Molokai community fears iconic church may close doors

Molokai community fears iconic church may become memory

MOLOKAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A tiny church in a tiny town on Molokai is in jeopardy.

Ierusalema Hou Church on the far northeast side of the island is nearly 70 years old and is in dire need of a renovation. But the pastor fears he will have to close its doors instead.

The iconic church is tucked inside historic Halawa Valley and it attracts people from all over the world. But after 67 years of existence, the structure is falling apart and the people fear it will soon be just a memory.

"I have walls that's covered with masking tape and paint, you can see right through the walls, the holes, and I've got one side of the building that's already leaning that's ready to fall," said Pastor Rey Ayau.

Ayau travels 27 and three-quarters of a mile down a windy road to go to church in the valley every week. That's more than an hour-long drive. In fact, 95 percent of the church's congregation does the same. But a dilapidated roof, termites and dry rot have taken over and it has made it a complete hazard.

"We might get hurt, liability wise, so we want to rebuild this…they said we can't," Ayau said.

The church's members' grandparents built the structure back in 1948. Ayau says at the time, they didn't know they built it on someone else's land. It was only until about three years ago, when they were looking to rebuild, Ayau says they were told the land didn't belong to them and they could not rebuild.

He says they contacted the landowner and she said they could have the land – for free.

Ayau says the landowner wanted them to continue to meet every Sunday because over the decades the church has become a historical place to visit and worship.

However, Ayau says getting the county of Maui to subdivide the land has been a nightmare.

"She wants to give us the land, but it's costing her money to give us something free, it doesn't make sense," he said.

"I'm sad because this place is a very, very connected place, spiritually, and it's just sad to see something so quaint go away," said Oahu visitor Patrick Cobb-Adams.

Cobb-Adams got married in the church in 1989. He says he comes back to visit the special place as often as he can.

"It's sad, it's a part of old Hawaii. It's been here since 1948," he said.

"They want to give the property to the church and to have to have that much red tape and to slow everything down is a waste."

For some people, it's not just a historical site, it's still alive.

"If this goes down, you're killing all of us," said Molokai resident Anakala Pilipo.

Anakala Pilipo and his family are one of 11 families who live in the small valley. He says he remembers helping his grandparent's build the church back in the forties.

"This church means a lot, sorry, I get emotional," he said through tears.

"It really hurts because so much aloha…and I learned first about the gospel from here from Kahu Reynolds' grandfather, and all those who came after him," he said.

Anakala Pilipo says their ancestor's spirits and hearts are still present in the church today and it's important to keep the church around for future generations.

"This is a historical valley, anything left in this valley is historical. So why if you going to talk about history and things that are important, this is important, why not help to save it?" he said.

The county of Maui says there are two options. One, the church and owner can make a private agreement. Or two, they can submit a subdivision application, which they said has not been done yet.

"If church officials need the county's help to straighten out the situation, the Maui county officials is more than willing to help," said County of Maui spokesman Rod Antone.

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