Blessed by Strangers
On Sunday, I talked about James and Melicent Smith, who arrived in Koloa in 1842. They had sailed from Boston to Honolulu. The journey took 142 days. For over 4 1/2 months, they lived on a small boat and slept in a tiny cabin. They had married in April of that year. After a couple of weeks in Honolulu, they boarded another boat and sailed for Koloa, where they would spend the rest of their lives. James was to be the only Western-trained medical doctor on Kauai and Niihau. He also had church duties and 12 years after his arrival was the first minister to be ordained on Kauai; his church assignment consisted of 3 regions: Koloa (the largest), Lihue and Wailua. Besides visiting these 3 places on horseback for years—almost weekly—he also frequently visited Waimea and Hanalei. Melicent taught school and took care of their 9 children—7 of whom lived to be adults. Fortunately, they were welcomed with open arms. This doesn’t mean that the relationship between their family and the Hawaiian people was always easy and without friction. Far from it! However, when the Hawaiians first showed their usual hospitality to the Smiths, little did the locals know how much they would be blessed by these strangers from a faraway place. When the infamous smallpox epidemic of 1853 spread like wildfire throughout the entire island chain, thousands of people died on the other islands. Thanks to Dr. Smith’s commitment to vaccinate everyone on Kauai and Niihau and quarantine the early victims of smallpox, there was only one death here. He made it his personal mission to keep as many Hawaiians alive here as possible—and to keep them healthy as well. There were also thousands of Hawaiians who became Christians and church members during his life of service here.
In our Old Testament reading (Genesis 18), we came across another couple who journeyed many, many miles in order to arrive at their new home. Abraham and Sarah went on at least four long journeys during their marriage. They knew what it was like to travel for days on end. They knew what it was like to be immigrants in need of a new home. They knew what it was like to be tired, hungry, thirsty and sore. Because they had personally experienced these things, they welcomed other travelers with open arms. When three strangers arrived at Abraham and Sarah’s tent at the oaks of Mamre one day, Abraham and Sarah went overboard in showing them hospitality and kindness. They knew that God had blessed them in order that they might be a blessing to others. And in return for the blessing of hospitality, the three visitors blessed Abraham and Sarah with a son in their old age. Whether people literally show up at our doors, on our island or on our nation’s borders, I trust that we will have the same attitude as Abraham and Sarah. I trust that we too will welcome strangers with open arms, especially those who travel great distances to be with us.
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“A Message from Kahu Alan Akana” is provided most weeks by the Kahu (Pastor) of Koloa Union Church, an Open & Affirming (ONA) congregation of the United Church of Christ (UCC), a member of the Kauai Association and Hawaii Conference.