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Henry Obookiah

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Date November 9, 2012

I am the Lord—I will not give My praise to graven images—Sing to the Lord a new song—you islands, and all those who dwell on them. Isaiah 42:8-10

After King Kamehameha consolidated his power in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in the early 1800’s, he ruled with unbridled power. The Kapu religious system demanded human sacrifice if any of the cultural and religious taboos were violated. In other words, men who ate with women could be killed. If a woman ate pork, she could be executed. If the shadow of a mere commoner fell on royalty then the penalty was death. The people lived in abject fear and superstition, worshipping thousands of gods which, of course, did not exist; which, nonetheless, ruthlessly dominated the people. In one of the battles for power, twelve year old Henry Obookiah watched helplessly as his parents were murdered before his very eyes. Carrying his infant brother on his back, in an effort to flee for their lives, a spear thrown by a tribesman struck his brother and killed him. Henry was caught and made to live with the man who murdered his parents. Knowing that he would soon be another victim of sacrifice, Henry, a few days later, decided he would swim to the Triumph, a ship in the Kealakekua Bay. Captain Caleb Brintnall, of New Haven, CT, took in twelve year old Henry, and brought him to New Haven. Brintnall taught him the Bible and Henry soon turned from his idols and animistic folly to the true and living God, and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. He lived for a short time in the home of Timothy Dwight (the grandson of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards), the President of Yale, a powerful instrument of revival in the early 1800’s. He also became good friends with Samuel Mills, who earlier at Williams College, instituted the Haystack Prayer movement which sent hundreds of young men and women to make disciples of unbelieving nations. Soon a school was established in Cornwall, CT to train ‘heathen’ youths to take the gospel of Christ to their peoples. Henry had a great vision and burden to take the gospel of Christ back to his people in Hawaii; and he recruited young men and women to go with him and orchestrated mighty movements of prayer for the salvation of the nations. But in one of God’s ‘severe mercies’ Henry died in 1818 from typhoid fever at the age of twenty-six. Nonetheless, his zeal, made evident in his journal which was published and became a missionary classic, inspired many young people to sell everything and sail to Hawaii with the gospel of grace.

On March 20, 1820 the first missionaries landed in Hawaii and Thomas Hopu and John Honolii, two Hawaiians who had originally left Hawaii with Henry Obookiah several years before and had too been converted in Connecticut, went to gain permission from the mighty Kamehameha to evangelize the people. They knew that if Kamehameha refused to give them permission, then their mission was over before it began. Several hours later they returned, telling the others that Kamehameha had died several months before, that Liholiho, his son was king, that all the taboos, idolatrous images, and temples had been destroyed. The missionaries were given free access to preach the gospel. The people responded mightily and quickly to the gospel message. Even Hewahewa, the Big Kahuna (priest), was the first to set fire to a temple. He knew these gods were not gods at all and he always believed in one God and that someone, some day, would bring that message to his people. By the 1840’s a Great Awakening was in full sway in Hawaii with several hundred thousand conversions. Even to this day, the motto of Hawaii is ‘The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness.’ This was given by Kamehameha III who remembered the words of his godly mother at her death.

Now, what can we learn from this mighty movement of God? Consider first the remarkable providence of God at work in the minute details of life. Henry Okoobiah, a young Hawaiian boy, a pagan, seeing the dreadful murder of his parents and brother, and narrowly escaping the same, was welcomed by a Christian sea captain into his ship, taken to America, instructed in the Christian faith, and then wondrously transported from death to life, having his eyes opened so that he may turn from darkness to light, from the dominion of Satan to God, so that he may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Christ (Acts 26:18). Be sure of this, my friend – God the Father has chosen a people to be his to the praise of the glory of his grace; the Son has redeemed his elect by his precious blood, to the praise of God’s grace; and the Holy Spirit has sealed those the Father has chosen and the Son has redeemed to the praise of the glory of God’s grace (Eph. 1:3-14). God works through everything, ordaining every aspect of his people’s lives, weaving them all together into a beautiful salvation tapestry. He works everything for good to those who love him, to those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28-30).

Second, consider the means by which God brought such a mighty awakening amongst these heathen peoples. Henry, a young man from Hawaii meets Samuel Mills, a man some ten years older than him from New England, a leader, a mover and shaker in his own right, who established a mighty base of prayer throughout New England colleges to take the gospel to the world. And consider the preaching of Timothy Dwight, President of Yale, who utterly transformed the sceptical, unbelieving, and licentious campus at Yale by dismantling Deism. By the early 1820’s hundreds of young men, converted at Yale, were on their way around the world as pastors and missionaries. Indeed, God is the author of salvation but he always uses people. Without his instruments, nothing would be done; but if God had not raised up Obookiah, Samuel Mills, or Timothy Dwight, then he would have used other people. He will accomplish all his holy will, but he does it through his anointed instruments.

And third, consider the grand design of God from eternity past. I refer now to the eternal decrees. Some (infralapsarians) suggest God’s grand design goes like this – creation, fall into sin, election, redemption promised, redemption applied. That is, God created the world, then the fall into sin came. From there God decided a plan of salvation through his electing grace, bringing it about through the covenant of grace, the history of salvation, culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus, eventually applying that glorious salvation to those whom God had chosen. This is all in the mind of God prior to the creation of anything. The problem with this view, it seems to me, is that it does not adequately address the problem of evil and suffering in the world. It makes God appear arbitrary, less than sovereign, as though the fall into sin caught him by surprise and he had to scramble for a plan to bail out mankind. Many atheists and agnostics reject God because of suffering and injustice, saying, ‘If God exists and he is good, then why does he allow suffering? If he is all powerful as you Christians suggest, then surely he could stop the suffering.’

I prefer, therefore, another explanation of God’s decrees (supralapsarianism). It goes like this – election, creation, fall into sin, redemption promised, redemption applied. This shows that the primary focus in God’s decrees was the salvation of his people, all to the praise and glory of his grace (Isa. 42:1-10, Eph. 1:3-14, Isa. 53, Rom. 9:22-26). In other words, everything, every aspect of his eternal decree, even the fall into sin, is for the purpose of the full salvation of his elect, his blood-bought, Spirit-regenerated people. If this is true, then can you not see that all the suffering through which Obookiah went, even the death of his parents and brother, ultimately was for his salvation and eventually the salvation of the Hawaiian people. What a mighty God we serve! The same, of course, is true for you. All the suffering, hardship, and trials ultimately work for your good. They drove you to Christ and they work to promote your own growth in grace.


Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.

If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at

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