In the middle of the Pacific you find a lot of people who have traveled between the coasts and islands encompassed by this vast ocean. Since I too have grown up tracing lines across the Pacific on 747’s, I feel like I fit right in. In some ways, Hawaii is like an airport arrival hall with people of many cultures coming from far off lands, uniting to “talk story” and exchange hugs and lei.
Earlier this fall, I had just such an “arrival hall” experience at “Happy Days”. It was lunch hour and servers pushed steaming carts loaded with dim-sum delights, tempting customers to over-eat. I was the guest of Pastors Joe & Ted of a local church who were thanking the InterVarsity staff for a favor. My director, Auntie Brenda Wong, and colleague Moanike’ala Sitch were also at the table. An outsider (like me) would immediately note the color spectrum of skin tones among us, a common sight among Hawaii “locals”. We represented Japan, China, Hawaii, Samoa, and Europe; most of us with a blend of more than one. Though our appearances were different, our stories were similar—all of us were dedicated to spreading the gospel to all the Nations and this commitment had led us and some of our ancestors to cross oceans.
I have grown up with a missionary pedigree, surrounded by stories of great western missionaries since I was a tot with pigtails living in Hong Kong. I remember Hudson Taylor who modeled cultural contextualization, before we had a term for it, by donning the attire and cue hairstyle of the Chinese academics he sought to reach. I celebrate the sacrifices of Jim & Elizabeth Elliot who gave everything, and Jim even his life, to reach the Auca Indians in the Ecuadorian Amazon. I celebrate the life and work of AB Simpson who wanted to go overseas, but instead founded an organization that has sent thousands of missionaries abroad for over 120 years, while he stayed at home to reach out to the many immigrants who needed to be welcomed and hosted with Christian hospitality.
While I have celebrated these stories and the many books that have preserved their memory, I have held an unvoiced question, “What about the non-Western missionaries? Where are their stories?” With the smell of Dim Sum wafting in the air, a new window of understanding was beginning to open up to me. Pastor Joe who traces his heritage to Samoa told us of his Samoan great grandfather who went to the mountain tribes of Papua New Gunea and was martyred by a cannibalistic people. Four generations later, Joe returned to that land to spend days hiking from tribe to tribe teaching the Bible to eager believers who urged him to speak from sun up to sundown until they’d heard the whole Biblical story. Now Joe is seeking to plant a church in the coastal areas of Papua with a colleague in Australia. How exciting to hear of the fervor of the people of Samoa to spread the gospel to their neighbors across the Pacific!
Among those seated at our table, Pastor Joe wasn’t alone in going overseas in sacrifice and service for the gospel. Everyone at our table had crossed oceans to pass on this life-changing message to other people. Pastor Ted, a happa (Japanese-White) Hawaii local, recently spent seven years in the land of his grandparents to help many Japanese youth give their lives to Jesus! Auntie Brenda, whose parents are from southern China, has spent more than 3 decades welcoming students of all ethnicities on American campuses to find their place and voice in the Kingdom of God. Moani, my Hawaiian sister, worships with other indigenous and First Nations peoples from around the globe who are sharing their native songs and dances with God’s global family.
I am so thankful for the stories of Western missionaries that have inspired me since my childhood, giving me a vision for a life of sacrificial service. But I am even more enriched as my understanding of God’s work in the world is filled-out and expanded. The Ancient One is the God of my people, but He is also the God of every nation, tribe, and tongue and is raising up laborers from them all! To Him be the glory!