Clair Delmar Stiles sailed to the Hawaiian Islands in 1912 with a commission to serve as an officer in the Salvation Army. After ministering for several years in the newly minted U.S. territory, Stiles began suffering from gall stones. Desperate for relief, he attended a tent meeting hosted by Pentecostal evangelists Charles and Ada Lochbaum, who were converts from the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles.
God miraculously healed Stiles during that tent meeting. This supernatural experience created a new hunger in the Salvation Army officer’s life. He invited two other Pentecostal evangelists to stay with him and teach him more about water baptism in the name of Jesus, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost.
Sometime afterward, Stiles attended the church the Lochbaums had founded in Honolulu. He received the Holy Ghost and was baptized in Jesus’ name during his visit. Stiles’ life and ministry were on a new path. He eventually became pastor of an Apostolic church in Hilo, Hawaii, and a charter member of the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) in the islands.
Nearly a century later, the UPCI’s presence in Hawaii is expanding. To date, 17 autonomous UPCI churches have been established, with more than 1,500 constituents.
Pastor Richard McGriffin, superintendent of the Hawaii District, says the arrival of the Gospel on the islands is the literal fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in Acts 1:8.
“Hawaii is further from a continental land mass than any other island chain in the world, which, by definition, makes it the uttermost parts of the earth,” Pastor McGriffin notes.
Due to its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii has become, in Pastor McGriffin’s words, “the melting pot of Asia.”
“Every nationality and culture that you find in the Pacific Rim is found here,” he explains, adding that the believers in Hawaii represent a cross-section of that cultural mix.
This presents the Hawaiian District with a tremendous opportunity, Pastor McGriffin says.
“We feel very strongly that Hawaii is an epicenter of future church expansion in the entire Pacific Rim,” he said.
The challenge of geography
Most North Americans living on the mainland view Hawaii as a vacation paradise. But the beauty of the remote island chain comes with a very high price tag. The median home value in Hawaii is in the neighborhood of $700,000, and the median rent is $2,300 per month.
Hawaii is one of the most expensive places to live in the entire U.S., notes Pastor McGriffin. He praises his fellow Hawaiian pastors, who he says have “dug in and paid the price.”
“Ninety percent of our pastors are bi-vocational, and pouring everything they’ve got back into the work,” he explains. “The work is really progressing as a result of that.”
Pastor McGriffin says the astronomical property values also inhibit churches from purchasing property.
“It takes a million dollars an acre if you even have a chance to build a church building here,” he explained. As a result, Pastor McGriffin says, “Most of us are in rented facilities that we don’t have full access to.”
New Life Pentecostal Church in Honolulu, the congregation Pastor McGriffin leads, shares a facility with five other churches. New Life pays $2,000 in monthly rent for the right to use the building on Sunday and Tuesday evenings, as well as two Saturday evenings per month.
“Thankfully, on Sunday we’re the last (church) that meets, so we don’t have any time constraint,” Pastor McGriffin said. “We absolutely squeeze every bit out of it we can.”
The other challenge resulting from Hawaii’s remote location is the inevitable feeling of isolation.
“There is no bridge between here and San Diego,” Pastor McGriffin says with a laugh. “The average stay for someone who just uproots and says, ‘I’m going to go live in Hawaii and be a part of the church in Hawaii,’ is three and a half years,” he adds. “The local populace will not always ask it verbally, but there is an implied question in all of them when someone comes from the mainland U.S. to be involved in ministry here, and that is, ‘How long are you going to be here?’”
Help from the mainland
Clair Delmar Stiles never left Hawaii. He died on July 21, 1964 in Mountain View, on the island of Oahu. His descendants continued his legacy of Pentecostal ministry. Stiles’ granddaughter, Sis. Evalani Nordan, and her husband, Pastor Bobby Nordan, served as pastors of the church in Lahaina, Maui, during the 1990s.
The UPCI also sent other missionary families to continue Stile’s work, including Bro. and Sis. Oscar Vouga, Bro. and Sis. J. T. Clark, Bro. and Sis. Lewis Manuwal, Bro. and Sis. R. E. Holly, Bro. and Sis. W. E. Scott, Bro. and Sis. Rex Robertson, and Bro. and Sis. John Wolfram. Individual pastors also responded to God’s call and moved from the mainland U.S. to establish congregations in Hawaii.
Incoming missionaries sometimes partnered with Pentecostal believers who already were preaching in Hawaii. For example, a former nun named Janet Elly and a former Buddhist, Sakie Oka, established a Pentecostal church in Maui during the 1940s. When Bro. and Sis. J.T. Clark arrived from the mainland in 1952, they were able to help that work move forward.
The Manuwals, the first UPCI missionaries to Honolulu, arrived in the summer of 1954. They immediately inherited a small congregation led by Helen Bradley, an Apostolic lady from Indianapolis, Indiana. With support from the UPCI’s Foreign Missions Department, that church eventually purchased property. Today, Calvary Pentecostal Church in Honolulu is one of only two Hawaiian UPCI churches that own property.
Hawaiian believers also have been strengthened by short-term visits from mainland ministers. Pastor McGriffin notes that Pastor Rex Robertson began inviting Evangelist Lee Stoneking to preach single adult conferences on the island in the early 1990s.
“That relationship expanded to an annual event that became the marquee event of the year” for Hawaiian Pentecostals, Pastor McGriffin said. “Brother Stoneking’s … miracle vision has really impacted so many here.”
In the mid-1990s, UPCI leaders decided Hawaii should become an autonomous district. The new district was officially formed in February 1996, with Pastor Rex Robertson serving as superintendent, and Pastor McGriffin as secretary/treasurer.
“From that day, we’ve grown,” Pastor McGriffin said of the decision to form the Hawaiian District. “In less than 20 years, we’ve gone from seven churches to 17; from the minimum number of ministers required to start a district to … 32 ministers.”
From Tennessee to Hawaii
Pastor Rex Robertson returned to the mainland in the fall of 2002. Pastor McGriffin stepped into the role of both district superintendent and pastor of New Life UPC. Interestingly, God was preparing him for both assignments long before he assumed either.
Pastor McGriffin and his wife, Jo Ann, are natives of Indiana. In the 1980s, the couple served as missionaries to Europe. In 1988, they returned to the U.S. to assume the leadership of a church in Clarksville, Tennessee.
During that time, a University of Hawaii student named Michael Loscalzo came to Clarksville to visit his sister and brother-in-law, who were stationed at a military base in the area. Loscalzo, who is of Hawaiian and Italian descent, visited a service at the McGriffin’s church. That same day, Loscalzo was baptized in Jesus’ name and filled with the Holy Ghost.
Bro. Loscalzo then returned to the University of Hawaii to continue his studies. He also began teaching Bible studies in his dorm. Several students were filled with the Holy Ghost as a result of his efforts.
A few years later, the McGriffins felt God calling them to Hawaii. When they arrived, they saw first-hand how God was using Bro. Loscalzo.
“The church that I eventually pastored (in Hawaii) was augmented by those young people (Bro. Loscalzo’s converts) who became soul-winners in their own right,” Pastor McGriffin said. “Eventually, Michael was a part of that church.”
Today, Bro. Loscalzo is a licensed minister with the UPCI, and he serves the Hawaii District as both a presbyter and North American Missions Director.
To this day, Pastor McGriffin still is awed by this miraculous turn of events.
“Hawaii was the uttermost parts of the earth, in our estimation,” Pastor McGriffin says of his days in Clarksville. “We never considered ever coming here.”
Reaching the Pacific Rim
A military connection may have taken Bro. Loscalzo from Hawaii to Clarksville, but the military also brings many mainland Americans to Hawaii. Members of all five branches of the U.S. military are stationed on the islands.
“The military influence has been a strong factor in helping to solidify the church here,” Pastor McGrifffin says, adding that the downside is that most service members are only stationed on the islands for a few years.
Interestingly, many native Hawaiians also eventually leave the islands, often moving to the mainland U.S., where the cost of living is more affordable. A few years ago, McGriffin said, he purged the contact information of more than 200 former Hawaiian residents from his cell phone. Of that number, approximately 40 percent were born and/or raised in Hawaii.
As a result, “Hawaiians only make up a small portion of our churches,” McGriffin says.
God has augmented the church with believers from other cultures, including Filipinos, Samoans, and Japanese. At present, Pastor McGriffin estimates that about half of Hawaiian pastors are from North America, while the other half are from various other cultures.
This fits perfectly with the Hawaiian District’s vision of reaching the Pacific. To forward this effort, the district has started a bi-annual youth convention open to all churches in the Pacific Rim. Pastor McGriffin also travels to the Philippines several times each year to minister.
“Our vision is to one day have congregations … that have services specifically designed for those cultural demographics, with preaching in Samoan, preaching in Korean, preaching in Vietnamese, in the Filipino dialects, etc.,” Pastor McGriffin said.
The Hawaii District also continues to welcome North American ministers who wish to serve God in the “uttermost part of the earth.” Pastor McGriffin warns that there are sacrifices to be made, however. For example, the McGriffin’s two children and seven grandchildren all live on the eastern seaboard of the United States, so the family is only able to connect in-person about once per year. (“Thank God for FaceTime!” Pastor McGriffin said.)
“We welcome folks inquiring and discussing our field of labor as a place that they would seek God about,” he said.