by a local pastor. Molokai, the Friendly Isle, maintains 6,400 residents. That number includes the Hansen's Disease settlement. Berean Mission [now CrossWorld] works on the island with a church and a Christian school.
Maui, the Valley Isle, has 53,000 inhabitants. Hawaii, the Big Island, and once the capital of the islands, now has 81,000 people. It is famous for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which boasts two active volcanoes that periodically show off in a mild-mannered spilling of magma and fireworks. Baptist Mid-Missions has two works on this island. Missionary Dyer concludes that Hawaii is definitely a mission field today. There are only a few small groups which are truly evangelistic and evangelical in theology.
Several basic problems face the mainland missionary who would work in the Hawaiian Islands, especially on Oahu, "one of the most complex and difficult home mission fields."
1. Although Hawaii is the fiftieth state, the culture of the people is clearly Asian (74 percent) and cosmopolitan. Everyone is a member of an ethnic minority in this interracial society. English is the primary language, but ancestral languages are heard. Attitudes about life in general and religion in particular are molded by Eastern beliefs. Church attendance is traditionally oriented to special occasions and not to weekly experience. Churches are often used for public functions of a nonreligious nature. The typical Hawaiian atmosphere seldom includes any thought of God or spiritual matters.
2. Even the beautiful weather can be a problem, especially to those who are accustomed to changing seasons. It can have a stultifying effect, which slowly lulls the unwary into a state of lethargy.
3. The tourist trade can have a demoralizing effect. Too much money (tourists spent 3.2 billion dollars in 1981 providing 30 percent of the economy), and the adherence to few morals are dehumanizing and degrading. For many tourists it is the great escape--a good time with no restraints. Although tolerated because each tourist spends about $200 per day, the tourist may be despised for ignoring mores considered important to the island peoples. The older locals are very unhappy about their youth imitating the tourists. The missionary finds his schedule interrupted by visitors who may wish to sightsee.
4. The military (accounting for 20 percent of the economy), although based there, are temporary residents and soon move on. It is easier to fill the church with these people, but they do not make it easier to reach those who are permanent residents. Life without spouse or family members can be lonely, boring, and demoralizing. Those who come for rest and relaxation sometimes leave behind a trail of attitudes and actions that linger a long time. Perhaps without realizing it, guests have left a feeling of distrust toward the Japanese locals who are a quarter of the populace. There is no spiritual ministry targeting the military. In a similar vein, there is reaction to the extensive involvement of the US government in local affairs. It is suggested that the government owns at least half the real estate. A high percentage of the populace works for the government. Pearl Harbor alone employs 10,000. After tourism and construction, the government is the third largest employer.
5. The cost of living is the highest in the nation except for Alaska. Hawaii is one of the most prosperous states with the highest per capita income. A single family home costs $118,000 compared with $85,000 in California. A problem to be faced is the departure of the pineapple industry to the Philippines in search of a cheaper labor market.
6. Interracial marriage between the local and the haole involves one in three families. It is generally accepted, but has led to tragic misunderstandings and failures. Such feelings are hard to overcome and sometimes lead to deep and bitter reactions. The missionary as a hole may become a target for the projection of those feelings.
7. The older generation obviously reacts to their youth rejecting the old customs and adopting new ways. The missionary is seen as a purveyor of new ideas and therefore suspect.
8. Although Hawaian weather is in many ways much like the Garden of Eden, not many older missionaries with many years of service are to be found there. This field has been likened to a graveyard for missionaries. Perhaps it would be in order to encourage mainlanders to realize that Hawaii is a needy, cross-cultural mission field and not just a playground. Successful service requires in-depth preparation, deep respect for local feelings and customs, and total commitment. William Hopper, pastor of the Honolulu Bible Church, confesses that having served on three mission fields, "Hawaii is the most difficult in terms of reaching people for Christ and getting decisions."
9. Asian religions predominate, primarily Buddhism [8%]. However, Catholicism [20%] and Mormonism are strong. Judaism is also practiced and some ancient Hawaiian heiaus (places of religious exercise) exist. Protestants are 38% but 26% are unaffiliated. The LGBT community is the largest in the nation, at 5%. Thus Hawaii is in serious need of evangelization.
10. Finally, more emphasis must be placed on training locals for local ministries and on encouraging those whose permanent home is in the Islands to prepare to serve God in local ministries. The local church and the Christian community will need to respect and honor the leadership of local men. Hawaii is a mission field with unique problems and opportunities. The playboy mentality pervades life, including most of what parades as religion. Innovative ideas and zealous workers are needed to make Christ real in Hawaii for the second time. As a result of having been evangelized earlier, the state motto declares, "Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono," which means, "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.: May what was written in 1843 be made true again in the 2000s
BAPTIST BIBLE FELLOWSHIP INT'L
BAPTIST INTL MISSIONS, INC
BEREAN MISSION INC
CHILD EVANGELISM FELLOWSHIP, INC
CONSERVATIVE BAPTIST HOME MISSION SOCIETY
INDEPENDENT BAPTIST INDIAN MISSION
WAIKIKI BEACH CHAPLAINCY