by Kilohana UMC
After consecutive years of Sierra Service Projects (SSP) in the western U.S., a group of 19 from the Santa Maria First United Methodist Church and their youth director, Jenny Greenelsh, decided to try something else this past July. In collaboration with Kilohana United Methodist Church of Honolulu and Rev. Bob Isip*, the group embarked on a week of mission projects and a Hawaiian immersion experience on Oʻahu. The theme was “aina, laulima, and ohana“–aina referring to the land, laulima meaning many hands working together while co-existing as ohana or family.
While SSP has teams focus on one project at one site the whole week at a Native American reservation or community, the Hawai’i Mission Experience consisted of different mission projects each day in different towns.
Day 1 was to the Manoa forest to remove invasive growth from a patch of land. Taro was then planted, the root famous for making poi, the Hawaiian staple food. The rainforest challenged the group with ankle-deep mud and armies of mosquitoes. Yet, “hand to land” was accomplished on day one. In the afternoon, the group visited a pond restoration site at Pearl Harbor where a local humu (teacher) shared about the indigenous fishpond culture, predating the Christian missionaries and modernization.
On the second day, 250 food bags were assembled at the Susanna Wesley Community Center, followed by a tour of the historic Bishop Museum in Kalihi.
Day 3 was at the Hawai’i Plantation Village in Waipahu to hear about the immigration patterns of plantation workers and to see the various ethnic living quarter replicas. The group got their feet wet in the afternoon by removing invasive lily plants and other weeds at the fishpond.
More weeding was done the next day at a dry lo’i (taro patch), plus learning the plant’s anatomy. Local hosts welcomed us and provided background information at each site.
Cultural presentations were in the evenings. The documentary Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation was viewed, plus commentary from a descendant. Another night, there was a hula lesson rendition to be presented at the Sunday morning worship service. A third night was devoted to weaving ti-leaf leis and its meaning. The group was also introduced to an oli (chant) to be given at various locations as an offering of respect and permission to ask of ancestors before entering.
Like the SSP daily schedule, the group camped at the Kilohana UMC campus, sharing food prep, clean up, and bathroom tidying duties. There were spiritual awakenings (morning devotions), spiritual sandwich discussions over lunch, journaling, singing, affirmations, and a prayer walk/hike. Kilohana members planned and prepared meals, provided bedding, and organized transportation with other UMCs and their vans.
Though the schedule was hectic and tight, the group was treated to some beach time, shaved ice, and shopping at the huge island swap meet at Aloha Stadium.
The immersion experience intended to depart from the usual tourist destinations and have a closer peek into and taste local island life.
“It’s so beautiful here. I honestly didn’t want to leave,” commented one participant.
Another wrote on their evaluation, “…I love this place. I love all the diverse communities and being a servant to this aina. This trip has inspired me to want to come back on my own time and help in any way I can.”
Hopefully, this experiment will lead to more mission activities or groups wanting a Hawai’i Mission Experience.
*Rev. Isip served Santa Maria First UMC for eight years before being appointed at Kilohana UMC on July 1, 2022.