A heart for Hawaii
Pearl Harbor church has served military families for 59 years, but future at risk.
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Bobby Ross Jr. | Christian Chronicle
HONOLULU — “Aloha!”
Mark Young stretches out each syllable of the traditional Hawaiian greeting as 150-plus church members and visitors fill the blue-gray wooden pews in a simple, A-frame auditorium.

“Welcome to the Pearl Harbor Church of Christ, where we keep a little bit of the States and a lot of the Polynesian culture together,” says Young, an Army major sporting shorts, sandals and a flowery shirt.

Minister and elder Steve Byrne, right, shakes hands with Ra’heim Bass. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)As the Sunday assembly starts, a fighter jet roars overhead — a reminder of the nearby U.S. Air Force and Navy bases known as Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Over nearly six decades, the Pearl Harbor church has served as the temporary home for an estimated 3,000 military personnel and their families, minister and elder Steve Byrne said.

“I’ve been to congregations from Germany to Italy to all over the place, and there’s no place like this,” said Army Master Sgt. Q.P. Bean, arriving with his wife, Charidy, and infant daughter, Lily. 

"When you walk through that door, you're not a stranger," the Alabama native added. "People just flock around you. It's like a king or royalty coming in. It's overwhelming."

But Hawaii’s largest Church of Christ must raise $1.3 million to avoid eviction from the Navy property it has leased since 1956, said Byrne and fellow elders John Graham and William Wood. The payment deadline: May 2016.

Army Master Sgt. Q.P. Bean says there's no place like the Pearl Harbor Church of Christ. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)Otherwise, the Navy plans to “excess” — or sell — the 2.5-acre site that houses the Pearl Harbor church’s main chapel, its parsonage, a classroom facility, a training building and a fellowship hall dubbed the “Aloha Room,” the elders said.

A federal bill spearheaded by the late Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye gave the Pearl Harbor Church of Christ and nearby denominational churches the “first right of refusal” to purchase their leased land near Honolulu International Airport. 

The Holy Family Catholic Church, for example, paid $1.6 million in November 2014 for its 4.4 acres, the Hawaii Catholic Herald reported. On the other hand, St. George’s Episcopal Church intends to give up its property, according to Byrne.

“I believe the Lord’s going to keep us here and keep us up and running,” said Byrne, who ministered in locales as far-flung as Alaska and Albania before moving to this island metropolis six years ago. “But if for some reason it didn’t work out that way, I don’t know how you could replace what’s been established here.”

Clarence and Gladys Stanley, visitors from the Anchorage Church of Christ in Alaska, bow their heads in prayer. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
‘A strong church with strong leaders’
The Pearl Harbor church needs $1 million to buy the land and anticipates an additional $300,000 in legal, rezoning and closing costs. 
At press time, the congregation had raised $567,000 — roughly $400,000 of that from its own members. 

Church leaders explored the possibility of a commercial loan. However, banks put a high priority on long-term contributions by permanent members.

Members and guests gather for Sunday morning worship at the Pearl Harbor Church of Christ. See a video on The Christian Chronicle's Facebook page of the church singing. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
That’s a problem because roughly 80 percent of the Pearl Harbor membership turns over every three years. Military families stationed at bases all over the island of Oahu receive frequent transfer orders.

Still, members remain hopeful — and faithful.

“We’ve got women who are stepping up and doing yard sales. We’ve got a woman named Maria Williams who created a potluck cookbook … and 100 percent of the price is going toward the church,” said Jenni Logsdon, wife of Army Lt. Col. Toby Logsdon.

Beyond asking members to give sacrificially, the elders have sent fund-raising letters to hundreds of Churches of Christ — with a focus on those close to military installations.

“This is not a luxurious resort church. This is a church that’s serving the men and women of the military who are giving their lives to the service of our country,” said Rhonda Lowry, assistant professor of spiritual formation at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.

Lowry said she fell in love with the Pearl Harbor church when invited to speak at a ladies’ retreat a few years ago.

At least half a dozen members greeted Lowry and her husband — Lipscomb President Randy Lowry — at the airport, she said.

“I would encourage people to think about the influence that we can have in the Pacific Rim with a strong church with strong leaders,” said Rhonda Lowry, who has consulted with the elders on the fund-raising effort. “Without this church, we’d have no elders in the entire state.”

‘It’s in God’s hands’
A tall, coconut palm tree pokes through a hole in the overhang just outside the Pearl Harbor church’s entryway as its branches stretch into the blue sky.
“Hawaiian snow” — droppings from monkeypod trees that shade the church property — falls into the hair of members and visitors alike as they exchange hugs and enjoy the cool breeze before Bible study.

An outside view of the Pearl Harbor Church of Christ’s main chapel in Honolulu. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)“We’re close enough to Pearl Harbor that if you went over this property with a metal detector, who knows what you might find embedded in the ground,” said Byrne, referring to the Dec. 7, 1941, attack by Japan that propelled the United States into World War II.

Each Sunday brings newcomers, including vacationing Christians and recently deployed military families.

Every guest receives a lei made of shells — a welcome gift that also serves as a convenient “visitor detection item,” Byrne said.

“Ohana means family in Hawaiian, and that’s kind of our mission,” said Byrne, who met his Filipina wife, Ruth, on a mission trip in the early 1980s. “We are a family to a lot of military families.”

Mandy Smith’s husband, Dustin Smith, is a Marine Corps staff sergeant. The couple and their two young children found a home with the Pearl Harbor church two years ago.

“The first time I was here, I felt like I’d been here for 10 years. I never felt like a visitor,” said Mandy Smith, whose family is being transferred to San Diego in July. “They treat you like you’ve always been here, and they love you and really care about who you are.”

Soon after Rebecca Rudder arrived, her husband — Army Maj. Brad Rudder — was deployed to Afghanistan. 

“I showed up not knowing anybody, and I looked in the bulletin and saw my husband’s name on the prayer list,” Rebecca Rudder said. “I was just so moved.”

Sharing concerns and studying the Bible in a Sunday class are Jenni Logsdon, Priscilla Mathison, Joy Corpuz, Velma Fontanilla, Becky Braga, Maria Williams, Espy Garcia, Doriann Yuson, Ruth Byrne, Rebecca Rudder and Mandy Smith. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)

Susan Kubo, who has a Chinese heritage, grew up in Hawaii and is one of the few permanent members. 

For Kubo, fellow Christians coming and going so frequently is difficult.

“But I know I am going to see them again,” she said.

If the church were to lose its land, it also would give up its buildings, which have an appraised value of $2.65 million, the elders said. They have looked into renting or buying other property within a 10-mile radius but deemed such options “too costly.”

“It’s in God’s hands,” said elder Graham, a retired Montana sheriff’s deputy who moved here with his wife, Tracy, a year and a half ago.
“My faith is in the fact that God answers prayers, and he makes things happen for people that are serving him and doing his will.”
How to help
Donations may sent to: Church of Christ at Pearl Harbor, 515 Main St., Honolulu, HI 96818. For more information, see www.cocph.org.


Hawaii’s 14 Churches of Christ are scattered across four islands. 

The combined membership totals less than 1,000 out of a state population of about 1.4 million. 

Each year, Aloha Christian Camp draws young people from across Hawaii to the mountains of the island of Oahu’s North Shore. 

The Honolulu Church of Christ plays a leading role with the Pacific College of Biblical Studies, which aims to train ministers to reach lost souls in the Pacific Rim. The college’s teachers include minister Steve Byrne of the Pearl Harbor Church of Christ.

The Christian Chronicle interviewed members of the Pearl Harbor Church of Christ in Honolulu. 

Here are some of their reflections on the congregation.

This congregation has been awesome, a complete blessing. The families, the fellowship, as we say in Hawaii, it’s an ohana — it’s a family. And it’s a blessing to worship in a place like this. We showed up here as a family looking for a church home ... and we got pulled in by some Navy folks with similar family structures, and we just got wired right in, and it’s been great. Army Lt. Col. Toby Logsdon

The way that they embraced me, that is consistent. I wasn’t anybody special. Anybody that comes here, especially if you are tied to the military, we are going to support you. That’s another reason why I think it’s important for us to remain here on the island and for the Christians that are in the military to know that they have a church home to come to. Civilian educator Jenise Stewart

We were babes in Christ when we became a part of this body. When we studied God’s word, the greatest thing we learned was about giving. My (late) husband said, “OK, God gives us talents, but if we don’t use it to glorify him and praise him, he is going to take it away.” He said, “Espy, since you love to cook, I will support you 100 percent.” That’s how my food ministry started, and I cook and give to everybody. Tour guide and longtime member Espy Garcia

We are involved with the Hawaiian food bank Feeding America in the island. A lot of our members are involved. We started on a small scale, and the word spread. The profile of the Church of Christ in the island was raised. It’s settled into a routine of feeding 60 families every other week, and we got approached by the food bank about expanding. Minister’s wife and food bank organizer Ruth Byrne