Henry Opukahaia lived only 26 years, but in that brief span of time, his life was the vessel used of God to bring Christianity to countless people in Hawaii. He was orphaned at a young age when his parents were killed in a trabal contest "to see which should be the greatest." Seeking adventure, he and a friend named Hopu boarded the whaler of Captain
Brintnel, bound for New York in 1808. Befriended by Brintnel, they followed him home to New Haven, Connecticut.
The education, in our country, of heathen youths, in such a manner, as with subsequent professional instruction, will qualify them to become useful missionaries, physicians, surgeons, schoolmasters or interpreters and to communicate to the heathen nations such knowledge in agriculture and the arts, as may prove the means of promoting Christianity and civilization.Opukahaia, who was nurtured at the school, was filled with thanksgiving to Almighty God and His people. He was moved to compassion, and burdened for his Hawaiian people, who remained in the gross darkness of a heathen and superstitious society. In his new and unpolished English, he verbalized the deep sentiment of his heart in his inimitable, guileless manner:
God will carry through his work for us. I do not know what will God do for my poor soul. I shall go before god and also before Christ. I hope the Lord will send the Gospel to the heathen land, where the words of the Savior never yet had been. Poor people! Worship the wood and stone, and shark and almost everything their god. The Bible is not there, and heaven and hell, they do not know about it...O what a wonderful thing is that the hand of the Divine Providence has brought me from the heathenish darkness here the light of Divine truth never had been. And here I have found the name of the Lord Jesus in the Holy Scriptures, and have read that His blood was shed for many. O what a happy time I have now, while my poor friends and relations at home, are perishing with hunger and thirsty, wanting of the Divine mercy and water out of the wells of salvation. My poor countrymen who are yet living in the region and shadow of death, without knowledge of the true God, and ignorant of the future world, have no Bible to read, no Sabbath. I often feel for them in the night season, concerning the loss of their souls. May the Lord Jesus dwell in my heart, and prepare me to go and spend the remaining part of my life with them. But not my will, O Lord, but thy will be done.That God heard the intercession of his heartfelt cries into the night became evidenet, though not as one might expect. In 1819 the Lord saw fit to take Henry home: he died of typhoid fever in Connecticut, having never seen the fulfillment of his desires to witness his people Christianized.
But that very year, a missionary team, composed of both Americans and Hawaiians, was to be dispatched to Hawaii to begin the work Opukahaia had longed to do. On the occasion of the ordination of the two missionaries, Reverend Hiram Bingham and Reverend Asa Thurston, to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), the sermon preached was based on the text Joshua 13:1: "And there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed."
Following is an excerpt from that sermon which shows the zeal Henry Opukahaia had imparted to the Christians in Connecticut:
...But I cannot do less than advert to some of the prominent indications, that the time, even the set time to favor the Sandwich Islands is come. Whence originated the design of sending them the Gospel? Why are we assembled here today? "It is the Lord's doing, and marvelous in our eyes." To him it belongs to bring good out of evil and light out of darkness...But were is your elder brother? Ah! Opukahaia cannot go with you to Owhyhee. He will not, however, forget you. Perhaps, if you should prove steadfast in the faith, he may look down and smile upon you from heaven. Possibly, he may even be permitted to visit you, though unseen; to strengthen you in the hour of temptation, and to whisper consolation to your souls in seasons of despondence. From a land of Bibles and Sabbaths and churches, where you have been nurtured and instructed in Christian charity; where you have enjoyed the prayers and counsels of the wise and good; and where some of you hope that you have been made savingly acquainted with the Lord Jesus Christ, you are going back to that land of idols and darkness, from whence you came...Kamehameha I's death brought great changes to the island. Once Hawaii's powerful
ruler, he enforced tabus and the worship of heathen gods. Head of the Maui nobility, Kaahumanu exercised sovereignty over many of the chiefs of the islands. Kamehameha had instructed his son, Liholiho, to reinforce the idolatry and tabus of Hawaii. However, upon his father's death, Liholiho chose to abolish all tabus and religious laws, in order to promote life free from restraints. The worship of idols was forbidden, but the personal beliefs of the Hawaiians and their superstitious fear of the volcano, the spirits of the dead, the bones of their monarchy, and their kini of gods, that is, 40,000 deities to whom they were fruitlessly appealing, were expected to be slowly extinguished. Far removed from Liholiho's mind was any conception of God's perfect plan for Hawaii, but his actions were the answers to Opukahaia's fervent prayers for the salvation of his people! Liholiho was but preparing the way for Christianity to be introduced, embraced and readily accepted by the islanders, whose eyes were subsequently opened to the truth of the gospel message...
The agility and talent displayed by the Hawaiians, their ability to understand and rapidly master lessons in Christian education were further proofs of God's providential answer to the prayers of Henry Opukahaia and his Hawaiian fellow-believers.
Sabbath school instruction grew by leaps and bounds. One of the lessons consisted of reading and interpreting the moving Memoirs of Henry Opukahaia, which caused many of the students to weep with conviction and repentance.
An interesting rare book in the Library of Congress Collection, written by a citizen of Hawaii, C.V. Sturdevant, and published in 1898, provides insight into the true identity and worth of the 1820 missionaries to Hawaii. Under the sub-title Missionaries, he writes:
...As to the early missionaries, it is admitted that they were honest, God-
"The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness."