Hawai’i Reflections

Welcome to our Hawai’i Reflections Page– a special place for our 2018 Eco-Stewards Team to share creative reflections about their experience Oahu.

Reflection #3: Finding Community in a Fishpond

May 16, 2019

Two Eco-Stewards artists came together to capture a memorable moment from our visit to He’eia Fishpond, an ancient aquaculture site maintained by the community. Kristen Young (a Hawai’ian who likes photography) and Kathleen Murphy (a Virginian who likes to sketch) were both moved during the visit when they found themselves knee-deep in the brackish water working beside a group of local middle school students to clear invasive mangrove branches from the pond.

Since she’d left her camera behind but wanted an image to share on her blog, Kristen asked Kathleen if she could make a sketch. And Kathleen did. “Through teamwork with kids we had never met we helped clean just one corner of the pond,” she writes. “I tried to convey the sense of teamwork and community in my quick sketch. Obviously I wasn’t able to drop the sticks and draw, but the teamwork stuck with me. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Reflection #2: “We Are All Eco-Stewards” by Kristen Young

December 13, 2018

What kind of ancestors will we be? I scribbled down this question in my notepad back in May when I had the opportunity to participate in the Eco-Stewards Program, “a grassroots community that shapes young adult leaders through place-based experiences that connect faith and the environment.” It was my first experience with the program and their first time holding a gathering in Hawai‘i (O‘ahu), a place I’ve called home for my entire life. Fourteen of us gathered to explore the connection between faith and the environment while ‘talking story’ with people in the community who are stewarding their part of the earth in their own ways.

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Kalo near Ulupō Heiau in Kailua

During our time together, we visited different places on the island (some places I’d never even known about or been to as a local), different organizations and businesses that act out their values of environmental sustainability and mālama ‘āina, an ever-present idea in the islands and a traditional Hawaiian value meaning to care for the land. (Hawai‘i people, I know you know this, but the explanation was just in case anyone else is reading.)

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Blue Planet Foundation, accelerating Hawai‘i toward 100% clean energy.

We got in a lo‘i and cleaned a few pounds of kalo (taro) to contribute to the many more pounds needed to fill an order. We passed sticks and logs down a human chain we formed with a number of young local students with whom we helped to clear an area surrounding an ancient Hawaiian fishpond. We visited a charter school (SEEQS) where middle school students examine essential questions of sustainability. We listened to people share about their work, we heard from each other, shared with one another, explored and reflected together.

I even got to show some of the group my favorite spots on the island. I saw O‘ahu through different eyes, heard both new and familiar stories through hungry ears, with people I had just met, with both faith and environment at the forefront of it all.

Through the many stories and conversations that were had (and weren’t had), I noticed a common regard for people and community. I was reminded that caring for the earth goes far beyond picking up trash on the beach, limiting meat consumption, avoiding single-use plastics, recycling, and all those eco-friendly initiatives (that are important). Caring for the earth requires us to care for each other. We know that we need to take care of the earth so it can continue to sustain us, but how can people care for the earth if they themselves are not cared for?


Our group of fourteen was made up of people of different faiths, different ages, from different places, with different levels of education, different types of jobs and career paths, different goals and dreams, different experiences and perspectives, different diets (I feel like this is worth mentioning because we ate vegetarian our whole time together because it’s more eco-friendly, but I was glad I wasn’t the only one who still occasionally eats/enjoys meat,) and with slightly different reasons for being there. But one thing that we all shared was a common call by our faith to be a good steward of the earth. Just as we are all different, the ways in which we care for the earth will be different.

What am I doing for the environment? Well, I will admit that I don’t do nearly as much as I should… and could. Sometimes it feels like the best I can do is make sure the church kids don’t litter and have them use washable plates and metal silverware. Carrying around my metal utensils and drinking straw doesn’t do much for the planet, but just because an action is small and seemingly insignificant does not mean it is pointless. If there are things we can do in favor of the environment, no matter how small, we should do them. Huge masses of accumulated garbage in the ocean remind us that small things will add up. Even though small daily actions in favor of the environment will not heal the earth that we’ve so quickly damaged, they have the power to remind us every day of our responsibility to the earth and hopefully will push us in the right direction, taking bigger and bigger steps as individuals and as a society to choose planet over profit, comfort, and temporary enjoyment.

But I know that small things are not enough. We have destroyed the earth, depleted too many resources, polluted our air and oceans far quicker than we can remedy. Change from home is not enough. “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.” So what are we gonna do about it? Whose responsibility is it?

eco stewards blog photos-3Kuleana” | hikaalani.website | ahahui.netBefore participating in the Eco-Stewards Program, I wouldn’t have really considered myself to be an “eco-steward.” I was not doing enough for the environment, at least no more than the next person, to call myself a caretaker of the earth. I only knew that I should be caring for the environment and I did my part to not cause any direct harm. I wondered how I would fit in with the group. What would I be expected to know? What would I be expected to be doing or not doing in my everyday life as someone participating in the “eco-stewards” program? But none of it mattered because regardless of my knowledge (or lack thereof) about ecology and environmental policies or my actions and inactions, I am an eco-steward.

You and I are eco-stewards. It is not a term reserved for tree-huggers or people who believe in human-caused climate change or people with environmental knowledge or solutions or people who are taking actions to better our environment or people that participate in the Eco-Stewards Program. The heads of the companies that are polluting our air and waters are eco-stewards, too… maybe not good ones, but they absolutely have the same responsibility to the earth as the rest of us. We are eco-stewards simply because we live on this Earth—we receive from it, we impact it, and we are unequivocally affected by it.

Sometimes I forget that everything is intertwined and that everything and everyone is dependent on and affected by everyone and everything else in one way or another. I don’t think the world lacks people who care about the earth, but I think society makes it nearly impossible for too many people to care for themselves and their families, making environmental care less urgent in comparison. The roots of our societal and environmental problems are tangled so deep that it’s difficult to find and implement sustainable solutions. But it means that we can (and do) affect the environment, even indirectly, which can be as much an advantage as it is a disadvantage. It means that ‘environmental’ work can and should be done through a variety of ways.

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Kahumana in Waianae | Their mission: to co-create a healthy, inclusive and productive farm-based community with homeless families, people with disabilities and youth.

One way is by caring for people. My faith calls for justice as it calls for love and hurting the environment is an injustice to those who depend on it, which is all of us. I am called to love the environment because I am called to love all people. If we care for each other, for our children and grandchildren, our neighbors, the future of humankind, there is no question that we need to care for the earth so it can continue to shelter and provide. But we should remember that people care for the earth and care can only be given if it is first received. 

In the spirit of Advent, I give thanks for the Eco-Stewards community, for those who speak out for the environment, for those who take small steps and big steps toward a healthier planet, for those who recognize their role as an eco-steward, for those who want our planet to thrive, for our ancestors who cared for the earth before us.

May we be the ancestors and eco-stewards that future generations need so they, too, will be able to say “thank you.”


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A table at SEEQS | “What we stand for is what we stand on…”
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Love the earth with all your heart. (Do you see the heart?)

Kristen Young was born and raised on O‘ahu and is currently living on the island of Lana‘i where she works in youth ministry at the Union Church and part-time for the Hawai‘i Conference United Church of Christ doing communications. She enjoys being active outdoors just as much as watching Netflix in bed, singing loudly especially when home alone, practicing her Spanish, and finding beauty in the seemingly ordinary and extraordinary when she gets the chanceKristen is gifted photographer who took all the photos in this post.

Reflection #1: Experiencing Aloha ‘Aina

Vickie Machado from our Leadership Team shared the following reflection with our host congregation, Christ Church Uniting, during the Sunday worship service at the end of our time together.

I have had the privilege to be involved with the Eco-Stewards Program since 2011. I must say I had no idea that when I first participated in this program, it would lead me here to this beautiful island seven years later.

This year’s trip was a special experience for us as we invited a mix of leaders in their 20’s and 30’s to join us for our program entitled Aloha ‘Aina (Love for the Land). Throughout our week together we listened to local taro farmers, worked alongside fisherman rejuvenating ancient fishponds, and were captivated by Polynesian voyagers validating Hawaiian history. We also spoke with schoolchildren working to engage sustainability issues and gained insight into local chocolatiers utilizing direct trade to ensure growers get fair wages and grow quality product. All of these people “talked story” about how their faith and their pursuit of justice for both people and the land intersects for them in their daily lives.

In a similar vein, we met and listened to the place around us. Both aina (land) and kai (sea) washed over us. As we spent the morning at taro farm and the afternoons at local beaches, we were baptized in both the water and earth—literally wrapping ourselves in the ocean’s waves and wading through chest deep mud as we helped clean taro in the lo’i (irrigated terrace for taro). The landscape also welcomed us and heard our names as we hiked the local Pillbox Trail to see the sunrise and visited the Ulupou Heiau to further understand the history and ancestors of this land.

Of the entire trip, perhaps what strikes me most about Hawai’i is the collective memory that is present. Reflecting upon Friday night’s Vespers on the Lanai and our week here, made me realize that Hawai’i holds strongly to this memory and it is these memories that offer an ever present force each day. The stories we heard were by no means individual tales. Each of the people and places we encountered recognized those around them in addition to the ancestors who came before them as integral parts to their narratives. It seems like here more so than other places, there is a strong sense of the divine entangled in the present, vocally expressing her grace through the intersection of both kai and aina.

It was throughout the week that I realized that this feeling I felt was indeed ‘ohana— the community and family that holds strong ties to this place. The relationships of both people and place reinforce our need to care for the world around us. It reminds us that we are indeed one—we are our brothers and sisters keepers. And that what happens on the taro farm in the uplands affects the fishponds near the sea— all are connected in this ahupua’a (watershed). Perhaps above all, we are reminded that when we are given abundance, it is ours to share.

For me, visiting this new land and gaining insight into the worldviews of those we visited like Dean’s Taro farm, SEEQs, Blue Plant Foundation, Manoa, and Paepae O He’eia fishpond, reminded me of my own family and it made me realize that this is precisely what Eco-Stewards is for me—it is ‘ohana. A wondrous time when I have the opportunity to catch up with old friends, experience the present state of local communities and pave a path for those young adults and future leaders that will come next.

On behalf of the Eco-Stewards Leadership team and our 2018 Eco-Stewards participants, I would like to truly thank you all for sharing this rich culture with us. We appreciate CCU’s hospitality, kindness, grace and prayers throughout this process, from the very early stages, through today and beyond. Thank you for exposing us to a strong example of how to commune with aina and more importantly how to establish and sustain the ohana with both the natural environment and those people around us.