In 1808 a sixteen-year-old lad, dives into the surf of Hawaii’s Keal’e’ke’kua Bay. With uncommon determination he swims until he reaches the Triumph, a clipper ship anchored several hundred yards offshore, a trade ship carrying goods from as far away as China to New York.
He climbs on board and pleads with the ship’s captain to allow him sail away from his native land, away from the memory of tribal conflicts and bloodshed, which claimed the lives of his father, his mother, his aunt; and his baby brother, a mere infant of two or three months who was stabbed by a spear intended for the tormented teenager.
But the young man sought also, to be free of his uncle, a kahuna, a Hawaiian shaman or priest who had been grooming the youth to follow in his steps. But the young teenager had enough of the dark and superstitious religion that required the blood of any commoner should their shadow so much as touch the person or property of a tribal chief, or the blood of a young women who violated tribal kapu laws that strictly forbade women from eating pork. Indeed, for Henry Opukahaia, it was escape or die, even if death was by his own hand. And it wouldn’t be the first time the adolescent might try to take his own life. Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that.
The ship’s captain, Caleb Brintnall, was a committed Christian. He welcomed the young refugee aboard and growing fond of him, and eventually brought him to his own home in New Haven, Connecticut. Over the next ten years the young man not only found Christ, but began preparing himself to return to his homeland as a missionary, to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Hawaii. In 1818, he was to have graduated from the first class of the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut, but he died in February of that year of typhoid fever at just 26 years of age, just months before graduating and sailing for Hawaii as Hawaii’s first Christian missionary.
One might hear a story like that of the young Henry Opukahaia and say, “How tragic! What value is there in such a life wasted away like that?” “Perhaps” one might wonder, “would the money and effort invested in such a life have been better invested somewhere else?” I thought of young Henry as I read Jesus’ parable about a woman and a lost coin.
8 “Or what woman, having ten silver [a]coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ 10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:8 – 10 NKJV 1982
Many Bible teachers believe that the ten coins represented a peasant virgin’s dowry. When married, the coins would be gathered into a headband, which served the same purpose as a wedding band today, indicating that a woman is married. That being the case, the loss of even one coin is much more important than the actual purchasing power of the coin, because without all ten coins, this peasant woman would be considered unfaithful and careless, unqualified for marriage and unworthy of the security of having a husband.
The point Jesus is making about the insignificant drachma of the woman is that, just as she finds in the coin a significantly greater value than the Pharisee who dribbled away drachmas like pocket change at the local coffee shop, so our Lord Jesus Christ finds great value in the lives of the sinful and lowly, the lost ones for whom He ultimately gave His life on the cross.
So, what is the value of a sinner reclaimed by God’s grace? Henry Opukahaia died before ever making it to Hawaii as a missionary. But in the space of just a few years in Cornwall, he put the Hawaiian language into writing for the first time. He completed a grammar of the Hawaiian language, translated the book of Genesis from Hebrew into the Hawaiian language, and left a diary behind when he died. Edwin Dwight, Henry’s mentor and friend, and the first headmaster of the mission school, put that diary into print. Entitled the Memoirs of Henry Obookiah, the diary became a best seller in its day and raised enough money to pay for the first ship bearing missionaries to Hawaii. Though Henry didn’t live to see it, his work enabled Hawaiians to learn to read and write, to be evangelized with Scriptures in their own tongue, and his story became the catalyst for mission work in the South Pacific. In the words of Lyman Beecher who preached his funeral message:
“If the churches of New England, knowing the purpose of God concerning Obookiah, had chartered a ship, and sent it to Owhyhee on purpose to bring him to Christ, and fit him for Heaven, it would have been a cheap purchase of blessedness to man, and glory to God.”
Every sinner is a precious coin to God. There are still precious coins in the world that need to be found. The lost coins are valuable to Him. They need to be found. It will take the light of God’s Word and the love of Christ to find them. But God will throw a party in heaven for each and every coin that is found. Will you join God in His mission to find the lost through you?
Beecher, Lyman, (1819). A Sermon Delivered at the Funeral of Henry Obookiah, a Native of Owhyhee. Edson Hart Publisher.
Dwight, Edwin, (1968). Memoirs of Henry Obookiah. 150th Anniversary Reprint Published by the Women’s Board of Missions for the Pacific Islands.