WAIKIKI, Hawaii — Hawaii is almost certainly not what you think.
Go ahead, give it a try. Close your eyes and picutre it.
Chances are, right now in your mind, you are probably seeing hula dancers adorned in colorful flowery leis and swishing grass skirts.
Or possibly you see lush green islands, hidden waterfalls and large waves crashing over volcanic rock reefs before rolling gently onto pristine beaches.
And surely you see a gigantic sun slowly sinking into the ocean as it drifts westward to an even more distant horizon.
Yes, Hawaii is all those things and more. Impressions become stereotypes because, in the case of Hawaii, stereotypes are true. Hawaii is more beautiful and unique up close and personal.
Surely it is impossible to have anything other than a perfect sunrise or sunset, and the rainbows; the rainbows are the biggest, most vibrant colored rainbows you’ll ever see. No doubt, Hawaii is amazing and from a tourist’s perspective, Hawaii is a beautiful paradise.
But paradise is lost. Spiritually lost.
Slip off the Ray-Bans and see through the façade of shiny happy people walking white sand beaches and drinking fruity drinks with pink umbrellas, and you’ll see the people of Hawaii.
They are a beautiful people, with most of the population being of Polynesian descent. But Hawaiians are hurting, and they know it.
“The people of Hawaii face a number of challenges,” said Brian Smart, Hawaii Baptist Pacific Convention’s assistant executive director of advance. “Hawaii is a very expensive place to live, and a lot of people struggle financially, but there are a number of other issues they face as well.”
Tourists may feel the financial pinch when visiting Hawaii, but Hawaiians live the reality. There are at least 20 cities on the islands where the people fall anywhere from six to 25 percent below the national poverty line.
The financial difficulty is driven by basic needs such as the cost of housing and food, then factor in the cost of living, childcare, transportation, medical care, and taxes and Hawaii is a difficult place to live.
Poverty in Hawaii, like in other places, fuels collateral challenges like alcohol and drug addiction.
According to one source, more than 50 percent of Hawaiians older than 18 consumes alcohol and roughly 10 percent of Hawaii’s 1.3 million people use drugs considered illicit — marijuana, cocaine and/or heroin. Methamphetamine (crystal meth) and heroin use are on the rise with there being an estimated 120,000 meth addicts.
“Unfortunately, homelessness is also a challenge in Hawaii,” said Andrew Large, pastor of Waikiki Baptist Church, located in the heart of the upscale tourist district of Honolulu.
“The Hawaiian government does provide housing for the homeless, but there are still several people living on the city streets or outside the city in tents and makeshift shelters.
“I always make it a point to talk to them and try to understand why they are homeless. Many also suffer from mental illness,” he said.
And then there is the spiritual need. There is a broad religious presence on the islands and what broad demographic surveys indicate, Smart said, is that the actual number of Christians is quite low.
“We believe that fewer than three percent of the population would be born-again believers,” he said. “The opportunity is there to reach a large number of people for Christ.”
There are approximately 150 churches across the entire Hawaiian Baptist Convention that geographically ranges from the islands, south to Samoa, across to New Zealand, through the Philippines to Japan and back down to Hawaii.
It is a massive area that is significantly larger than the United States. But with cultures mixing on the islands representing people groups from so many countries, Smart said Hawaii is a gateway to some of the most spiritually lost places in China and other countries unreached with the gospel.
“That’s why I say it is an opportunity,” he said. “If people want to come here on a volunteer mission trip, they literally have the opportunity to not only make a difference in Hawaii, but potentially in many other countries where people need to hear the gospel.” B&R For a related story on the Tennessee-Hawaii Pacific partnership, click HERE, and for a column by Chris Turner click HERE.
HAWAII FAST FACTS
• Admitted as the 50th state in August 1959.
• The only state located outside North America.
• The 40th most populated state and 13th most densely populated.
• The state has eight main islands.
• Hawaii’s land mass fits into Alaska 60 times.
• Hawaii has its own time zone and does not observe daylight savings time.
• The earth’s tallest volcano is in Hawaii (Mauna Kea).
• Religions in Hawaii: Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Bahai Faith, Confucianism, Daoism Traditional Hawaiian religious beliefs , Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Shintoism , Zoroastrianism, Unaffiliated*
* More than 51 percent of Hawaiian residents are un-affiliated with any religion.