Pain and Joy

by | Aug 14, 2023

So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. John 16:22

Last week I shared about the great love and joy that I witnessed at the wedding of my friends. Sadly, this last week I have been experiencing the pain that comes when loved ones suffer.

I spent my first ten years of ordained ministry in Hawai‘i, serving churches and the Hawai‘i Conference of the United Church of Christ. Though it has been a long time since I was there, the aloha of the people of Hawai‘i, especially the native Hawaiians, provided me with transformative experiences and perspectives that shaped my young ministry forever. Though I never lived on Maui, I knew the island pretty well, and mourned the destruction of Lahaina especially.

Lahaina has great historic importance. After Maui was annexed by King Kamehameha I, Lahaina was made the capital of the unified kingdom of Hawai‘i for a time. Kamehameha was similar to King David of Israel, as both used diplomacy, military might, deceit, and marriage to take control of the multiple smaller tribes or kingdoms to form one larger nation, be it Hawai‘i or Israel.

Keōpūolani was a wife of Kamehameha. Her lineage was more royal than Kamehameha’s, and she was one of the first converts to Christianity. She was living on Oahu until 1823, when she asked for missionaries to move to Lahaina with her. They arrived on May 31, 1823, and held the first Christian worship on the island the next day. Waiola Church in Lahaina traces its founding to that first worship service, with leadership from missionaries Reverend William Richards and Reverend Charles Stewart. Local Christian teaching came from Pua‘a Iki (“Little Pig”), a blind and physically deformed court dancer who, baptized as Bartimaeus, became the first native Hawaiian authorized as a Christian minister.
Waiola celebrated its 200th anniversary this last May. The picture on the left reflected the church sanctuary on their anniversary. The larger picture shows Waiola’s church building after the fire; the fellowship hall was burned to the ground, but the cemetery, where royals like Keōpūolani were buried, is intact.

This building is the fourth over the church’s history.
One building burned down in the 1940s. So the people of Waiola Church know that the church is not the building, and I am confident that they will rebuild the church, and the town. But for now, we mourn.

If you would like to help, monetary donations are most useful. The first responders have already become burdened by having to sort through in-kind donations, and the island cannot sustain unplanned volunteers at this time. The Hawai‘i Conference UCC is receiving donations, which are being deployed through Waiola Church; donations can be sent to Hawai‘i Conference UCC, 700 Bishop St, Suite 825, Honolulu HI 96813, or donate online at The Conference is posting on-the-ground updates HERE. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has set up a restricted fund for the wildfires, but since there is no Presbyterian church on Maui, they are seeking to partner with others. They have asked for patience as they work out their role there. You can find updates at It’s been said that some of the early pastors on Maui were Presbyterian, who formed the Maui Presbyterian Council, but they were folded into the Congregational Church due to the comity agreement that focused mission efforts in Hawai‘i with the Congregationalists.

This weekend I was in Louisville for a meeting that ended a day early, so I was able to worship yesterday at the New Worshipping Community at Temple City and Interwoven. Both Andrew Ritiau and Harlan Redmond are excellent preachers, and as it happens, they both preached about the joy we feel in Jesus Christ, even during times of crisis. What is happening at Temple City is remarkable, close to a miracle, really. Those of us who worked to bring the people together remember that this ministry came out of difficult times. But it is often in times of trial when we humans are willing to let go, and let God—and so far, God has done amazing things. We will hear more about both new worshiping communities at the September 19th presbytery meeting.

I once pastored a small native Hawaiian church on Kaua‘i, and when I asked the church leaders to share how they came to their faith, every person remembered a time of crisis. It is human nature that often we seek God’s grace only when things are going badly for us. Thank God that for whatever reason, when we turn to God with open hearts and minds, we are filled with God’s spirit of healing, of comfort, of aloha.

Hawai‘i knows natural disasters, but their sense of community is strong, and they will come together for each other and for their land. Before I came to Kaua‘i, the church I served worshiped in a tent for ten years until they were able to rebuild after Hurricane Iniki. Just as Jesus promised his disciples, there will be a time of despair, but there will be joy ahead. I pray that the joy of restoration comes soon, and that we all provide the help they need to work towards that day.

In hope,