As Ewa Beach transforms from its sleepy plantation-era roots to a growing suburb, it becomes even more important to remember the lessons from the past and pass it on to the next generation. The Church Of Christ’s construction of a large worship building in Ewa Beach just minutes away from the small plantation home the Church held its first worship service outside of the Philippines becomes an opportunity to connect the past with the present and, more importantly, to the future. To visit the Ewa Beach worship building or other houses of worship of the Church Of Christ, visit iglesianicristo.net.
Linking the Past to the Present in Ewa Beach
Nan: Sitting on the ocean, just a few yards away from the famous beaches of Waikiki, you can easily lose track of time. The waves crashing into each other is just enough to drown out the constant buzz of new construction, never-ending traffic, and the arrival of tourists and immigrants into paradise. With all the progress happening, how do you make sure you don’t forget where you came from?
Robert: Only through preservation are you going to keep these things alive for the few future generations, yeah?
Jonathan: I think it’s really taking care of it now.
Jon: Yes, there you go, that’s the one.
Jonathan: Yes, it’s taking care of the chapel.
Nan: I’m Nan Zapanta. As an industrial designer, I spent years admiring the great designs of products, vehicles, and architecture from all over the world. But I found architecture to be the most captivating. I love learning about each building and discovering the characteristics that make it unique and understanding the purpose behind its design. Most of all, I love hearing the stories behind each structure and seeing God’s plan and putting it all together. Join us as we discover the Blueprint of the buildings and structures inside the Iglesia Ni Cristo.
Driving around the leeward side of the island, just south of Waikiki, It’s easy to see the amount of growth this area has undergone in just the last few years.
This building is one of the largest buildings of the Church Of Christ outside of the Philippines.
Jonah: Passing this every day is pretty cool because they built this pretty fast. And for everybody to see it driving back and forth every day is, it’s pretty nice. I like it.
Ryan: I grew up in Ewa Beach as a kid back in the early 90s, and there was nothing out here, so I’m happy to see the development.
Alofisa: Each day something new comes up. And so I was like oh this is really nice because this used to be an open lot. So never had anything here and then the new shopping center, small here small there… I just wondered if it’s a church, but we didn’t know it was going to be beautiful and nice over here.
Nan: While complete now, the project did face its challenges, one of which was bringing all the materials needed to construct this worship building. As you know, Hawaii is an island, so bringing materials over was costly, and it took a lot of time.
Alvin Perez was the general contractor brought in for the project. Due to its height, that process required a bit of creativity from the team.
Alvin: If you do a conventional pour-in-place, you can’t see the cavity, which—between windows and above the window—it has to go around them to complete the process. So you’ve got to vibrate—it takes so long, the process of it.
Voiceover: Using the function hall, which was a smaller and separate building, as his prototype, he set out to use the shotcrete method, the process of spraying concrete through a hose at a high velocity onto a surface, to construct the walls of the 6,190 square feet sanctuary.
Alvin: I used that as my factory/fabrication place. That’s where I did all the windows. All the sides of these windows were already pre-made before I even built the wall.
Voiceover: However, before he could start spraying, Alvin had to first layout the rebar on the ground to form the 12 inch thick walls, along with the windows. The team then raised temporary plywood walls to form the outline. Then the rebar structure was tilted up and attached to the plywood walls, complete with the framing for where the windows and doors would be installed.
Alvin: When the wall was done, I tilted all the rebars up—almost 3000 rebars in here. But what, two or 300 pounds apiece.
Voiceover: Once the rebar structure was completed, the shotcrete process could proceed. However, Alvin first had to find the equipment, and concrete to make it happen.
Alvin: I can go to any state in the mainland and look for one—there’s gotta be one almost every state right, and bring them in. This is an island. There’s one; it’s on this island.
Voiceover: Finally, they were able to proceed with the shotcrete process. Working at three-foot height increments, the team was able to spray concrete so that by the time one side began to dry; they would be able to move to the next layer, almost like a cake.
Alvin: So until we get to the 30 feet height. So, that’s the method—efficient method, way, of doing it. It’s a lot stronger, faster, and then, less mistakes.
Voiceover: In order to move the concrete and fill all the areas it needed to reach, a machine used to vibrate the mixture and remove all air bubbles was used to liquefy the concrete and water mixture, allowing it to reach every corner of the 12- inch walls. The result is a structurally solid and sound concrete wall.
Once the walls were up, the roof was the next challenge for Alvin. Once again, using the smaller function hall as his prototype, he devised the plan to install the trusses, which were used to create the roof framing you see today.
Alvin: The problem is, it’s too big. It cannot be done in one piece. It has to be done in three pieces. So, I said, “Fine. I’ll have an army to put it together. Send it to me.”
Voiceover: In order to support and raise the trusses on top of the thirty-foot rails, Alvin had a giant scaffold built that required ten individuals to move it up and down the would-be sanctuary. Placement of the trusses, however, wasn’t a standalone decision, because it would impact where the recessed lighting could be installed later on.
Alvin: Brother Raymond’s plan—which is Brother Raymond Frank, is the one who did the plan.
Brother Raymond: Right now, we’re in the middle of construction as you can see, we have the exterior—the concrete walls are already in place.
Alvin: I asked him where all the lights are supposed to be. And what I did, I used my windows as my guide.
Voiceover: Over 100 trusses placed one foot apart, creating the shape of the roof we see today.
Alvin: Instead of a typical two-by-four, it’s like two-by-eight—bigger. It’s because it helps each other from coming down. Better than two feet apart. So it’s acting like a big giant wall up there.
Voiceover: After the shotcrete finished drying, the plywood walls were then removed, two-inch metal furring strips were attached to make room for the insulation, as well as give the drywall a structure to be attached to.
While the construction for the new house of worship was happening, another renovation was taking place just a few minutes away.
Nan: We’re making our way.
[Video of 91-1730 Bond Street in Ewa Beach, now called INC Museum Ewa Beach]
This is it; this is it right here. Let’s park real quick. That’s so cool. Let’s go check it out. Aw man. This is so cool.
Nan: Brother Sonny!
Sonny: Hey brother.
Nan: Nice to meet you. I didn’t keep you waiting, did I?
Sonny: No, no.
Voiceover: Sonny Estelita was part of a small team helping restore the historic home. I couldn’t hide my excitement. I’d been looking forward to visiting this historic spot for a long time.
Nan: It’s my first time being here at the museum. You know I recognize it, the historic photos. You know, Brother Erano going up the steps. And all those images so it’s, it’s really cool to see the actual place.
Voiceover: In 1968, Brother Erano G. Manalo, the Executive Minister of the Church Of Christ at the time, traveled to Hawaii to gather the members of the church for the first time. Upon arriving at the airport, he made his way to this home on Bond Street in Ewa Beach, Hawaii.
Nan: So what was involved in the restoration?
Sonny: Restoration—there was—we had to take out everything that was there existing. The windows were all covered up, the drywall, there were all these dry walls, the old laminate flooring, carpeting, electrical work. We had to move a lot of things, take down walls, put them back up. It was actually a lot.
Nan: Would we be able to take a look inside?
Sonny: Yeah, sure.
Nan: I’ll just follow you.
So this is the main entrance?
Sonny: Yes, this is the main entrance of the house. This was the exact spot where brother Erano Manalo did the first worship service.
In 1968, Church Of Christ members gathered in Ewa Beach for the first worship service outside the Philippines]
Nan: Ohh, I see it in the pictures. That he—yeah, he was over here.
You know that, the space itself isn’t, is not that big a space.
Sonny: It’s not that big.
Nan: Do you remember what this—how many brethren were in here?
Sonny: I’m not sure, from what I heard, I heard around 40, 40 brethren.
Nan: 40 brethren.
Sonny: Small area, it’s like wow, how can they fit all these brethren in here, so some of them were standing, of course.
Wow, This is amazing, You know, to be able to feel the history.
Nan: So what was the goal now, because I mean, now because now it’s more of a recreation?
Sonny: Exactly. It’s to make it how it was when Brother Erano was giving the worship service… to the— exactly how it looked like before. Oh yeah, we tried to keep that original that feeling. Yeah.
Nan: How did you feel, because, so you were approached to do the restoration or?
Sonny: Yes. I was approached by one of the ministers here. He asked me if I could do the renovation to… you know. And at first, I was like, I was scared. (Laughs) I was scared. I was nervous because you know how important this building is to the church, to our church.
And just the thought about it—you know I’m going to do this. [I ‘m] blessed to actually be one of the ones to do this. It was really fun, really fun.
Nan: And it’s cool that you said that [it] was really fun because obviously, it involves a lot of hard work. What made it fun?
Sonny: I just felt so blessed to be part of this. Like every time we had breaks, we would go to this, you know the main room right, and then we’d be like, this is the same spot. This is the same exact spot.
Nan: You kind of like discovering or rediscovering parts of history?
Sonny: It always gave me goosebumps every time we talked about it. And that just, that gave us motivation and made us happier.
Nan: How impactful do you think this is for even the future generations because you know like, people think of Ewa Beach, they think of the history…
Sonny: Because especially for the youth, I used to have always come here for all the Children’s Worship Service field trips here, and it wasn’t like this before. And I did kind of get to see it with the pictures right, it’s just pictures. But then now if we’re going to have field trips here especially for the youth, they can actually see, see the importance of where the first worship service was in the West.
Nan: Sonny and the crew also took time to pass by the new worship building that was being built just minutes away.
Nan: How did it make you feel when you saw the progress over there?
Sonny: Yeah. Like I feel so proud, just proud to be, you know, part of the Church Of Christ. It’s like, every time I drive there. You can see the steeple from far away, and I’m just like, this is our church, our church. I just feel so proud and so happy.
Nan: How important is it that there are these houses of worship being constructed, renovated, all around the island?
Sonny: Very important, important for the brethren because, like without the houses of worship, you know, where would these brethren be?
Nan: The opportunity to visit the first place of worship was a first for me. And while I could already feel the richness of the history of this place. I wanted to learn a little bit more about what brought immigrants to this island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Nan: Whoa, for sure, that’s the original chair.
Voiceover: We’re here at Hawaii’s Plantation Village in Waipahu, it’s an open-air museum that had preserved what homes and communities looked like back when this whole area was [a] plantation. Let’s go and check it out.
Nan: Robert Castro, a docent at Plantation Village, as well as the son of immigrants who came to Hawaii to work on the plantations, gave us a tour.
Robert: The demand for sugar kept increasing. And there’s different various factors that happened, especially in the United States, that affected the increase in production here, and then the necessity to get more immigrants here to work in the field, there wasn’t enough of the labor, and that’s the reason we brought the Chinese in 1852.
Nan: Wow. And then, but the Japanese were the longest in..
Robert: Yeah. And so there’s all kinds of different statistics, and you know different kinds of things. One could argue that because they spoke different languages, what do you have, a common language that people can communicate [with], you know? And so that’s how pidgin English developed. So they’re borrowing words, Hawaiian words. Through all these people together, they learn. Like you saw, the sign said, “Hapai Ko,” for instance. That means “to carry the cane.”
Voiceover: As we walked around the open-air museum, looked at some buildings that were built by the different groups that came over, even one that looks similar to the plantation home the first worship service of the Church Of Christ was held in, it was easy to get a sense of the richness of the history. And how the presence of so many cultures on the islands helped create an identity that was unique to the island but still paid homage to the countries they originated from.
Nan: So much history.
Robert And it’s all, you know, interconnected in ways that…
You know this plant here is important, culturally, also. You see the gourds, those green gourds?. Well, Hawaiians learned to hollow them out. And they put something inside to create a rattle. And then they sewed feathers on it. And when they dance hula, that’s the ‘uli ‘uli.
Nan: That’s what they—yeah!
Robert: When the Puerto Ricans came, that was the maracas. So two cultures used the same plant, which I always thought was fascinating to me.
That’s one that was actually introduced from Central America.
Nan: Oh, so it’s not even native.
Robert: No, like so many plants and animals here.
Nan: Why do you think it’s important to know about history? Is that…?
Robert: Well, we lose that connection, I think, to what came before us. Now how did we get here? And the question is, why did we get here? And all these people have reasons for coming to Hawaii.
Nan: While people no longer come to the U.S. to work on sugar plantations, thousands of immigrants still make their way to this country every year. In 1996, Alex Unay was one of them.
Nan: Hello, brother Alex.
Alex: Hi brother.
Nan: Thank you for meeting me here, brother.
Alex: Nice to meet you, brother.
Nan: This is a beautiful house of worship.
Alex: Yes. Yes, brother.
Nan: As a longtime welder at a shipyard, Alex looked for a way to help with the construction of the Ewa Beach worship building.
Alex: I would think about how I would be able to help in the construction of the house of worship. I was so busy at work before.
Nan: I was immediately struck by Alex’s quiet humility. The producers had warned me that he was shy, and he would speak mainly in Tagalog, uncomfortable with being in front of the camera. But even that was not enough to mask the joy as he described what happened in May of 2018.
Alex: Our project was about to finish, so they were about to lay off some people. That’s what my boss said. But instead of getting worried, I was happy because now I can help [with the construction of the house of worship].
Nan: Definitely. So, even after hearing that news, most people would be sad. But for you, you’re happy.
Alex: Yeah, I was happy because I knew that I would be able to take part in bringing honor to God by helping with the construction of the house of worship.
Nan: Having grown up in the Philippines, Alex experienced helping with the construction projects of the church, something he missed when he moved to the country.
Alex: When we started, I spoke to one of the brothers who was working here; I told him, “Even if I can just help out with cleaning—so long as I can help.” But he said, “Oh no, we actually need someone to help with the drywall, or painting and placing of tiles.”
(There would be times when) I wouldn’t even realize it was time for lunch already, and I would still be working. I was just really grateful to help out this way.
Nan: Alex is back working on the shipyard these days, but the memory of being part of the construction of the worship building is one that he won’t forget.
Alex: Even though we go through a lot of tests in this life, I will still continue to perform my duties because that’s the key to receiving God’s blessings in this life.
Nan: And so, you said it, it’s a beautiful word that’s the key to the blessings from our Almighty God. So, when you think of your life, could you ever imagine you’d be part of the renovation of a beautiful house of worship like this?
Alex: I have come to realize how amazing God’s plans are. He knows everything, including what we need, and He’ll give this to use when he sees us mature in our faith. That’s the time that He’ll grant us what we need.
Nan: God’s timing.
Alex: Yeah, God’s timing.
Nan: After months of construction and years of prayers, the house of worship was completed.
Voiceover: If you’re ever on Fort Weaver Road, the first thing you’ll probably notice are the spires that tower at eighty-eight feet as you come down the road, a sight Alex takes pride in every time he heads over to the worship building.
Alex: What’s memorable for me are the steeples. Every time I see them, it brings me happiness.
Nan: On July 27, 2018, fifty years after a handful of members first gathered on the island of Oahu For the first worship service outside of the Philippines, thousands gathered once again in Ewa beach to witness the Executive Minister, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo, lead the dedication of the house of worship.
Ben Tiangsing witnessed that day, as a volunteer with the Technology Resource Group, and was kind enough to give me a behind the scenes look at how technology was integrated into the worship building.
Nan: We’re here in this awesome control room you have here.
Ben: So from this centralized control system, with the cameras that are installed in there, and see what’s going on. At the same time, we also can control the audio and the video that’s being sent into the congregation. They were able to install conduits now, that, where you can route these wires into, and it feeds into the different screens. So that’s all hidden underneath the concrete floor.
Nan: Is there somewhere we can kind of see kind of behind the scenes?
Nan: Oh, so this goes out to the main…
Ben: Yeah, so basically, we have two different cameras that are set up in the main sanctuary.
Nan: And so, that covers the video aspect. What about audio? Like what are the outputs for?
Ben: Audio? So, the speaker system that we have is pretty much state of the art. The great thing about this speaker system is, basically, sit anywhere in the sanctuary, and it’s the same volume, wherever you are.
Nan: So no matter where you are, the sound quality is the same?
Ben: No matter where you are, exactly.
Nan: Because this isn’t too common. I’ve seen some of the other houses of worship where there is, you know, the speakers come down, and there are multiple speakers facing different angles.
Ben: And they’re big and bulky.
Nan: Right. So this takes care of all that.
Ben: Of all that.
Nan: And when you think about that, and you compare, you know, the museum—the house that was being used at first in1968, and then you think of the day of the dedication, there were lines of people, brethren that were lined up just to attend.
Nan: Put those two images side by side, you know, what does that make you feel?
Ben: It’s very, very humbling. I feel blessed to be a part of it.
Voiceover: Ben grew up in one of the neighboring islands. And like all of the congregations of the Church Of Christ in the U.S., he can trace the history back to a tiny plantation home in Ewa Beach.
Nan: But what was it like to have so much history right there in your own backyard? We met up with a group of young adults who have watched Ewa Beach transform right before their eyes.
John: See this whole area where we are right now? This, on this side, was basically all sugar cane. Even on some of the newer houses on that side, across the street, sugar cane as well. And even when I was like around fourth grade, fifth grade, that’s when they started all that stuff, getting ready for, you know, the land to be developed.
Nan: So they were burning all the fields down?
John: Yeah, I remember that as a kid. Yes. You smelled the sugar like literally.
Nan: While most people will remember Ewa Beach as the first place the Church Of Christ gathered, the [Ewa Beach] congregation wasn’t established until July 4, 1995. Like most young congregations, they held their worship services in different venues, always praying to finally have one of their own.
Nan: When you look back at the history and what you guys were a part of and then now being a part of such an iconic worship building, what can you say about being part of all that history?
Michelei: It’s truly a blessing.
Nan: Did you guys ever imagine having a place like this?
Jonathan: A size like this? Not this big. Not this big. We were thinking just you know a nice little chapel, wherein we can all come…
Nan: Were there prayers that were being held? How did the congregation approach even getting a place like this? Because I feel like these are some big prayers that were answered.
Michelei: We prayed every night.
Jonathan: Every night. We would have devotional prayers every night. You know, we had our tents set up here. And we would pray here.
Nan: Was this just open land?
Jonathan: Open land…rocks, gravel…
Rocks, grass, mhmm.
Nan: No way… It’s kind of like camping!
Nan: Oh wow, that’s pretty cool. So then, yeah, it kind of shows just how resilient you guys are. And I think that’s a beautiful thing. How important was it that prayer was always a part of your life even in those times?
Jonathan: Oh, it was very. Because no matter how much you long for something, you know, God won’t [just] give it to you, give it to us. We have to do something about it. We have to ask Him. How do we ask Him? It’s through our prayers, right?
Voiceover: We talked about some of the stories they’ve heard from the pioneers. Stories of resilience and determination. Stories that shape the way they’ve grown in their own faith.
Christian: …My grandfather did it. He was working in Dole Cannery. He heard someone else humming the doxology at the time. It was the original doxology.
Christian: Yeah. He was blown away. “Are you a member of the Church Of Christ?” in Filipino, of course, I don’t know.
Jonathan: There are just stories [of immigrants] I heard, about, “Do I bring my choir robe? Do I bring my uniform with me?” Those really touched me, and [they would] be like, you know, “What decision do I have?”
Voiceover: And though they may not be part of the historic pioneers in 1968, you could tell they knew the responsibility they now have of helping pass down the lessons they’ve learned from those who came before them.
Nan: What does it mean to have this tangible piece of history that you can share with guests and even with the younger generations?
Jonathan: It’s a reminder. It shows where it started, how it started, where it started. I mean, they have pictures, they have all the original stuff that was inside. And when you look at it, it’s like, wow, that’s here in Ewa Beach. Who would have thought? Here in this small little house that just… and all these brethren gathered.
Also, just knowing and understanding that through the struggles that we’ve been through. Now that you have—we have the chapel, I think it’s really [about] taking care of it now. Yes.
Nan: This was one of the toughest episodes for us to finish. For one, how do you tell the story of a building that, while new, is already deeply rooted in history? And secondly, with every interview, we could feel the responsibility we had to properly document the story behind these buildings and share it with those who may not have had the chance to come here yet. Getting to see the museum firsthand, seeing the largest place of worship in Ewa Beach, and literally being able to touch a piece of history.
I think Jody, a member of our Blueprint team, summed it up the best for all of us.
Jody: Actually being able to walk inside and walk through, and it being restored to its original state and how it was like, and being able to put yourself in it… I’m grateful to even be able to immerse myself in this place. I was speechless, I didn’t even know what to…. I was just feeling, and that was such a blessing to just be able to see it as it is.
Nan: Thanks for joining us on this episode of Blueprint, wherein the end, everything is part of God’s plan.