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How an Old Hawaiian Church Plaque Changed the Way I Think About the Atonement

The following is an excerpt from the book The Way of Aloha: Lanai by Cameron C. Taylor. Manu is a Hawaiian Kahuna teaching two missionaries, Elder Taylor and Elder Balane, who are serving on the Hawaiian island of Lanai.

“Today, we’re headed to the town of Keōmoku,” Manu began. “It was a small fishing village of one to two hundred people until 1899 when the Maunalei Sugar Company was started and hundreds of workers came to work in the sugarcane fields. The company built a large community with houses, stores, an inn, a sugar mill, a pier, a railroad, and a hospital. The sugar company appeared to be thriving, and the village grew to be the population center of the island, with around two thousand people. However, the life of the sugar company was short lived. In 1900, many of the plantation workers died from exposure to a plague, and the freshwater sources used to irrigate the fields turned salty. These events forced the sugar company to close in 1901. With its closing, the population dropped dramatically and continued to decline through the 1950s as residents moved to Lāna‘i City.”

Manu pulled his truck to the side of the road. There didn’t appear to be anything around for miles. I looked around. “Where is Keōmoku?”

“This is it,” answered Manu. “Little evidence of the sugar industry and village remains.”

We got out of the truck and walked down a small trail surrounded by trees. I looked ahead and saw a beautiful wooden church nestled beneath a group of coconut trees. As my eyes connected with the church, I was warmed by the Holy Spirit.

“Welcome to Ka Lanakila o Ka Malamalama,” Manu said, his hand sweeping through the air toward the building ahead of us. “This church was built in 1903, and church services were held here until 1951. This is the last wooden structure existing from the village. Recently the 24 by 40-foot church was restored to preserve this important piece of Lāna‘i history.”

“Can we go inside?” I asked.

“Yes,” Manu said. Then he hesitated. “But remember, this is a house of God. This building was dedicated to the Lord by the island kupuna (elders) to be a place of worship. While Keōmoku has been abandoned, God and His blessings never left this place. The dedicatory prayer and blessings pronounced on this chapel are eternal.”

I approached the small porch on the front of the church. As I took the first stair leading to the open door of the church, I heard a small voice whisper, “He.” I paused for a moment, not expecting to hear a voice. I took the second step and heard the word “who.” I heard one word as I slowly took each of the remaining four steps: “Has. Eyes. To. See.”

I stopped on the small square covered porch. “Many who come here only see an old building,” I thought. “But those who have eyes to see connect with God and receive His power, spirit, grace, and knowledge.” As I prayed in preparation to enter the church, I heard the words, “He who has ears to hear, let him enter.”

When I walked through the front door, I was wrapped in the same warmth I felt when I first laid eyes on the church. There were four rectangular windows symmetrically spaced on each side wall. The windows contained no glass or covering, but were open to the outside. On the opposite side of the front door was the pulpit, with a rectangular window on each side. There were no wooden benches or chairs in the church. The single rectangular room was empty and open except for the pulpit. Hanging on the wall behind the pulpit was a plaque that read:

Ua la‘a No Iehova

Ka Lanakila o Ka Malamalama

Hoolaaia

October 4, 1903

“Manu, what does the plaque say?” I asked.

Manu answered, “’Ua la‘a No Iehova’ means, ‘Sanctified for Jehovah’ while ‘Hoolaaia’ refers to a ceremony and blessing to consecrate and make sacred. The plaque is pronouncing that this church was dedicated and consecrated to the Lord Jehovah on October 4, 1903.

Old Hawaiian Church Plaque

“So what does the middle phrase ‘Ka Lanakila o Ka Malamalama’ mean?”

“Before I answer that question, there’s something I’d like to teach you,” Manu said. He motioned Elder Balane over so he could hear, too. “Principles can be broken into two categories: principles of knowledge and principles of skill. Principles of knowledge are things we know and believe, such as agency, justification, and grace. Principles of skill are things we know, believe, and do, such as repentance, fasting, and prayer.

“Distinguishing between principles of knowledge and principles of skill is extremely important because it determines how the principle is taught and how it is to be learned. With principles of knowledge, there are no ‘hows’ to be learned.

“Many people try to treat principles of knowledge as principles of skill and become frustrated when they can’t apply them in daily life. They complain that the ideas are too abstract and of no benefit. They want to learn something they can do. They don’t realize that knowledge is one of the most important possessions for living with Aloha.

“Principles of knowledge are something we ‘know’ not something we ‘do.’ The way one applies principles of knowledge is by understanding and believing them, and they most certainly affect how you live.”

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Manu walked behind the podium. Elder Balane and I stood in the center of the room with our eyes fixed on Manu as he taught.

“What if someone asked, ‘How can I apply the grace of Christ in my everyday life?’” Manu asked. “The person may get frustrated when you can’t give him a specific answer. It’s not that there isn’t a good answer. It’s a bad question. You can’t directly do things to apply Christ’s grace in your life. You apply the grace of Christ by understanding it and believing it. You can know the grace of Christ, but you can’t do the grace of Christ. However, understanding and believing in Christ’s grace will change your life. When a person understands, and believes in Christ’s grace, he’s filled with hope and relies on the merits of Christ, and not his own. If you look deeply at the principles of knowledge, you can see how a knowledge and belief in them changes behavior and are thus applied by simply knowing them.

“An example can be found in Nazi Germany. Hitler believed the races were graded. There were, according to him, superior races and inferior races. According to Hitler, the highest race was the Aryan race—the race destined to be masters. The lowest races were the Jews and Blacks—those who, in Hitler’s view, were the root of all of civilization’s evils and ills.[1] From Hitler’s belief in graded races, can we predict his behavior?”

Elder Balane nodded, “Yes, and history documents the destruction his beliefs caused.”

“Was Hitler’s knowledge in accordance with eternal principles?” Manu asked.

“Obviously not,” Elder Balane said. “Hitler’s actions, driven by his beliefs, resulted in much destruction and eventually led to his death.”

“What would have been the key to transforming Hitler’s behaviors?” Manu turned his penetrating gaze on me.

“If he didn’t believe in a superior race,” I said.

“Exactly,” Manu said, giving me a pleased smile. “It would have been to change his belief in graded races to a belief that all men are created equal. President Boyd K. Packer taught, ‘True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior more quickly than a study of behavior will improve behavior...That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel.’[2]

“Learning principles of knowledge, such as grace, justification, sanctification, and other doctrines of the gospel are extremely important because they change the way we live. As we understand and believe true doctrines, we will be more Christlike—filled with greater joy and happiness. We will live with greater Aloha.

“With this explanation, I think you will see the power contained in the phrase, ‘Ka Lanakila o Ka Malamalama.’” Manu pointed to the plaque behind him. “The direct translation to English is ‘The Triumph of Knowledge.’ However, malamalama does not mean any knowledge—it is knowledge of light and truth—it is gospel knowledge.

“The principle of knowledge I’m going to talk about today is one of the key reasons why Hawai‘i is consistently ranked as the least stressed and happiest state in America. It is a principle that many people in the mainland—and especially Utah—need to learn. While Hawai‘i is the least stressed of the fifty states, Utah has consistently ranked as one of the top five most stressful states in America.[3] When you truly understand this Aloha principle, your life will be transformed.

“The ancient Hawaiian language contains no past or future tenses. All language is present tense. We are eternal beings with no beginning and no end. There is no past. There is no future. All things are present. Hawaiians understand that time is an illusion. The Lord himself declares, ‘All things are present before mine eyes.’[4] One of the reasons ancient Hawaiians did not keep a written history was because it created a past. Living in the present is one of the keys to joyful living—one of the keys to a life of Aloha. Life is to be enjoyed in each moment of now. The idea of a past and a future is a temporary illusion of mortality.

“One of my favorite scriptures is ‘Men are that they might have joy.’[5] The words ‘are’ and ‘have’ are present tense. We are to have joy now. Joy is not a future state to achieve. Joy is not a reward to receive after years of work or a gift reserved for the next life. We are to experience the glad tidings of great joy now. To enjoy the present, you must let go of the pains and guilt of the past and eliminate the worries of the future. The Lord teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.’[6] This is a scripture that’s confusing to some; but, it’s easy to understand when you know how to live in the present. Another translation of this verse reads, ‘So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time.’[7]

“A Hawaiian proverb states, ‘The path to God is a simple one of joy.’ God created you to have joy. Joy is innate in you. It is when you live with joy that you fulfill the measure of your creation.

“Last year I was working on a new book and took a trip to a mountain cabin to write.[8] The first days there were amazing, as I spent time with God, received revelation, communed with angels, and wrote by inspiration. One evening, several days into the trip, I was hit with temptations. I initially resisted and discarded the temptations; however, Satan didn’t give up and the temptations continued to bombard me. My thoughts and actions led me to start taking steps toward giving in to those temptations. Thankfully, I discerned what was happening, and I cast Satan and his temptations out. I began to feel great disappointment in both my thoughts and my actions. I messed up and felt that I was in no position to write. I even had the thought that I should end the trip and return home in the morning. If I’d lost the Spirit of the Lord, there would be no point in staying the remaining days. I was in no mood to write, so I began reading from the many books I’d brought with me to the cabin. After about an hour of reading, I retired to bed early. I knelt next to the bed to pray and asked the Lord to forgive me. After my prayer, I pulled back the covers, climbed into bed, and went to sleep.

“That night I received a dream from the Lord unlike other dreams I’ve received from Him. The dream was a seven-word statement that was repeated again and again. Throughout the night, the Lord spoke the words I needed to hear: ‘Don’t let the past steal your present.’ When I arose, these words were ingrained in my mind and I wrote them down.”

“We have a natural tendency to give up or quit when we make a mistake. Satan whispers lies into our ears to fill us with guilt, doubt, and despair. I had thoughts of going home and giving up on writing for the week. I’d messed up. How could I possibly continue?

“Mercifully, the message from the Lord was, ‘Don’t let the past steal your present. Just because you made a mistake yesterday, it doesn’t have to affect what you do today. It’s a new day. It’s the present. Today you can live in My presence, receive My forgiveness, and continue on in the work of writing. I am quick to forgive, uplift, and bless, and I will help you along the path until you shall be crowned with glory on high and take your seat in the heavens with Me and My Father.’ I accepted His grace and was again caught up in His presence and filled with His spirit and direction. I resumed writing. I was not going to let the past steal my present.

“The Hawaiian word for sin is ‘hala,’ which means ‘to miss.’ Hala is similar to the Greek word for sin, ‘hamarita.’ In Greek, ‘hamarita’ is an archery term meaning ‘miss the mark.’ Elder Taylor, how many attempts will Jesus give you to hit the mark?”

I wasn’t ready for the question so it took me a minute to answer. “I don’t know. A lot.”

“Elder Balane?” Manu asked, turning to him.

Elder Balane smiled, unsure. “As many as we need?”

Manu chuckled. “Yes, Elder Balane. He will give you as many as you need. Whether you need ten tries or ten thousand tries, the Lord will always be with you. Jesus declares, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’[9]

“When you miss the target, you repent, grab an arrow, and try again. Jesus wants you to try until you hit the target. Don’t let your previously missed shot prevent you from taking the next one. Don’t let the past steal your present. The apostle Paul wrote, ‘This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind...I press toward the mark.’[10] The prophet Jeremiah declared, ‘Hope returns when I remember this one thing: The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise.’[11]

“As we live, we’re going to miss the target. We learn to become like Jesus the way a child learns to walk—they fall hundreds and hundreds of times. Elder Taylor, how many attempts will you give your children to walk?”

 “As many as they need,” I answered, knowing the answer now.

“Of course,” Manu said. “As parents, we don’t condemn or get angry with our children when they fall. We know this is a part of the process of learning to walk. We encourage them. We celebrate the progress they make and encourage them to get up and continue on. As a parent, would there ever be a point when you would say, ‘You’ve fallen 532 times. That’s it. You’re done. I’m not helping you anymore. I give up. You will never learn to walk. You have failed.’ Ridiculous, right? Satan tries to get us to believe this very thing, though—that if we sin or make a mistake, our Heavenly Father will be angry with us, condemn and punish us, and leave us. As we understand that He is our Father and wants us to learn to become like Him, we realize that He’s like the parent helping his child learn to walk. He will encourage us. He will celebrate our efforts and progress. He will stay with us until we hit the mark.

“Oftentimes, when a child falls down, they’ll laugh, hop up, and try again. In our quest to become like Jesus, we’re going to fall many times. We’re going to sin repeatedly as we’re learning, growing, and getting better. When we miss the target, Jesus doesn’t condemn us. He’s not mad at us. He simply says, ‘Try again. Try until you do hit the target.’”

“Satan wants us to give up. The Lord wants us to grab another arrow and try again,” I said, marveling at the simplicity.

“Exactly,” Manu said. “Don’t let a previous fall prevent you from taking the next step. You take that next shot, knowing you might miss again. The child takes that next step knowing they will fall again. As they practice, they improve their balance and begin to walk farther and farther without failing. You must crawl before you walk, and you must walk before you run. We are designed to learn by making mistakes.

“In the church, we often talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, what exactly is the gospel of Jesus Christ? The word ‘gospel’ is derived from a word meaning ‘good news’ or ‘glad tidings.’ So, what is this good news?

“A part of this good news is found in Romans 5:8, ‘While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ We will sin and miss the mark daily as we learn during the test of mortality, and yet we are in a saved condition through the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus does not wait for us to reach perfection to save us. He saves us while we are sinners. We are not called Saints because we are righteous, but because we are sinners who keep trying.

“Forgiveness and salvation are not gifts to be received in the future. They are gifts the Lord wants us to receive in the present. During His earthly ministry, Jesus never said, “Your sins will be forgiven.” He often used the present tense, “Your sins are forgiven.”[12] There is power in declaring ‘I am saved’ in the present tense instead of ‘I will be saved’ or ‘I hope to be saved.’

“When Christ came to the home of Zacchaeus, a short man who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus, he said, ‘This day is salvation come to this house...For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.’[13] Christ wants you to accept the gift of salvation today, not in the future or after you’re dead. Elders, has salvation come to your home? Can you say, ‘I am saved?’”

I was silent as I considered his question.

“I think I can say it,” Elder Balane said. But he sounded unsure.

“Isn’t it arrogant or prideful to say ‘I am saved?’” I asked.

“Why would you think it’s prideful?” Manu asked.

“Well, how can we know for sure if we’ve been good enough to go to the celestial kingdom?”

“You’re using the wrong criteria to determine whether you’re saved,” Manu said. He walked from behind the podium to stand in front of us. “If the criteria is ‘Am I worthy to go to the celestial kingdom?’ we would all be unworthy to enter. Perfection is the requirement for the celestial kingdom. We all have sinned and will continue to sin; therefore, we’re imperfect and thus unworthy. Christ declares, ‘For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.’[14] To determine if we’re going to the celestial kingdom, we must not ask, ‘Am I worthy?’ but ‘Am I perfect in Christ?’ We’re not saved by our works or our perfection but by Christ’s perfection. We’re saved by Christ’s merits, mercy, and grace. So, Elder Taylor, can you say, ‘I am saved?’”

“I don’t know,” I answered, shaking my head.

“In the preexistence, did you wonder whether you would be cast out with Satan?” Manu asked.

I shrugged my shoulders.

“I don’t remember the preexistence,” Elder Balane said with a smile.

Manu smiled. “I don’t think those who were on the Lord’s side in the preexistence said, ‘I sure hope I’ve been good enough to not be cast out with Lucifer. I sure hope I make it to earth. I don’t know if I’m going to be cast out and I won’t know until it happens.’ Those who were on the Lord’s side could say with confidence in the present tense, ‘I am on the Lord’s side. I am going to earth.’”

Elder Balane and I nodded our heads.

“Elder Taylor, we know you were on the Lord’s side in the preexistence because you’re here. As a result, we know that your resurrection is assured. There’s nothing you can do on earth to lose your resurrection. In the preexistence, two-thirds of the hosts of Heaven kept their first estate and came to earth. Those who are born will be resurrected and receive a degree of glory, regardless of their actions on earth. They can’t lose their first estate.

“Earth life is our second estate, a probationary state, a test. What is required to keep our second estate and be saved in the celestial kingdom? We must continue to choose Christ. We must be on the Lord’s side. We must be perfect in Christ. When we’re perfect in Christ, we can say with confidence, ‘I am saved—I’m going to the celestial kingdom,’ just as in the preexistence, those on the Lord’s side could say with confidence, ‘I am on the Lord’s side. I’m going to earth.’ If you choose Christ and accept His grace, you’re saved now. So, Elder Taylor, can you say, ‘I am saved?’

I frowned, confused. “Are you saying I am guaranteed the celestial kingdom?”

“Yes, if you endure to the end,” Manu said.

“But earlier, you said I was saved now. So, can I be unsaved?”

“In the preexistence, a third of the hosts of Heaven were cast out with Satan,” Manu said. “At any point prior to Satan being cast out, individuals could leave the Lord’s side and join Satan’s team—and, sadly, there were those who did. Likewise, while on earth, you must remain on the Lord’s side until the end of earth life. Elder Bruce R. McConkie shared the following as to what is required to endure to the end: ‘Everyone in the Church who is on the straight and narrow path, who is striving and struggling and desiring to do what is right, though is far from perfect in this life; if he passes out of this life while he’s on the straight and narrow, he’s going to go on to eternal reward in his Father’s kingdom...If you are on that path when death comes because this is the time and the day appointed, this the probationary estate, you will never fall off from it; and for all practical purposes, your calling and election is made sure.’[15] So, Elder Taylor, can you now say, ‘I am saved?’”

“I think so,” I said.

Elder Balane laughed and smacked me on the back. “Come on, Elder. You can do it.”

“Sadly, there are many in the church who know of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ but have not received His good news: that they are saved and forgiven now and that they can enjoy this gift every hour of each day and can say with confidence, ‘Christ has saved me.’” Manu paused and turned the full force of his gaze on me. His smile was gentle but his eyes were strong. “Elder Taylor, you need to say the words, ‘I am saved,’ out loud.”

While I was still a little uncomfortable saying the words, I declared in a shaky voice, “I am saved.” As I said the words, I was filled with a witness of the Spirit that this was true. I tried again, this time with more confidence. “I am saved.”

“Yes. You are,” Manu affirmed.

Tears of joy ran down my face. I gave Manu a hug of gratitude; the first time I’d initiated a hug in my life.

Manu pulled back to look in my face. “You are beginning to experience the joy of living in the present,” he said. “There is an old Hawaiian saying that you can only live in paradise right now, for now is all there ever is. We should talk of salvation in the present tense, not as some event to take place in the future. Through your born again and covenant relationship with Christ, you become what the scriptures call ‘perfect in Christ.’[16] Present tense. Satan wants you to believe his lie that, when you sin and make mistakes, you’re lost, disconnected from God, and will never be enough. Satan wants you to feel despair and hopelessness. It is the whispering of Satan that claims ‘you are not enough.’ In Hawaiian, the word for ‘enough’ means ‘connected to God’ and ‘not enough’ means ‘disconnected from God.’ When you’re ‘perfect in Christ’ you are connected with God. You’re enough. You’re saved. This is the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Elder Balane stood. “Do I get a hug, too?”

“Of course,” Manu said, extending his arms.

“I meant from Elder Taylor,” Elder Balane said, laughing.

“Of course,” I said. Elder Balane came in for a group hug. We pulled apart and turned our eyes back to the plaque hanging on the wall.

“Hawaiians believe that words have ‘mana,’ which means they carry divine and spiritual power,” Manu said. “There is great power in the words, ‘I am saved.’ However, to be fully understood, these words must be experienced, for they carry with them the power of Christ’s love, grace, forgiveness, and perfection.”

I knew exactly what he meant. I had just experienced the words, ‘I am saved.’

“Manu, would it be okay for me to take a picture with the dedication plaque of the church to help me remember this day?” I asked.

Manu nodded his head, and I handed my camera to Elder Balane. I invited Manu to join me in the picture. Manu put his arm around my shoulder and we smiled for the camera. I took another picture of the exterior of the church before getting into the truck for the ride home.


The Way of Aloha

In The Way of Aloha: Lanai, bestselling author Cameron C. Taylor masterfully weaved ancient Hawaiian history and culture into an inspiring and engaging story set on the beautiful island of Lāna‘i. You will be transported to a tropical paradise for an adventure of a lifetime. As you visit sacred locations throughout the island, you will be taught by a Hawaiian kahuna the principles for joyful living.




[1] Hyrum W. Smith, The Ten Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management (New York: Warner Books, 1994), 147.

[2] Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, October 1986, p. 20.

[3] Poll results retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/161987/hawaii-remains-state-least-stress.aspx.

[4] Doctrine and Covenants 38:2.

[5] 2 Nephi 2:25.

[6] Matthew 6:34.

[7] Matthew 6:34, Living Bible (TLB).

[8] This experience is taken from my journal written while I was at a cabin in Island Park, Idaho working on this book. I had the dream on December 15, 2014. The details of the story and the dream have not been changed or adapted other than having the dream told by the character Manu.

[9] Hebrews 13:5, New King James Version (NKJV).

[10] Philippians 3:13–14.

[11] Lamentations 3:21–23, Good News Translation (GNT).

[12] Matthew 9:2, English Standard Version; Mark 2:5, English Standard Version

[13] Luke 19:9–10.

[14] Doctrine and Covenants 1:31.

[15] Bruce R. McConkie, “The Probationary Test of Mortality,” Address given at University of Utah Institute, Jan. 10, 1982, p. 11.

[16] Moroni 10:32–33, Colossians 1:28.


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