After a long journey over the Pacific Ocean, the airplane taxis for a moment before finally coming to a full stop. To a small crowd gathered at Honolulu, those final waiting moments seem like an eternity. One passenger after another exits, greeting loved ones and putting the long journey behind them. The moment finally is punctuated by one familiar face emerging: a slim, tall man in a suit with his signature, kind smile. The palm trees swayed, the waves roared, the sun bathed everything in gold. This snapshot etched in history forever, is one that plays over and over for those who were blessed to witness the expansion of the Iglesia Ni Cristo westward on July 27, 1968, led by then Executive Minister, Brother Erano G. Manalo.
“He said, ‘Are these the members of the Church Of Christ? Tell them and all the other brothers and sisters we are going to have a worship service later,’” recalls Ninoy Ulep, a pioneering member of the local congregation of Honolulu, who was one of those who greeted Brother Eraño G. Manalo upon his arrival. “This would be the first worship service of the Iglesia Ni Cristo outside of the Philippines.” Oahu is also known in Hawaii as the gathering place, and as the first gathering place of the Church Of Christ outside of the Philippines this fulfills the prophecy mentioned in Isaiah 43:5.
The resourceful few members out west at the time got creative in searching for other members of the Church Of Christ, humming hymns in public places, carefully watching food selections at parties, and launching grassroots efforts of simply posting inquiries in public bulletins.
“We knocked on the door and the brother timidly opened the door and asked, ‘Who are you?’ My Mom said, ‘We are Iglesia!’ At that moment, the brother started to cry and shouted to his wife, ‘Mga Kapatid!’ (members of the Church!),” Clint Labson tells the story, remembering it from a child’s perspective. His parents Eddie and Marina Labson migrated to California in the ‘60s and devoted their lives to caring for their brothers and sisters in the Church Of Christ.
In August 1968, a few days after the Church’s official expansion to Hawaii, Brother Eraño G. Manalo continued his journey to visit the group of members in the mainland, that through God’s guidance and the efforts of the members like Marina, continued to find each other and grow.
50 years later, in the same town of Ewa Beach, Hawaii, less than five miles away from where the first worship service was held in 1968, the steeples of a pristine chapel are outstretched to heaven, as inside its 800 plus capacity sanctuary are members of the Church Of Christ witnessing not only the inauguration of the new Ewa Beach house of worship, but the ordination of 50 new ministers. Where once was a moment shared by few, now a celebration reverberating across continents and oceans, witnessed simultaneously.
“So blessed to be able to witness such a momentous occasion. Though I may not be there in person, I’m so happy and excited for the local congregation of Ewa Beach. [They] have been praying for a house of worship for so long and it was all part of God’s plan and God’s timing that He blessed the same local that Brother Erano fulfIlled God’s prophecy in, exactly 50 years later. Praises be to God,” commented Brother Dan Martinez, a ministerial worker originally from Hawaii but currently assigned in the Philippines. He was able to witness the occasion via the LIVE stream of the worship service at Ewa Beach.
Meanwhile, present at the newly dedicated house of worship, along with the pioneers and descendants of Honolulu were the friends and family members of the 50 new ministers that were ordained by the current Executive Minister, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo. Coming from as near as next door and as far as Africa.
“Being a minister myself, I can attest first hand as to how sacred and humbling receiving the blessing of ordination is. To now witness my son become a minister during a milestone worship service in the Church’s history, makes my heart so full. Glory be unto God for this blessing.” Brother Elmer Miranda commented, as he studied his son Brother Felix Miranda’s new pin that matches his own, received after ordination. Father and son came from opposite ends of the world for the occasion in Oahu; Brother Elmer from British Columbia, Canada and Brother Felix, all the way from his assignment in Nansana, Uganda.
Also in attendance were brethren like Myrtle Alegado from Surrey, British Columbia, who 20 years earlier was also present for the 30th anniversary celebrations that kicked off at Blaisdell Center in Honolulu and extended across the Pacific to the San Jose Arena. This year she retraces her steps, and after the celebrations in Hawaii will proceed to Northern California to participate in more events.
“I’m excited for [our daughter] Noelani to see exactly where we were 20 years before, retracing the journey that Brother Erano G. Manalo took when God used him as an instrument in the fulfillment of the prophecy concerning the expansion of the Church Of Christ in the Far West in 1968.” She said of the experience.
“We flew from Tempe, Arizona to be here in Hawai’i to celebrate the 50th in the Far West! We’ve seen brethren we knew from Northern Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, NESB, SEC… every District here in the United States,” said Vernee Dizon, from Tempe Arizona.
Although many made the journey to kickoff the celebration in Hawaii, like aircraft lights that pierce through the sky, the celebrations also dubbed as #INC50West on social media, twinkled across the globe. In venues worldwide including locations in Alaska, Southeast Asia, Southern Europe, and Africa, they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Church Of Christ and the 104th anniversary of the Church’s establishment, by gathering in arenas to witness the Ewa Beach worship service through live weblink, followed by the musical, One Flock and One Shepherd.
“The amount of brethren taking part in this activity, reflecting on how this activity is being conducted in every district, to see the participation… we’ve been practicing and built a stronger brotherhood, it’s overwhelming. Overwhelming with joy. It’s these things that are really instrumental in inspiring all the brothers and sisters, and even me as an organizer to all the more be more dedicated in the works for the Church,” Zac Sese from Ontario, Canada reflects on his experience as a volunteer choreographer and organizer for the event at the CAA Center.
Brother Pablo Barrientos, a minister of the gospel who is currently assigned in Canterbury, NSW, Australia, was originally from Northern California, one of the first places the Church Of Christ reached in the West.
“Witnessing the pioneering years in the USA as a child, it’s amazing to see it now as an adult. To see how much the Church Of Christ has progressed and grown, God is truly great and His promises have been fulfilled and I know they will continue to be fulfilled.”
In the United Kingdom, members of the Church gathered at Newport Centre. Among them was Judicel Eslao from London.
“The significance of the 50th in the west celebration is that we’re celebrating God’s blessings in the west…it’s all the brethren around the world which makes everyone united. We’re just so excited to celebrate because the Church Administration blessed us with this activity,”
Shifting southeast and over the Atlantic, the members of the Church Of Christ in Africa who were also present during the simulcast of the worship service, can attest to the value of God’s perfect time.
“It’s humbling, so awesome, to be one of the members of the Church Of Christ, it is a great blessing to us,” Mmkatla Monatisa reflects. She was introduced to the Church in the 90s at QwaQwa and was instrumental to introducing a number of her friends and family to the Iglesia Ni Cristo.
“I think we wouldn’t be here today, [that’s] the most real reason why 50 years in the West is important,” concludes her sister Jabi Monatisa. The number of congregations and group worship services have increased exponentially since Brother Eduardo’s first pastoral visit in Africa in 2014.
Though the sun rises and sets on the day, the celebration continues. Back in Northern California, athletes and spectators from all over North America have begun their journey to participate in the first Continental Unity Games to be held all over the Bay Area Peninsula, to be followed by the special worship service and musical performance of Promises Fulfilled at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.
Join us as the stories unfold on this long awaited celebration. Follow us on social media and make sure to add your story to the celebration by sharing it on social media using #inc50west or submitting here: http://iglesianicristo.net/50west/submit-story/