Mary Adamski

View from the Pew
A look inside Hawaii's houses of worship

By Mary Adamski

Kilohani Methodist has
old friends from Kalaupapa
for family meal


Tuesday, January 21, 2003

» The name of Kilohana United Methodist Church was misspelled as Kilohani in a column and headline on Page D1 Saturday.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at

What could be more typical of a religious congregation than a potluck social hour after services?

The homemade food was fabulous at the Kilohani United Methodist Church lunch last Sunday, but what took the gathering over the top was the strong and loving ties that bind the participants.

The Rev. Alan Mark and his hospitable Niu Valley flock welcomed visitors from Kalaupapa, the remote Molokai village that is the historical settlement for Hansen's disease patients.

Eight patients and friends came with Kalaupapa Protestant pastor Lon Rycraft for their first visit to the Oahu congregation. There were no strangers among the crowd of more than 50 who lingered for hours to talk story.

"These are all our old friends," said Catherine Puohala, a longtime Kalaupapa resident who is more accustomed to sharing a meal with the Oahu folks in her own hometown church.

Members of Kilohani and other Oahu Methodist churches have been taking a "work retreat" in Kalaupapa for 18 years.

A dozen or more men and women spend five days over the Admission Day weekend each year to do projects from sewing and cleaning for patients to scraping and painting buildings.

In recent years most of the elbow grease has been expended at Kanana Hou -- it means New Canaan -- complex of church and social hall in downtown Kalaupapa, and Siloama -- named after the biblical well at Shiloh -- a tiny 1871 chapel at the Kalawao end of the peninsula.

One year, they poured a new concrete walkway, said Noboru Miyamoto, who is the unofficial foreman by virtue of his profession as carpenter.

Another year, they replaced all the screens and wooden jalousies. This is no casual island getaway, he points out.

"Every single thing we use has to be planned ahead. There's only one barge a year," said Miyamoto, so supplies have to be put aboard that single bulk shipment, which, happily, is in July.

If anyone can match Miyamoto's detailed supply list, it is his wife, Carol, who oversees the meal planning. The small Kalaupapa store is open only for residents, so the visiting workers bring their own food. Nonperishables go on the barge, and fresh vegetables and meat are shipped on the freight plane a day before they fly into Kalaupapa.

"Last time, we found a way to take ice cream, and that's a treat for the residents," said the chief cook. "Whenever we go, the table is open for everyone."

"Another thing we ship with the vegetables is fresh flowers," said Carol Miyamoto. "We always visit the graves -- many of the people who greeted us at the beginning have passed on."

"The work was kind of a side thing," said Mark, who started the work camp 18 years ago as pastor of the Waianae United Methodist Church. "We wanted to go in and learn more about the place and be touched by it."

The volunteers' workload shifted as the National Park Service assumed the administration of the facilities and undertook a continuing renovation of the old buildings. "Originally we did more jobs for patients," said Mark, "things like put up curtains, tune up engines; people needed sewing or mending done."

"It is such a unique place, and we always fear the story will end. We go so we can continue the story," said Mark.

He and other friends of Kalaupapa are aware that the population is a steadily declining one. The state has committed to maintain the settlement for the people who were residents before the forced quarantine of leprosy victims ended in 1969, but other than state and park service workers, there is no influx of new residents.

"Telling the story" was what was happening Sunday, and among the listeners was park service consultant Kaohulani Maguire, who is collecting oral histories about Kalaupapa.

One touching story is the reunion between two old Hanapepe, Kauai, friends. Junichi "Judo" Uno, of Aiea United Methodist Church, lost track of Shoichi Hamai 60-plus years ago. They met again when Uno joined the work party five years ago and found Hamai in Kalaupapa. They still have a lot of storytelling to catch up on.


Mary Adamski covers religion for the Star-Bulletin.
Email her at

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