I write you from the land of the eternal 75 degrees, beautiful with all it’s bright sunny days, colorful tropical plants, and bird songs. Where fruit hangs low on trees, dropping coconuts, mangoes, guava, pamelo, and papaya upon us. It is a beautiful land where tourists flock to taste and consume its many delights… and yet a part of Hawai’i that is little seen by outsiders are the tent cities and beach parks populated by the houseless, some displaced from their island homes in Micronesia, others displaced Hawaiians nearly kicked out of their own land. Then there are folks like me who live month-to-month in this expensive slice of paradise. It takes money to make money, goes the old adage, and on this remote tropical island I feel that more than ever.
What an honor it is to live here, in the big metropolitan city in the middle of the Pacific. I love the diversity of this island community of Hawaiians, haole’s (white folks), and Asian peoples most of whom tie their ancestry to those who came over to labor in the sugar and pineapple plantations. It is a community bonded together by shared suffering and yet facing the disparity of the haves and have-nots. I consider this almost daily as I jog from my house to Wakiki, passing dozens still sleeping on thin mats on the sidewalk or under mangled tents and tarps by the trees lining the golf course.
In this place I represent the power and privilege of haole’s—people of means to move in to an expensive rock—and yet, as I’m not serving with InterVarsity to make the big bucks, I feel the struggle of the large middle-class living month-to-month and paycheck-to-paycheck. While living in California, I could add to a savings account, in Honolulu, all I can do is try to balance my accounts and pay my credit cards on time. In this place I have been tested in new ways, and time and time again I have seen God’s faithfulness.
The word came in December that the owner of our house, living in Tahiti, might be selling. It was rumored that he was coming to visit. We lived a few more months in uncertainty, hopeful that we could remain in this home with such a beautiful legacy of community and ministry, and yet word came last week that we need to vacate in 45 days. It sounded mean, like an eviction notice, like we’d done something wrong. Yet we’ve paid rent on time (and those before us) for the last 10 years, and haven’t complained when it’s been 3 months and the bathroom door remains unfixed and the front screen door is falling apart so more and more cockroaches crawl inside. It’s hard for our simple minds to imagine our BIG God could have something better for us than this… but we are hopeful.
Yesterday, March 14, 2016 marks 196 years since the missionaries arrived in Kona, Hawai’i (Big Island). They came with a righteous and holy intention to share the good news of Jesus Christ to the “lost” Hawaiians. And yet, in their zeal, they overlooked a beautiful culture, a people who evidenced their Creator, and who retained the knowledge of “Io”, the Ancient One who made their islands and all created things. They “moved in” and altered the state of things, teaching the Hawaiians to become culturally Western in order to be acceptable to God.
They had no way of knowing that two generations later, this subtle cultural superiority would metastasize in the hearts of their grandchildren who would illegally capture and commodify the Hawaiian Kingdom. Why did they do it? As the “Committee of Safety”, they purported to have the best interests of all the people in mind and yet they needed to safeguard their commercial interests. In actuality, they feared that their own commercial interests were threatened and wanted favorable trade agreements with the United States for their export of sugar and pineapples (for example, Dole, a known pineapple brand, and former missionary family).
In a very small way, I got to be on the receiving end of this flavor of dominance that disregards the rights and needs of others. The reality company that manages our house (or rather mis-manages as they have not come to fix anything we’ve asked them to over the last 9 months) wanted to send out one of their agents who is considering buying the property from the owner. We already feel bulldozed by a rude and unmerited removal notice and yet now they want to come in and snatch up the place we’ve called home for a while (for my housemate Carolyn, 10 years)! If we had the money, one of us would consider buying it, but the million dollar price tag is far to high for us. So we consented to their request to show the house to their Realtor.
She approached me with her business card in her outstretched hand with no greeting and walked by me with a posse of 3 young people in tow. I tried to greet her cordially and asked about the 3 youths, “And these are…” “Part of the Realty” one young woman brandishly offered. I highly doubted they all were, but what could I do? I welcomed in. They peeked around in all our bedrooms, asked if the house was often hot, and then promptly took their leave (as though they were doing something shady and wanted to keep it brief). One of the young men was nice enough to thank us for having them.
My roommate and I sat down to gather ourselves. As I reeled from the way I’d just been approached by someone assuming dominance over me and treating me without any dignity, I considered the parallel to the way the haoles came in nearly 200 years ago, teaching everyone to wear long sleeves while complaining of the heat, and then “rearranging the furniture” of the cultural landscape to make people “acceptable to God”. At the hands of the “missionary party”, the queen was literally kicked out of her home, Iolani Palace, and later brought back in to be put on trial and convicted for treason (the very crime the insurgents had committed against her). After this, her home became her prison as she was kept in her room under watch of guards 24/7. My experience will never truly compare, but at least I had a small taste on a historic day and in this ironic way God is answering my prayer that I might understand the experience and struggle of another people whom He loves and whom I love and who desire healing and reconciliation.
Under the monarchy of the Hawaiian Kingdom there was no houselessness—everyone was considered ‘ohana (family). What would it look like for today’s Hawai’i to look more like the caring community that one was? A community that subsisted on the land together, on a small rock in the middle of the ocean… an increasingly diverse people who needed to collaborate in order to survive. A community where everyone had a home, where land was not a commodity to be bought but a symbiotic relationship with the survival of creatures and humans—in Hawaiian language, land is ‘aina, meaning “many foods”. We need to lay down our love of money, self-protection, and cultural superiority and see one another as precious people made in the image of the Creator. We are people of many colors and cultural traditions and none better than another, each equally beautiful and precious to be guarded and admired.
This is what I dream of, pray for, and stand for.
Aloha ‘Aina, Aloha Kanaka, Aloha ke Akua.
(Love the land, love the people, love the Lord)