Friday, April 29, 2011

"Y" for Young

I just got an e-mail from a friend last night telling me about two little babies who had died. One was a twin. It is so heartbreaking when children die young.

When our son died at the age of 22, we were devastated. Young people aren't supposed to die before their parents. It goes completely against the natural order of things. He had so much going for him. He had just graduated from college with a degree in Biology. He was an original thinker and would probably have been responsible for some important breakthrough in some area. He was in excellent physical condition. I could go on and on.

But after all of the searches were over and we had resigned ourselves to the fact that we probably wouldn't see our son again on this earth, I began to ponder all that had happened and all that we had been through. A family member had shared with me a devotional she had read while we were still in Hawaii. It was based on Isaiah 57:1 & 2.
"The righteous pass away; the godly often die before their time. And no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For the godly who die will rest in peace." (New Living Translation)
Those verses literally changed my life. Instead of focusing on my loss, God had directed my thoughts to eternity and had given me His perspective. It made all the difference. You can read more of the details of how God brought healing and closure to both me and my husband in our book, Aloha is Forever.

Weeks later as I was walking to the grocery store in Brazil (only a block from our house,) it suddenly dawned on me that no matter how long or how short our life is here on earth, it is like the blink of an eye compared to eternity. One day, twenty years, fifty years, eighty years - it really is like a dot compared to a line going on forever that represents eternity. Those of us who are left behind to mourn our loss and experience the pain of a lifetime of separation, feel it acutely. Those who have gone ahead, if they have been redeemed and bought with the blood of the lamb who is Jesus, rest in peace as Isaiah says. That is the basis for our righteousness and we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was John's. It does not depend upon anything we have done, it cannot be earned by doing good things, it simply is a gift bestowed upon us by a loving Father who gave His son to become sin so that we could be counted as righteous by faith.

Is Jesus your righteousness? I hope so.

eXcellence and Xenia

I thought I was going to fudge a bit on this one and write on eXcellence. But after reading several other blogs, I discovered a fantastic "X" word that fits right in with what I've been writing about during the A to Z Challenge.

But let me start first with eXcellence because it so well describes my son John. He was always striving for excellence. For him, if something was worth doing it was worth doing well. Here is an excerpt from his journal while in college.
"Another thing is for sure: I do not want to do mediocre work for the Lord; it has to be excellent."
He demonstrated this quality in so many, many ways, like the summer he chose to do a whole year worth of Algebra so he wouldn't be behind all the other students when he went to boarding school. He was an example to us of diligence and striving for excellence; even though he often fell short of that as we all do.

But let me go on to the perfectly marvelous word I learned about today - Xenia. Xenia is a Greek word meaning hospitality. Oh, do we ever know about hospitality!

Xenia was extended to us years ago when we traveled the rivers of the Amazon basin. I'm thinking of one trip in particular when our whole family of 5 piled into an aluminum canoe to go to an Indian village and we were the recipients of xenia along the way. It is probably personified there better than anywhere since there are no hotels to stay in. Each night (the trip took 10 days) we would pull into shore where there was a house or two on high ground. We would be graciously received, given a meal, a place to bathe and a place to hang our hammocks. We would chat with the family hosting us for a short while and soon we would all be fast asleep. In the morning there would be coffee and often beiju, a very chewy bread made from manioc and then we would be off on another leg of our journey. Amazingly, God provided a home for us to stay in every single night of our trip.

Not only did we receive xenia, we also gave it. One time I invited a single woman to come and visit us. She came intending to stay for one month and stayed with us for several years, becoming a dear friend and "family" member.

But probably the ultimate "xenia" experience we had was when we were in Hawaii searching for our son. We stayed the whole month of December 1999 and did not spend any money on hotels. We stayed with several different families, but the most outstanding one was a young couple who heard our story at a church we visited. After the service they came up and offered us their home and their car while they were going to be on another island for Christmas. They had lost a child who lived for only a day after he was born so they understood what we were going through as we searched for our son. But all of the people who weren't believers were amazed. They said, "You mean you didn't even know them and they gave you their home and their car?" It was a testimony to many of the power of the love Christians are to have for one another and a very clear example of xenia.

The Bible tells us to extend hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels unaware. I wonder if I have entertained any angels!

Come to my house and you will experience xenia - true hospitality.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What If? and Worship

I had a hard time choosing between these two "W" words so I am going to combine them.

No matter what happens in life, we are always tempted to visit the "What if's." What if he had made different choices, what if we had made different choices, what if he had been somewhere else, etc, etc. You know what I mean. We all do it. Sometimes we can spend hours, days, even years going over and over the "what if's" in our minds.

It's all unproductive because we can never go back and change anything in the past. We only become frustrated, depressed, angry and a multitude of other emotions. And sometimes we even ruin our future by replaying the past.

So we determined in our hearts that we would not "what if" the circumstances surrounding our son's disappearance. That was a choice we made; not unlike any other choice. The Bible talks about it in II Corinthians 10:5.
"...bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." (New King James version)
Taking every thought captive and giving it to Christ is probably one of the most helpful disciplines in the life of a Christian. We have certainly found it to be so. It closes the door to the enemy of our souls and doesn't give him any room to bring in confusion, doubt, self-pity, and a multitude of other negative emotions.

We had gone to Hawaii to help search for our missing son, 22 years old and a recent college graduate. He had gone on a 4 day hike across the Kohala and had not returned for work on Monday. He had gone alone - not a good idea but he had no one to go with him.

We joined with the many other searchers to try to find John or to find some clue that would give us an idea of what might have happened to him. But we found nothing. When we began to come to the realization that we would not see him again on this earth, my husband felt the Father urging him to go up to the mountain and worship Him. So we took a borrowed guitar (not that worship necessarily means music; although that often helps) and went up to the backside of the Kohala just over the mountain from where John had been hiking. We croaked out some songs because we both had laryngitis. But worship is always a matter of the heart, and we were worshiping the God we loveand have served all our lives, not because we were expecting anything but because we wanted Him to know beyond any shadow of a doubt that we trusted Him with our son as well as with our own lives.

After a little while we drove around to the Pololu trailhead. As we drove up we could see a complete double rainbow extending from the valley to the sea. The rainbow is a beautiful expression of God's promises and of His faithfulness. We worshiped some more, the praises and songs flowing from our hearts as the tears flowed from our eyes.

When we finished, not that one is ever finished worshiping the Lord, we stopped by the home of the couple we had met on our first day of searching for John. They lived almost at the trailhead. We chatted a little and the wife asked if she could "sing over us." We had never had anyone sing over us and we weren't sure what that meant but we agreed. She then knelt down in front of us on her little patio and began to sing Darlene Zschech's song, "Shout to the Lord." She wove the movements of hula into her song in one of the most beautiful expressions of worship we have ever experienced. The tears flowed freely. It was one of the most precious moments of our lives.

Worship is a profound expression of trust and faith in a God who is sovereign and who is able to do what the apostle Paul wrote about in Romans 8:28.
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." (New King James Version)
He is able to take any circumstance of life and transform it into something that is good and glorifying to Himself. That is why we discipline ourselves not to visit the "What if's." We choose instead, to worship the only One who is worthy of our worship, honor and praise.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Volcanoes National Park

V is for Volcanoes National Park. That was the location of the USGS base of operations for the project John was working on.

Volcanoes National Park was created to preserve the natural setting of Kilauea and Mauna Loa. It is also a refuge for the islands native plants and animals and a link to its human past. The park contains two of the world's most active volcanoes, Kilawea and Mauna Loa and offers insights on the birth of the Hawaiian Islands and views of dramatic volcanic landscapes. If you want to see volcanoes, this national park is the place to go.

The park is extensive and offers visitors' centers, 150 miles of wilderness hiking trails, camping areas and more. When we were there we were able to take some of the hikes, including hiking through a lava tube, seeing the caldera and seeing the active lava flow from Kilauea making its way to the sea.

Kilauea isn't what I imagined it to be. When I thought of volcanoes erupting, the image that came to my mind was of a volcano spewing molten lava from its top. So although Kilauea Volcano has erupted lava almost continuously from its east rift zone since 1983, it is more like small streams of lava slowly oozing out from the side of the volcano. At times the flow is spectacular, but what we saw was pretty small compared to the image I had in my mind. Although not always spectacular, these lava flows have been significant because they have added over 568 acres of new land to the southern shore of Kilauea and covered 8.7 miles of highway with lava as deep as 115 feet. From 1983 to 1991, lava flows repeatedly invaded communities on Kilauea's southern coast. Not only did it bury the highway, it also destroyed 181 houses and a visitor center in the park. This is a shot of the lava flowing into the sea and forming more land mass.

Photo by Rick Reece - all rights reserved.

We walked across several areas where you could still see that there had been a road at one time but most of it was now covered with crusty, barren, sharp lava.

 Photo by Rick Reece - all rights reserved.

Walking out to the area of active lava flow was nteresting. Although the trail was marked, it was too easy for people to stray off the trail. It was hot and dry and we were glad we had taken water. The lava was very uneven and in some places still warm under our feet from lava that had been flowing in previous days. We were told that the lava flow was most spectacular at night so on our second trip to Hawaii, we went at night. Here is one of the pictures we took from about 10 or 12 feet away from the flow.

Photo by Rick Reece - all rights reserved.

Most of John's co-workers had gone to see the lava one night about a month after he arrived in Hawaii. He hadn't gone because just that day he had been biking and taken a spill that he was still hurting from. So he never got to see Kilauea - something he had looked forward to with great anticipation.

The most recent eruption of Kilauea took place in March of 2011 and was in a very remote and inaccessible location in the park. Visitors were not able to see the eruption except through video footage. That eruption has now ceased. No one can predict where the next eruption will occur.

Have you ever seen "live" lava flowing?

Monday, April 25, 2011

U S Geological Survey

U is for USGS. That stands for the United States Geological Survey.

My post is intended as a public "thank you" to the wonderful people who helped us search for our son John. He had been in Hawaii working as an intern for the USGS for about two months before he took off on his hike over the Thanksgiving holiday.

This is what the USGS does (quoted from their official webpage):

"The USGS is a science organization that provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, the natural hazards that threaten us, the natural resources we rely on, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help us provide timely, relevant, and usable information."

John had graduated from Wheaton College in 1999 with a major in Biology. During the summer he had worked on a project through the University of Missouri, St. Louis. And for the fall he had landed the prestigious privilege of working as an intern on a USGS project in Hawaii. It was a big deal for him and he was looking forward to it even though it would barely pay enough to cover his expenses.

He was working on the Palila bird project. The Palila was endangered because of introduced species that had upset the natural ecosystem of its habitat. During the week the team camped up on Mauna Kea and on the weekends they would return to the base camp to wash clothes, enter and analyze data and prepare meals for the coming week.

What we could never have anticipated was the overwhelming support and help we received from the USGS people when John disappeared. They spearheaded one of the most extensive and intense searches for a missing person that had ever been done on the Big Island. (Many people disappear every year just on the Big Island alone.)

We want to publicly thank Paul Banko, the head of the Palila bird project, Steve Dougill, John's immediate supervisor and all of the many, many other USGS personnel who helped with the searches, as well as with many other details we probably don't even know about. The USGS contributed countless man hours to the search, as well as vehicles and perhaps most importantly, their knowledge of the island and its people to help in the searches. We were amazed and will forever be grateful.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Third Culture Kids

T is for Third Culture Kids. "Who in the world are they?" you might ask. They frequently find themselves asking that same question.

At least one whole book has been written on this subject and I will just give a brief summary here.

Third culture kids are those who are raised in a culture that is not the culture of their parents, although it may include many of the customs of their parents' culture. Often they take on characteristics of the culture in which they are living, yet are not 100% part of it. They identify most closely with other Third Culture Kids instead of with those of either their parents culture or the culture in which they find themselves living.

Our children are third culture kids, two of the three having been born and raised in Brazil. They consider themselves to be more Brazilian than American, but frequently feel like fish out of water in certain situations in each of the cultures. They are neither Brazilian nor American but a curious mixture that makes them members of a rather small group known as third culture kids.

Children of missionaries, of diplomats and of military personnel who live with their families in another culture are all part of this "small" group. They are blessed with a unique perspective, being able to identify and observe both the strengths and weaknesses of each culture. But they are also often emotionally tied to both cultures while belonging to neither and this can definitely be stressful. They are children without a country, yet having at least two "homes."

John was one of these third culture kids. Even though he was born in the United States, most of his growing up years were spent in Brazil. Three of his high school years were spent at boarding school - yet another culture. Returning to the USA for college wasn't easy. There were many challenges and many things, such as how to manage a bank account that were completely foreign to him. Most of the friends he grew close to were other missionary kids (MK's) who understood and had the same kinds of challenges. One of his closest friends was Korean but had been raised by missionary parents who lived in Japan so he had 3 cultures to deal with.

Have you known or do you know any third culture kids?

Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Searches

My next posts for the A to Z Challenge will mainly be related to something about our son John.

Searches, searches, searches. When our son failed to return from a hike he had taken across the Kohala over the 1999 Thanksgiving weekend, the county sent out helicopters, mobilized searchers, advised everyone in the vicinity and one of the most extensive searches for a missing person on the Big Island was launched.

Searches continued that whole week involving hundreds of man hours and flight hours. Finally we arrived in Hawaii on the following Sunday - 10 days after John left on his hike. Our arrival gave added impetus to the searches. The authorities had already given up searching, doubting that he had even arrived at the trail head since he had hitchhiked to the area. But the searches continued, spearheaded by the department of the USGS (United States Geological Survey) for which John had been working. We met and strategized and of course their counsel was fundamental to the searches since we knew nothing about the island. We flew to Honolulu for TV interviews in an attempt to find the people or person who had given him the last ride up to the trail head.

Teams were sent out all that next week, distributing flyers, knocking on doors, questioning everyone who was available. We participated to the extent that we could but we were sedentary middle aged parents in no condition to hike the rough terrain where our son had gone. But teams of other young people hiked the trails and were as dedicated to the search as we were.

But it was like searching for a needle in a haystack.

You must understand that the area in which he was hiking was full of deep valleys, lesser valleys, waterfalls that plummeted down the sheer cliffs and precipices that were almost vertical. The vegetation was thick and it was impossible to see the valley floor from helicopters and impossible to search in many areas. Before we arrived in Hawaii, John's boss told us of a bomber that had crashed in that area at the end of World War II. The crew had hiked out across the mountain to safety but it took about 10 years for anyone to find the plane. It had settled under the canopy of the forest in one of the valleys and was "invisible."
 Rick Reece photo - all rights reserved

We were finally able to hire a private helicopter to help with the search. By that time we had already held a memorial service for John but we weren't ready to abandon the search until we had turned over every stone that was within our reach. So on the last couple of days of December 1999, Rick and several experienced men who knew the area well, flew into the remotest valleys and hiked up the valley floors until they could go no further. But they found not a trace.

Later as I contemplated the extent of the searches, the loss of our son, all of the generous helping hands and feet of those who had helped, I was reminded of the parable Jesus told in Luke 15:8 and 9.
"Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!'"
In the same way that we searched diligently with all the resources we had available to us, so our heavenly Father searches and longs for each one of his creatures. Jesus continues in Luke 15:10 saying:
"Likewise, I say this to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (New King James version)
Even though our searches for John turned up empty, we are certain that the greatest desire of his heart would be to know that many repented and came into God's Kingdom as a result of hearing his story. That is why we tell it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Righteousness, Part of Hawaii's State Motto

"R" is for Righteousness. I chose this word because the state motto of Hawaii is "Perpetuated in Righteousness." The longer version of the state motto literally translates from Hawaiian as, “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”

The dictionary defines the adjective righteous as acting in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt or sin. Righteousness is the noun derived from righteous.

So what does the motto mean? It means that the life within the land is determined by the right acting ways of the people within the state and depends upon the people doing the right thing. Right actions in personal life as well as political (state) life can sum up the motto.

Historically, the motto was first thought to reflect the beliefs of the kingdom. King Kamehameha is said to have spoken these words in the early 1800's when he presided over what was known as the Kingdom of Hawaii. The motto has been used for more than two hundred years throughout the state of Hawaii on seals, gates and various key places in the Hawaiian Islands.

I believe that this motto did not come out of thin air but was based upon the beliefs of the original settlers of the Hawaiian Islands. It speaks of their relationship with 'Io, the benign and loving creator god. In Daniel Kikawa's book, Perpetuated in Righteousness, he tells of the first brave adventurers who "discovered" Hawaii.
"A great leap of faith was required to continue on into thousands of miles of empty blue on blue.In the northerly direction of this wonderful star, our ancestors searched for and found our new home. We had finally found the place 'Io had provided for us! Here we worshipped 'Io, in this land so much like Atea's first home." (My notes of clarification: Atea is the Hawaiian equivalent of Adam. They were following a star that was spoken of in their ancient prophecies.)
Throughout Hawaiian culture there are many things that indicate the desire of the Hawaiians to fulfill their state motto. "Aloha," "ohana" and "hanai" are some of those. See the Afterwards section of Kikawa's book for more details.

Have you observed anything in the Hawaiian culture that indicates the fulfillment of their state motto, "Perpetuated in Righteousness?"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Queen Lili'uokalani

"Q" is for Queen Liliuokalani, the last monarch of the sovereign nation of Hawaii. She reigned from 1891 to 1893, just a little short of 2 years. During that time she sought to restore some of the power that had been lost during her brother's reign. Local sugar planters and businessmen feared a loss of revenue and influence and sought to overthrow the monarchy. To avoid bloodshed, the Queen yielded her throne on January 17, 1893. A provisional government was established at that time. In 1898, Hawaii was annexed to the United States by a resolution signed by President McKinley.

In 1898 Queen Liliuokalani wrote the book, Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen. It was written as an appeal to the conscience of America in an attempt to restore Hawaii as a sovereign land. Here is a quote from the introduction to her book:
"Oh, honest Americans, as Christians hear me for my downtrodden people! Their form of government is as dear to them as yours is precious to you. Quite as warmly as you love your country, so they love theirs. With all your goodly possessions, covering a territory so immense that there yet remain parts unexplored, possessing islands that, although new at hand, had to be neutral ground in time of war, do not covet the little vineyard of Naboth's, so far from your shores, lest the punishment of Ahab fall upon you, if not in your day, in that of your children, for "be not deceived, God is not mocked." The people to whom your fathers told of the living God and taught to call "Father," and whom the sons now seek to despoil and destroy, are crying aloud to Him in their time of trouble; and He will keep His promise, and will listen to the voices of His Hawaiian children lamenting for their homes."
But her poignant plea for justice went unanswered. Queen Liliuokalani died in 1917 at the age of 79.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pololu, John's Point of Departure

P is for Pololu Valley and Pololu Valley Overlook. Pololu is at the very end of Hwy 270 on the Big Island and is probably one of the most beautiful and pristine places on the face of the earth. It was also the launch point of our son, John's hike beginning on Thanksgiving Day in 1999. He and some of his colleagues had visited the area a couple of weeks before and John had loved it. They had spent the day and hiked into the second or third valley from Pololu. So when he decided to take a long hike over the Thanksgiving break, that area of the Kohala Mountains was his logical choice.

The hike down into the Pololu Valley is quite steep but the trail is well defined and has plenty of stone "steps" to help with footing. It's an easy hike down to the valley floor, taking about 10 to 15 minutes unless you stop frequently to take pictures of the awesome views. The valley has a stream that comes down out of the mountains and winds through to the ocean. The beach is black sand, so they say. When my husband and I hiked down into the valley several years after our son had disappeared, the beach was made up of rather large black lava rocks. But several places I read talked about the fine black sand beach of Pololu. I wonder if it depends on the time of year whether you see fine sand or large rocks.

At the time of the initial searches in 1999, my husband and I were not in shape and couldn't make the hike down into the valley. Actually it would have been the hike back up that would have been the real challenge. But we did make that hike on a later trip, leaving before dawn in time to catch the sunrise. It was breathtaking; like being in a private cathedral.

When we decided to hold a memorial service for John, the logical place was the hillside overlooking the Pololu. The pastor of the local Baptist church and his family were gracious enough to help us with the details.
Rick Reece photo, All Rights Reserved

Here are some other interesting facts about Pololu Valley. The word Pololū means long spear in the Hawaiian language. Pololū (Hawaiian spelling: Pololū, stressed on the final 'ū') is the northernmost of a series of valleys that form the east coast of Kohala Mountain.

Prior to European colonization, Pololū Valley was renowned for its kalo (taro) farming. A particular variety of kalo (kalo Pololū) was grown here, notable for its crimson stems. Kalo farming was complemented by rice in the 1800s. In the 20th century, though, the valley fell into disuse.

An average of two or three hiking or hunting groups a month need to be flown out of Kohala by emergency helicopter. The mountain is inviting, but the trails are poorly maintained and the terrain is surprisingly hazardous. One resource manager states bluntly "Kohala eats people."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Orchids of Hawaii

O is for orchids that John Reece loved. When he was ten years old, we went hunting for ferns in the jungle behind our house. He soon lost interest in ferns but discovered the Time-Life book on orchids in the library, brought it home and read it from cover to cover. That began a life-long passion for these beautiful, delicate creations.

When John arrived on the Big Island, his first journal entry told about the orchids on the island. On September 29, 1999 he wrote:
"There is a particular orchid that grows everywhere around here. There are apparently only 3 native Hawaiian orchids, and 4 non-native species that have gone wild. The one I’ve been seeing is terrestrial, has white flowers with purple lip, and grows about 1 meter high. I think it is an introduced species."
After doing a bit of my own research, I confirmed the fact that there are only 3 native Hawaiian orchids and none of them are the flashy, beautiful varieties we think of when we think of an orchid. Experts believe that due to the difficulty of orchid seeds migrating across the vast ocean distance, only 3 varieties managed to make it to the remote islands of Hawaii. For those who may be interested in reading about these native Hawaiian orchids, I'm including a link to another blog that gives detailed information about them. The three native orchid varieties are the Fringed Orchid, Twayblade and Jewel and all three are becoming more and more rare and are considered to be endangered species.

John grew up in Brazil (in the Amazon) so he had plenty of opportunity to develop his knowledge of and passion for orchids. Whenever he and his dad would go out in the boat during high water season, he would collect a few of the orchids he found on the branches. And if trees fell in the jungle or were cut down, he would scour the fallen branches in search of orchids to rescue. He developed quite a collection and cared for them, knew all their names, etc. He was indeed a passionate orchid lover.

After his disappearance, a close friend painted a picture - a collage of the places and things that were significant in his life and of course an orchid was prominent in the painting. We included a photograph of the painting in our book and I am including it here.

Painting done by Julie Eagan Avery

Native Hawaiians

My apologies to everyone who was looking for my "N" post on Saturday. For the first time during the A to Z Challenge, I didn't get my post written and posted on the day that was scheduled. However, I decided to post it today along with the "O" post. My Saturday turned into a "G" day for GARDENING - which I spent all day doing! So here goes with "N."

N is for Native Hawaiians. There aren't very many who can claim pure Hawaiian blood. In fact, estimates are that there are less than 8,000 pure Hawaiians alive today. This means that native Hawaiians are a minority in their own land.

In 1778 When Captain James Cook arrived in Hawaii there were between 300,000 and 400,000 native Hawaiians. By 1878, the native population was estimated to be between 40,000 and 50,000 people. At that time they still comprised about 75% of the population of Hawaii.

The number of those who are, at least part Hawaiian and who consider themselves to be Hawaiian, has increased steadily since the turn of the century. Today, there are estimated to be between 225,000 and 250,000 people with Hawaiian blood living in Hawaii. The majority of the native Hawaiian people, however, have less than 50% pure Hawaiian blood.

The Hawaiian Islands have become a true melting pot for so many races that they are a mixture of Caucasian, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanic, Filipino and many, many more.

We had the privilege of meeting a number of pure Hawaiians, some helped with the search for our son and some we met later. One pure Hawaiian we were put in contact with in a rather supernatural way, resided in a city close to us. We were able to meet him and see the original journal of one of the first missionaries who landed on the islands.

We met another pure Hawaiian in the airport as we were about to embark upon one of our trips to Hawaii. He looked "Hawaiian" so my husband struck up a conversation with him and discovered that he was indeed a pure Hawaiian and a pastor/missionary who had been ministering on another island in the South Pacific. He was moving back to Hawaii and had been on the mainland for a conference. That was a delightful meeting and we had the privilege of spending more time with him during that visit to Hawaii.

So is it a good thing or a bad thing that 100% pure Hawaiians are diminishing as a race? I leave that for you to decide.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mauna Kea

M is for Mauna Kea, the volcano on which John and his team spent their days doing field research for the Palila bird project. The Palila is one of the endangered species on the slopes of Mauna Kea. This is what John wrote about his days doing research as one of the interns on the vegetation team.
"On Tuesday we talked about all aspects of the vegetation part of the project (which we are doing). Today we went through lots of herbarium sheets trying to learn the plants we will need to know on Mauna Kea. Tomorrow we will be going up there for the day to collect some plants. I'm looking forward to seeing what the field conditions will be like on this job."
Later he wrote:
"I just got back from a week in the field. The base camp is at about 7600 ft. on Mauna Kea, the highest mt. in Hawaii. Everything is very dry and dusty up there. When I got back today I felt like I had dirt in every pore."
Mauna Kea ("White Mountain") is a dormant volcano on the island of Hawaii rising 9,750 meters (32,000 ft) from the ocean floor to an altitude of 4,205 meters (13,796 ft) above sea level. It is the highest point in the Pacific Basin, and the highest island-mountain in the world. When measured from its oceanic base, Mauna Kea is over 10,000 m (33,000 ft) tall—significantly taller than Mount Everest. It is one of the oldest of the 5 volcanoes that make up the Big Island of Hawaii.

The world's largest astronomical observatory is housed on the summit of Mauna Kea, with telescopes operated by astronomers from eleven countries. Due to its high altitude, dry environment, and stable airflow, conditions are better for making astronomical observations than any other place in the world.

The broad volcanic landscape of the summit area is made up of cinder cones on a lava plateau. The lower slopes of Mauna Kea are popular for hunting, hiking, sightseeing, and bird watching in an environment that is less hostile than the barren summit area.

In Hawaiian mythology, the peaks of the island of Hawaii are sacred, and Mauna Kea is the most sacred of all. Under the kapu (taboo) system only high-ranking tribal chiefs or ali'i were allowed to visit its peak.

When Europeans arrived in the late 18th century, settlers introduced cattle, sheep and game animals, many of which became feral and began to damage the mountain's ecology. In recent years, concern over the vulnerability of the native species has led to court cases that have forced the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources to eradicate all feral species on the mountain. In fact, shortly after John arrived on the island, he wrote to us telling about a wild pig hunt that was being done by helicopter in an attempt to diminish the feral pig population.

The project John worked on was part of the long term strategy to preserve the habit of the endangered Palila bird. While we were on the Big Island looking for John, his co-workers took us to see their base camp site from which they went up on the mountain to count and evaluate the vegetation that was essential to the survival of the Palila. We enjoyed seeing where he worked. They also showed us the Silver Sword plant, one of the endangered plant species on Mauna Kea.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lei tradition

"L" is for lei - a symbol of Hawaiian "aloha." The lei was originally used as decoration by the ali'i (rulers) as well as the common people and was brought to the Hawaiian Islands by the Polynesian settlers from Tahiti. They brought flowering plants with them specifically for making leis.

Tourism in the islands quickly elevated the lei to the symbol of Hawaii to millions of visitors worldwide. Today, visitors can easily bring back the nostalgia of old Hawaii by ordering a traditional flower lei greeting for their arrival at the airport. Greeters welcome visitors with a warm “aloha” and adorn them with beautiful fresh leis. It's a wonderful way to begin a Hawaiian vacation.

Hawaiin leis mark any important event in a person's life. There are leis of grief, and leis of love, leis of love-making, leis of marriage, of dying, and of birthing. There are leis for political, community, social, personal, farming, and religious ceremony. The ancient Hawaiians excelled in the creation of permanent leis, constructed of feathers, ivory, beads, and even teeth.

The proper way to wear a lei is gently draped over the shoulders, hanging down both in front and in back. The only protocols in relation to the giving and receiving of leis is that a lei should never be refused and it should not be taken off in the presence of the giver.

When visitors think of a lei, the plumeria flower lei generally comes to mind since it is widely available at airports and hotels. But plumeria is a relative newcomer. Leis can be made of just about anything, limited only by the maker's imagination. There is the lei pikake with its unequaled perfume, or the lei of the magnificent red or turquoise jade vine. Another lei frequently used, is the maile leaf lei. Historically the maile lei was perhaps the most significant. Among other sacred uses, it was used to signify a peace agreement between opposing chiefs. In a Heiau (temple), the chiefs would symbolically intertwine the green Maile vine, and its completion officially established peace between the two groups.

Lei hua, or seed lei, were made from all types of native seeds or nuts strung on cord. Today kukui lei remain very popular. Made from kukui nuts that have been sanded, polished, punctured and with the nut meat removed, the lei can be blond, dark brown or black in color.

Naturally the lei became an integral part of Hawaii's religious system and offerings of lei can often be seen on the altars of heiaus (temples).

When we held the memorial service for John, we were surprised by the number and variety of leis each one of our family members received. Often at an event such as a graduation, the young person receives so many leis they can't see over them. Although we didn't receive that many, the demonstration of caring and "aloha" as we received each lei touched us deeply. Some of John's co-workers had spent a lot of time collecting the materials and making the leis for us.

Did you know there were leis made of permanent material, not just flower leis?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kohala and King Kamehameha I

"K" is for Kohala, also known as the "Kohala Mountains," the name of an extinct volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. At its highest elevation, Kohala is 5,480 feet above sea level. It is the oldest of five volcanoes that make up the island.

Ages ago a large landslide on the northeastern flank of the volcano removed a massive portion of the mountain, estimated to be as much as a section 20 kilometers wide. The part of the mountain removed by the landslide collapsed into the ocean at a very high speed and traveled as far as 81 miles across the ocean floor. The large sea cliffs on the northeast flank of the volcano mark the headwall of this landslide. There are two districts named North and South Kohala.

This is a photo of the dry side of the Kohala Mts.
Rick Reece photo (all rights reserved)

This photo was taken from the Ditch trail looking down on the rainy side of the Kohala Mts into the Pololu Valley.

Rick Reece photo (all rights reserved)

Kohala and King Kamehameha I go together. Known as Kamehameha the Great, the first King of the Kingdom of Hawaii, was born in North Kohala, near Hawi. The exact place as well as the exact year of his birth seem to be up for debate. However, Hawaiian legends claimed that a great king would one day unite the islands, and that the sign of his birth would be a comet. Halley's comet was visible from Hawaiʻi in 1758 and it is likely Kamehameha was born shortly after its appearance.

When the child was born, Alapaʻi the reigning chieftain, ordered him to be killed. One of his priests (kahuna) had warned him that a fiery light in the sky would signal the birth of a "killer of chiefs." Alapaʻi, nervous at the thought of this child eventually usurping his rule, decided to take no chances. Kamehameha's parents, however, had anticipated this. As soon as he was born, he was given into the care of Naeʻole, another noble from Kohala, and disappeared from sight. He was welcomed back by Alapa'i when he was 5 years old.

Another legend tells of a kahuna who prophesied that the man who moved the 7,000-pound Naha Stone would become the greatest king of Hawaii. When Kamehameha was 14, the story goes, he moved the massive rock, and then lifted it and turned it completely over. According to native belief, such a feat indicated superhuman strength and foreshadowed the inevitable conquest of all of Hawai'i.

As Kamehameha I rose to power, he first conquered the various districts of the Big Island, uniting them as one. Then with the aid of a massive army and naval fleet, he conquered the other islands one by one, the final chief submitting to Kamahameha through peaceful negotiations rather than war. Kamehameha I formally established the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in 1810. Then by developing alliances with the major Pacific colonial powers, Kamehameha preserved Hawaiʻi's independence under his rule. Kamehameha is remembered for the "Law of the Splintered Paddle," which protects human rights of non-combatants in times of battle.

The Hawaiian kingdom enjoyed a period of peace during Kamehameha's reign. The king unified the legal system and used taxes to promote trade with the Americans and Europeans. He enacted laws, specifically one that prohibited any non-native Hawaiians from land ownership, that preserved the independence of Hawaii long after his death. He also did away with the practice of human sacrifice, although he continued to follow the religious practices of his predecessors.

All the sources I researched mentioned that King Kamehameha's final resting place is a mystery. However, some of the people who helped us search for our son confirmed the rumor we had heard that the tombs of the kings of Hawaii are located somewhere in the rough terrain of the Kohala Mountains where our son also found his final resting place.

It was 6 months after the death of Kamehameha the Great, that the bondage of the kapu (taboo) system was broken. Details of this can be found in Daniel Kikawa's book, Perpetuated in Righteousness (p. 153-154). Two wives of Kamehameha the Great along with Kamehameha II openly broke the kapu by eating together. This shocked the Hawaiian people but it sent the unmistakable message that the kapu system was no longer honored by the king and the highest ali'i (ruling class) in the land.

On page 154 of his book Kikawa writes,
"Liholiho (Kamehameha II) sent messengers to all the districts of Hawaii ordering the heiaus desecrated and the images of the gods overthrown. 
"Contrary to popular belief, the missionaries did not force the Hawaiian people to desecrate their heiaus and destroy the images of their gods. The Hawaiian people, following the lead of the ali'i, rose up and broke the bondage of that evil system on their own! The overthrow of the kapu system happened six months before the missionaries arrived! 
"The One True God, whom the Hawaiian people had worshiped before the coming of Pa'ao and the kapu system, was sovereignly preparing his people to return to Him!"
Have you seen pictures of one of the statues of King Kamehameha I or have you seen one of the actual statues? There are several.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

John Reece

"J" is for John Cameron Reece born in 1977 in Grand Prairie, Texas, the only one of our three children not born in Brazil. He disappeared in the Kohala Mountains on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1999 after leaving to go on a hike on Thanksgiving Day.

John in the lab at Wheaton College
  Rick Reece photo (all rights reserved)

What can I say about John? He was a young man of integrity, self-discipline, uprightness. He was kind and thoughtful and passionately loyal to his friends. But the characteristic that stands out most was his passionate love for the Lord Jesus Christ and his burning desire to share that relationship and hope and love with those around him.

He was an avid reader but avoided "junk" books. He read mainly the kind of books you would find on a list of recommended reading for college bound students. And he read his Bible - probably the only book he took with him on his fateful hike.

Orchids and tropical fish were his primary hobbies. Wherever he went he would set up an aquarium. In Brazil, he and his father built a huge aquarium and he stocked it with tropical fish from the stream just down the road from where we lived. Even in college he had an aquarium in his room. His love for orchids began when he was 10 years old. He read the whole Time Life book on Orchids from cover to cover and then proceeded to become an orchid collector and expert.

Here is an entry from his journal written in Hawaii about orchids:

"There is a particular orchid that grows everywhere around here. There are apparently only 3 native Hawaiian orchids, and 4 non-native species that have gone wild. The one I’ve been seeing is terrestrial, has white flowers with purple lip, and grows about 1 m. high. I think it is an introduced species."

John loved everything about God's creation. Here is another excerpt from his journal about what he observed in Hawaii:

"Yesterday I rode around Crater Rim Drive right nearby here. Some of the craters are huge, and there are a lot of steam vents and the smell of sulphur and everything. The road goes over several recent lava flows, the most recent being 1982 if I remember correctly. It’s amazingly desolate riding over a lava flow, where all you can see is sharp black rock everywhere.

"From what I’ve seen so far, this has to be the most amazing place I’ve ever lived. There’s rainforest, mesa and dry forest all within biking distance, craters with recent lava flows and steam vents nearby, mountains in the distance on clear days, and a perfect sky on clear nights."

The most amazing gift John gave us was his journal, written from 1995 to 1999, the last entry written just 6 days before his hike. It gave us something tangible, something that revealed what he was thinking and how he processed the circumstances and events around him. We have edited it and call it John's Legacy. We plan to make it available as an e-book on Kindle - we'll let you know when.

John's legacy to us was the privilege and honor of being parents to a deep, thoughtful and creative thinker. Although he was generally quiet, he wasn't afraid to express what he truly thought. We always asked his opinion before making a decision and he always asked ours. He was not only our son, but our friend. We may be slightly biased, but he was a godly example to us in so many ways. You can read more about John and about our search for him in our book, Aloha is Forever.

Do you know any young people who are an example to you?

Monday, April 11, 2011

'Io, the true god of the Hawaiians

My "I" post is about 'Io, the true god of the Hawaiians. Since my husband has included some information about 'Io in our next book, "4 Spiritual Tsunamis," I decided to take excerpts from what he has already written and expand on them just a little to clarify some of the details. So here goes.
"In my short visits to Hawaii I have learned that many native Hawaiians would like to return to their “native” religion. But the religion they want to return to is that oppressive religion which Pa’ao introduced to the Hawaiian people, not the original worship of the one true benevolent creator God – 'Io. (More details about Pa'ao will be in my "P" post.)
"Daniel Kikawa, author of Perpetuated in Righteousness and God of Light, God of Darkness said that the Polynesian peoples, of which the Hawaiian people are a part, had oral traditions passed down from generation to generation even to the present day. He was able to interview some of the elders or Kahunas who told him some of these stories. They had oral genealogies going back all the way to Adam. In fact, in their ancient stories they go all the way to the story of Jonah in the Old Testament. They worshiped the One Supreme Benevolent Creator God named 'Io. 'Io is a linguistic variation of the Hebrew name for Jaweh. Genesis 25:6 says that Abraham had other sons after his wife Sara died, and they were sent off to the East. Daniel Kikawa says that the proto-linguists, and proto-anthropologists (these are the people who study the historical roots of languages and cultures) have determined that the Hawaiian people originally came from the Middle East. This is confirmed by their oral tradition in some of the stories that they tell. Then they migrated to India, and from there to Burma. From Burma they began stretching out into the ocean. Over a thousand years before Jesus was born, the Proto-Polynesians were navigating their canoes and finding isolated islands in the middle of the Pacific. They had navigational charts made out of reeds, shells, and rocks. They studied the waves the winds and the birds and other things to determine where they were going. Around 400 A.D. the first Marquesans reached Hawaii and also Easter Island.  
"Around 1300 A.D. the Hawaiians were invaded by a great chieftain king and high priest from what is known today as Bora Bora in Tahiti. His name was Pa’ao. Kikawa writes in his book that the historian, Rudy Mitchell, says that "Pa’ao was a kahuna nui (high preist), ali’i nui (high royalty), famous navigator and a sorcerer of great power. Although this family knew of 'Io, they established a new oppressive religious system with it’s chief place at Taputaputea.” This system, according to Kikawa’s research was a system of taboos, idolatry, human sacrifice, and slavery, things which did not exist in their religion before Pa’ao invaded."
In the same way that Yaweh was never mentioned by name by the Hebrew people, the Hawaiians had many paraphrases they used to refer to 'Io. Some of these were Most Excellent Supreme, The Power of Death, Eternity, Beyond Vision and The One Established. Kikawa says, "These names were titles of the One True God, his true name being too sacred to mention; his name was 'Io." (Perpetuated in Righteousness, p.55.)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hawaiian Heiau

My "H" topic has been difficult to choose so I will touch on several. The first will be "heiau." Heiau are pre-Christian places of worship that are found throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

The Hawaiians who originally settled on the islands were peaceful people with few ceremonial rules and no human sacrifice system. In approximately 1300 A.D. a powerful and ruthless chief/ruler named Pa'ao came from Tahiti and conquered the Hawaiians. According to Daniel Kikawa, citing other sources, Pa'ao took over both the priestly and royal roles. On page 142 of his book,
Perpetuated in Righteousness, Kikawa writes this:

"To consolidate his power, Pa'ao instituted human sacrifices and changed the Hawaiians' religious rituals. He built the first luakini (human sacrifice) heiau (temple) on the Big Island (Hawai'i) at Waha'ula. Fornander wrote that "...there was a time before that, when human sacrifices were not only not of common occurrence, and an established rule, but were absolutely prohibited. Kapu ke kanaka na Kane, 'sacred is the man to Kane'..."
"Pa'ao instituted the oppressive kapu (tapu or taboo) system and the worship of elemental spirit gods such as Pele. Fornander says that Pele worship in Hawai'i is only subsequent to this migratory period. The Pele cult was unknown to the purer faith of the older inhabitants and her name does not even appear in the creation accounts."
On page 144 he continues:
"What most people today regard as the religious system of the old Hawaiian people, was not their true religion - it was a foreign religion introduced by the invader Pa'ao."
I'll write more about the god the original Hawaiians worshiped in my entry for Monday and more about Pa'ao on "P" day.

The Hawaiian people endured much suffering and bondage under Pa'ao's religious system. As part of  that system, laws and kapu (taboos) governed all activities and commoners were frequently sacrificed or used as shark bait for breaking these taboos. Women for instance, were not allowed to eat bananas and no commoner was allowed to even set foot on the land belonging to the ruling class. (I'm citing Kikawa again.)

It was a dark time in the history of Hawai'i.

On one of our trips to Hawai'i, we visited many of the churches and heiau and other historically important landmarks as we made our way around the Big Island, praying and worshiping our Lord. Toward the end of this visit, we began asking God whether there were any other places He wanted us to go. We read in a guidebook about Mo'okini Heiau and it said it was a place that would give anyone the "heebie-jeebies." We weren't so sure we wanted to go to a place like that, but we were willing to if that was His direction. So we prayed and that night we felt a great peace about going there. It was one of the most isolated and desolate places we have ever experienced. As we arrived, other tourists were leaving so my husband and I were the only ones there. We sensed an aura of victory over the oppressive darkness that had ruled in that place for so many centuries. We marched, sang, prayed and declared the victory and presence of the true and living God over that place and over Hawai'i. We sensed that God had released a measure of authority for us to do this since we had lost our son in the nearby Kohala Mountains. (We tell that story in our book, Aloha is Forever.)

This is a picture of Mo'okini Heiau taken by John Fisher. We took many photos also which don't seem to be on our computer. I will try to scan a few of our own and include them later.

Mo'okini Heiau had been built of volcanic stones that are said to have been passed from hand to hand from the Pololu Valley, over 14 miles away and the starting point of our son's hike. It is said that the temple was completed in one night. It is also the largest of all of the heiau in Hawai'i, about the size of a football field. We saw the smooth, hollowed out stone that was used in the hundreds or even thousands of human sacrifices that were done there, as well as the altars where fresh offerings of flowers, produce, etc. had recently been placed. We left, feeling we had completed that for which God had sent us there.

My other "H" topics were "Hilo," "helicopters," and "Hope 1 transformed into Hope 2." Since this entry turned out to be so long, I'll just mention them and go back to each of them after the A to Z Challenge is over.

Have you ever visited a Hawaiian heiau?

Friday, April 8, 2011


I got a late start today due to a sick grandson but I chose to write about gratefulness as my "G" topic. There are so many others beginning with G that it was hard to choose. But one of the things we are overwhelmingly grateful for is the privilege of having had John with us for 22 years. He blessed us and was an example to us in so many ways. He also left behind his journal that he started in his freshman year of college and continued until about 6 days before he left on his hike.

His hike started on Thanksgiving Day 1999 and in his last entry he wrote about the things he was grateful and thankful for. This is the last paragraph of that entry written on November 19, 1999.

Well, since Thanksgiving is coming up, I’m going to work on counting my blessings, which, says Mom, are many. First off, I’m living in Hawaii right near HI Volcanoes National Park. It would be hard to imagine a more unique spot on the planet. I have a job with the U.S. Geological Survey, an important organization that will be spicy on my resume. I’m working in field biology, gaining valuable experience that will help me in my decision of whether to pursue graduate studies, and if so, in what. I’m in better physical condition than I have been since I was 15 ( with the possible exception of times near field day at PQQ). I have an awesome mountain bike for the first time in my life, and so far I haven’t entirely killed myself on it yet. I have two wonderful, supportive parents, and an amazing sister and a cool brother. I have a set of extremely varied experiences that is broader culturally, geographically, and educationally than most people gain in a lifetime, and there is no sign that I will cease or slow down in gaining further experience. Most importantly, I’m a child of God and I know where I’m going – I just need help finding out what to do in the meanwhile.

Yes, we're very grateful for the 22 years we had with John. But we're grateful for so much more. We're grateful for the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ that assures us that we will see our son again and that we'll have endless time to spend together with him worshiping the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

We're grateful for our other two children and our grandson and for the privilege of spending time together and working together. They are all treasures, each unique in their own way.

We're grateful for having had the privilege of living and working in other cultures for the greater part of our lifetimes - I speak for both myself and my husband. Since 1972 when we first went to "Jungle Camp" in Mexico, we have had the privilege of interacting with various people groups and cultures. Each one has enriched our lives.

But probably most importantly we are grateful to God for pouring His love out upon us and giving to us so many things that we don't deserve out of His storehouses of abundant blessing, rather than giving us what we deserve - which would be death because of our sin. All that we receive from Him daily is pure grace and for that we are extremely grateful.

So what makes you grateful? And come back tomorrow for a bunch of "H" topics. This time I really couldn't choose.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Friends and Family

F is for friends and family. What would we have done without them? In our time of crisis, friends and family were there to help and support us in every way. We mention many of them in our book and among them are new friends we met while in Hawaii.

When we first received the news on the Monday after Thanksgiving that our son had not returned from his hike in the Kohala Mountains on the Big Island, we contacted our closest friends and prayer warriors to ask them to pray. Since John's boss didn't think there was cause for alarm initially, we didn't send out an alert to everyone. But by the middle of the week, email prayer requests for John's safety and return were going out to all friends and family and to their friends and families.

Later in the week we felt we needed to go to Hawaii to help with the searches. But we had no funds with which to buy tickets. So we prayed and within an hour a family member of a friend contacted us to offer his frequent flyer miles. Since he didn't have enough for both tickets he contacted another acquaintance of ours who provided his miles for the other ticket. By Sunday we were on our way to Hawaii. Later other friends did the same for our two children who had to come from Brazil and they arrived in Hawaii around the middle of December. What would we have done without these generous friends who were touched by the love of God to help us?

Many friends and family members provided funds for the cost of helicopter flights, car rental and miscellaneous expenses. New friends provided lodging and supported us in so many ways it would be impossible to list them all.

Our email provider wasn't working properly so a sister forwarded all of our emails to the larger list of friends and family who were praying throughout the searches. She served as a go-between to make sure all our messages got out and that we also received messages we needed.

Pastor Steve Hedlund and his wife Yumi who we met the first day we went to Pololu, helped organize a memorial service for John. Hilo Missionary Church and all of their members offered support in many ways including sending a group of youth to do a choreographed presentation at the memorial service.

The many wonderful people at the USGS (United States Geological Survey) where John was serving as an intern provided personnel for searches, drivers to take us to key places, and general help in more ways than we probably even knew about while we were there.

Many have said that of all the searches that had been done in Hawaii for missing people, they had never seen such an all out effort as they did for our search for John.

Helicopters and searchers were mobilized, fishermen were alerted, native Hawaiians helped by searching in remote places few people even knew about. Many people whose names we don't even know were a part of this all out effort to locate our son. And for each and every friend, family member and unknown searcher we are forever grateful!

Do you have a good network of friends and family you can depend upon in a crisis?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Eternal Perspective

E is for eternal perspective. Eternal perspective changes everything. If our minds are set on this earth and an earthly perspective, we will accumulate stuff and avoid losses at all cost. Any loss will be devastating.

It was eternal perspective that helped us the most as we walked through the intensely difficult experience of losing our middle son. When we were in the depths of despair, realizing we would never again see our son on this earth, God reminded us that we would have eternity together with him in God's presence.

One of the most profound movie lines comes from The Gladiator when Maximus says, "What we do here echoes in eternity."

Someone else once compared this life on earth to a dot and eternity to a line that continues on and on and on with no end. And what we do in the dot, the decisions we make, determine what eternity will be like for us. As we tried to get our minds around this concept of eternity, it dawned on me that the length of our lifetime here on earth is relatively insignificant whether it is a day, a year, twenty years or a hundred years. It is still like a dot compared to the ongoing line of eternity.

Some who read this may scoff, thinking that we are just fooling ourselves and that what exists here and now, the things we can see and touch, are the only reality. But there is spiritual reality that will exist for eternity even though we cannot see it at the moment.

The book of I John in chapter 5 verses 11 and 12 states: "And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." The writer wanted his readers to have the absolute certainty of a life for eternity with God and made it very clear that that was only available to us through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Our son John wrote this in his journal just 6 days before he disappeared:

Most importantly, I’m a child of God and I know where I’m going – I just need help finding out what to do in the meanwhile.

Without a shadow of a doubt he was sure of his eternal destination and for him, life here on earth was a temporary habitation. What a difference that makes in the way we look at life, death, relationships, losses - virtually every aspect of life.

My prayer is that I would live my life with the perspective of eternity each and every day. What about you?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Ditch and Disappeared

D is for the Ditch and for Disappeared. One of the places a team of searchers looked when our son disappeared in November of 1999 was the Ditch. The Ditch is located in the Kohala Mountains. It was built in 1905 and is a vast network of flumes and ditches, measuring 22 miles in length, and was originally used as a surface irrigation system to distribute water to the sugar cane fields.

At the turn of the last century, there were seven independent plantations cultivating approximately 10,000 acres of sugar cane in the Big Island's district of North Kohala. It takes a ton of water to produce one pound of refined sugar. Because of the drought that plagued the area at that time, some of the plantations were receiving only 15 to 25 inches of rain per year. As a result, yields were low, putting the plantations in financial jeopardy. The solution to the problem seemed simple: transport water from the verdant valleys, where rainfall averaged 150 to 300 inches a year, to the dry plains where the cane fields were located. Engineers evaluated the feasibility of such an irrigation system and recommended against it due to heavy rainfall, rough terrain and unstable soil conditions.

Nevertheless, John Hind, one of the plantation owners, decided to proceed. He found an investor in Sam Parker, the grandson of John Parker (founder of Parker Ranch), who contributed about half of the $695,000 cost of the ditch. The balance of the money came from Hind and a few other entrepreneurs.

The group hired M.M. O'Shaughnessy, a noted civil and hydraulic engineer, to design and oversee the construction of the system. O'Shaughnessy hired 600 men, most of whom were Japanese immigrants, and work began in 1905. At the 1,050-foot elevation in often cold, wet, windy conditions, the laborers used dynamite, picks, shovels, hammers, chisels and their bare hands to painstakingly dig an average of 350 feet through the mountains each 12-hour workday. They lined the tunnels' walls with hand-cut rock and grout, and stabilized the ceilings with concrete.The project took 18 months and the loss of 17 lives.

When it was completed, the Kohala Ditch was hailed as an engineering marvel and received widespread acclaim.

The Ditch was later used by ranches, farms, and homes. A section of the Kohala ditch, which diverted water from Honokane Valley to the sugar cane fields of the North Kohala district, ran along the sides of Pololu Valley. Hikes to and in the ditch were offered by a tour company. A portion of the ditch became a tourist attraction called "Flumin' Da Ditch" offering kayak tours down old Kohala Ditch water flumes, used originally by sugar plantations to transport freshly cut cane. The cane would be cut on higher elevation lands and tossed into the flumes, which would carry the cane down slope to sugar mills on the coast. The flumes fell out of use as large trucks became more prevalent and began to be used to transport cane. Flumin' Da Ditch functioned as a tourist attraction until the flumes and the Ditch were damaged by the 2006 Hawaii earthquake.

After the earthquake in October 2006, the owners of the Kohala Ditch – the Surety Kohala Corporation – finished an evaluation of the damage to, and future safety of, the “Ditch.” They determined that they could not repair the ditch to allow the flumin' the ditch tours to continue safely so the tours have been discontinued. Over 150,000 people in the 10 years prior had enjoyed this 22-mile (35 km) kayaking tour down the old irrigation ditches.

As I understand it, the Ditch was repaired sufficiently by 2008 to once again provide irrigation water for the macadamia nut orchards and other farming ventures in North Kohala. But the structural damage to the Ditch was too extensive to be able to repair it enough to make it safe for tourist ventures.

We had the opportunity in 2004 to hike along the Ditch trail that lined the sides of Pololu, the same trail our son took in 1999 when he disappeared. It was an awesome experience and we could understand why he chose to hike that trail. The breathtaking waterfalls, the jungle growth that reminded him of his home in the Amazon jungle, the stream from which the Ditch received its water, the precipices - everything was awesome.

But he disappeared - never to be seen again.

Do you know anyone who has disappeared? Or did you have the privilege of "Flumin' Da Ditch" when it was still in operation?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Captain Cook

Captain Cook is a well known figure in the history of Hawaii. Although he is credited with discovering the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, that is only from a European perspective. In reality some very brave and adventurous navigators who possibly originated from Fiji, navigated their way in canoes across the Pacific until they came to the beautiful Hawaiian Islands and settled there.

The Polynesians had chanted geneologies going back to creation and stories telling of their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the great flood, Abraham, their ancestor and their migration from the middle east to India to the islands of the South Pacific and from there to the Hawaiian Islands that were so similar to the Garden from which their ancestors had been expelled.

These original Hawaiians worshipped 'Io the 'Most High God' who was a benevolent and loving creator. But they did not remember Him well, nor did they know about His Son Jesus. But they had prophecies that had been passed down by the priests of 'Io that the day would come when the knowledge of the true God would return and that would come via a ship with "white wings." That ship would bring a book that would teach them about their true creator God and would set them free from the "Nats" (demons).

Captain Cook's arrival fulfilled some of their prophecies, but not all of them. They initially considered him a deity. But when he set sail and then returned to repair a broken mast, his return was unwelcome and resulted in fights between the Europeans and the Hawaiians. Captain Cook was killed in one of those fights. There is some controversy as to whether the Hawaiians did indeed deify Captain Cook and then took his life when they realized he was not a god. Nevertheless, the Hawaiians continued to wait for the fulfillment of their prophecies.

What do you know about the true history of Hawaii? Is your knowledge based upon the errant "facts" from Michner's historical novel, Hawaii? Find out more about the true history of the Hawaiian people.

Get ready for future posts.

This week:
Monday - Captain Cook
Tuesday - the Ditch
Wednesday - Eternity
Thursday - Friends and Family
Friday - Gratitude
Saturday - Hope, Hilo and Heiau

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Big Island

The Big Island of Hawaii is the largest of the eight major islands that make up the state of  Hawaii. The state counts a total of 137 islands including Midway which isn't technically part of the state. Only seven of the eight major islands are populated.

There are approximately 20 of the world's 26 climatic zones found on the Big Island. You can go from desert to savannah to subtropical to tropical rainforest in no time at all. On all of our visits to Hawaii we have been impressed by the non-commercial nature of the Big Island. On our last visit we still found roadside fruit and vegetable stands that were completely unattended, leaving to the honor system the exchange of cash for produce. It had a neighborhood atmosphere that was appealing to us and made us feel right at home unlike Oahu which had much more of a cosmopolitan feel.

Our first visit to the Big Island was December of 1999. Our son John had gone in September to work as an intern there and we kept promising him that we would be coming out to see Hawaii while he was there. Unfortunately, our visit was to try to find him, not to visit him. In that process of searching for him we grew to love the Big Island and its inhabitants.

We've had the privilege of returning to the Big Island twice since then and each time has been special. On one of those occasions we had the opportunity to take a spin around Oahu as well.

Have you ever visited the Big Island? What did you like best about it?

Friday, April 1, 2011

The meaning of Aloha

Aloha is a word that means so much more than simply "hello" or "goodbye." The Hawaiian dictionary translates "aloha" as love, affection, compassion, mercy, sympathy, pity, kindness, grace, charity and beloved.

Daniel Kikawa states in his book Perpetuated in Righteousness that "aloha is the Hawaiian word for God's unconditional love; what the Greek Bible calls agape." In addition he says, "Aloha means literally, 'The Spirit of the Son of God.'"

So the next time you say or hear the word "aloha" think about its profound meaning. That is why we chose to give our book the title, Aloha is Forever.

What does "aloha" mean to you?