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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 5, 2008

Micronesian churches get aid

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

A pastor at a Micronesian church in Hawai'i serves many masters, as well as the Lord.

Christian ministers who belong to Kosraean, Pohnpeian, Chuukese and Marshallese churches said at yesterday's Micronesian Voices in Hawai'i conference that the list is long:

"When you're a pastor, you're a father, a brother, a counselor ..." started the Rev. Robert Lorin.

Others would jump in:

"Referral agent, almanac," added the Rev. Radigan David, who heads up the Pohnpeian Fellowship/Ministry at Central Union Church.

"Taxi driver, tour guide," put in the Rev. Akendo Onamwar of the First Chuukese Congregational Church of Hawaii.

Right after family and friends, churches are often the first larger connection for the newly arrived, so ministers need to know what services are available to their community. So plenty of business cards were passed and networking was under way at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa's Imin Center.

In turn, service providers among the 275 participants at the two-day conference, sponsored by UH's Center for Pacific Islands Studies, were eager to tap into that conduit.

In a session to discuss ways to improve communication, the question arose about the best way to get information out to Micronesians.

"Go to the churches," one Micronesian woman answered. Also discussed: creating a centralized information source or enhancing ones already in place, using a radio station (KNDI) that offers broadcasts in Micronesian languages and creating a directory of service providers.

When four ministers gathered to serve on a panel to address the church's role, a representative from a health program wanted to know if he could send a representative to talk to the congregations.

Central Union Church's David replied that his church, which functions not only as a spiritual gathering place but a community center, could hold a time for announcements in the middle of the service. If a service provider wanted to discuss women's issues, they would separate men out, so they could talk freely.

Is enough being done by denominations to help out their newly arrived Micronesian brethren?

Some host churches reach out openly to the Micronesians, several ministers at the conference said. The Catholic diocese, the United Church of Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all large denominations for Pacific Islanders back home actively attempt to find ways to bring them into the fold. The Catholic church invites priests to visit or stop on their way elsewhere, to say Mass in their native tongues, and one priest here is even learning a bit of Chuukese. The United Church of Christ serves as an umbrella for several of their affiliated groups, too.

But there are also stories of disappointments. Steven Sigrah of the Kosrae-Honolulu Congregational Church told how his church has yet to find a permanent home, moving like nomads to four different sites and currently seeking another in the last decade.

The conference focused on not only fostering communications and strengthening community in the faith-based world and elsewhere, but also coming up with policy recommendations on the health and education fronts.

"Communication, collaboration and commitment of resources are three themes to emerge from the gathering," said David Hanlon, director for the Center for Pacific Islands Studies, adding that needs for youth (education and job training) and keeping Micronesians informed about their rights and services available to them was another key topic.