Tag Archives: missions

THE SPIRITUAL VISITATION THAT BROUGHT THE REMAINS OF HAWAI‘I’S FIRST CHRISTIAN CONVERT BACK HOME

14 Mar

Portrait of Henry “Obookiah,” undated frontispiece in Memoirs of Henry Obookiah. Courtesy of Eleanor C. Nordyke/Wikimedia Commons.

Deborah Li‘ikapeka Lee, a young Native Hawaiian (Kanaka Maoli) woman, woke in the wee hours of an October night in 1992 to an inner sensation, impossible to define and equally impossible to ignore.

Alone and unsure of what was happening to her, she feared illness and anxiously rose from her bed, searching for the comfort of her Bible. The sensation continued to well up inside her, forcing its way out, yielding a voice that spoke as clearly as if its source was standing in front of her. She heard five words: “He wants to come home.”

The “he” in Debbie’s spiritual visitation was her seventh-generation cousin, Henry ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia, who was the first Native Hawaiian to become Christianized. Born in 1792, his parents were brutally slain before his childhood eyes by Kamehameha I’s warriors, and he contemplated leaving the Big Island in the first decade of the 19th century rather than remaining there as an orphan. While training to become a kahuna, a Hawaiian spiritual leader, at the Hikiau Heiau, a traditional place of worship in Nāpo‘opo‘o at Kealakekua Bay, ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia secured passage onboard an American merchant ship, sailing halfway around the world hoping to replace pain and memory, attempting to outrun his survivor’s guilt, and seeking peace from the violence he experienced in his youth.

So begins Nicholas F.  Bellantoni’s brief account of his involvement in bringing Henry Opukaha’ia/Obookiah’s remains home to Hawai’i. You may read the entire piece here.

Protestant Missionaries of the 19th Century and Democracy

22 Dec

The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries

For many of our contemporaries, no one sums up missionaries of an earlier era like Nathan Price. The patriarch in Barbara Kingsolver’s 1998 novel, The Poisonwood Bible, Price tries to baptize new Congolese Christians in a river filled with crocodiles. He proclaims Tata Jesus is bangala!, thinking he is saying, “Jesus is beloved.” In fact, the phrase means, “Jesus is poisonwood.” Despite being corrected many times, Price repeats the phrase until his death—Kingsolver’s none-too-subtle metaphor for the culturally insensitive folly of modern missions.

So begins a fascinating report at Christianity Today about new research by sociologist  Robert Woodberry which firmly establishes a major positive impact on various nations in the world by 19th-century Protestant missionaries. You may read Andrea Palpant Dilley’s full story here.

Reevaluating the Longterm Effects of Protestant Missions

11 Dec

Our association of Christian missionaries with the monstrous colonial past is so absolute that we can be taken aback to find them still popping up in the occasional news report today – in relation to the fight against Ebola in West Africa, for example, or when Australian missionaries Ken and Jocelyn Elliott were kidnapped by an Islamist group in Burkina Faso last year. Journalist Brian Palmer, in an article written at the peak of the Ebola crisis in 2014, voiced a discomfort many readers no doubt share with the ongoing presence of missionaries on the frontlines of healthcare in Africa and elsewhere. “It’s great that these people are doing God’s work,” he wrote, “but do they have to talk about Him so much?”

Sociologist Robert Woodberry has been working on the global impact of missionaries for more than fifteen years, from the time he was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. And the results of his research have been shocking, even to him. He says:

“If on average missionaries were like the people in The Poisonwood Bible, for example – just very destructive of the cultures where they went – we would expect to find the places where there were more missionaries per capita, where missionaries had a longer period of service, and places where they were more free to do whatever they wanted to be worse. But we don’t find that. We find exactly the opposite.”

Statistical modelling and deep-dive historical analysis together suggest a robust causal link between the presence of – particularly Protestant – missionaries during the colonial period and the health of nations today. The more missionaries that came, the longer they stayed, and the more freedom they had, the better the outcomes, even a century or two on. Woodberry checks these off: longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality, higher literacy and educational enrolment, more political democracy, lower corruption, higher newspaper circulation, higher civic participation, and on and on.

So writes Dr. Natasha Moore in her account of sociologist Robert Woodberry’s research on the ongoing effects of Christian mission work. For her entire post at the Australian Broadcast Corporation’s Religion & Ethics site, click here.

The Forgotten American Missionaries of Pyongyang 

27 Apr

It may be difficult to imagine from the perspective of the 21st century, but the North Korean capital city of Pyongyang once had at its center a community of Americans—Christian missionaries who lived there from 1895 to 1942.

Read the rest of this concise account by Robert Kim here at Atlas Obscura: The Forgotten American Missionaries of Pyongyang – Atlas Obscura

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