A special publication, “By the Grace of God: Life in a Marshall Islands Church,” by writer-photographer Floyd K. Takeuchi of Honolulu is now available at an online bookseller. Floyd’s self-published 20-page magazine, also known as a ‘zine, features photographs he made in 2018 while attending a Sunday service at the Rairok Protestant Church.
The magazine fulfills a promise Floyd made to himself in 1968, when he got an invitation from Miss Eleanor Wilson, the legendary Protestant missionary who worked in the Marshall Islands in the late 1940s through the 1950s, to meet. Miss Wilson was a friend of the Takeuchi family, which had been on Majuro from 1953 to 1960. Clarence and Sachiko Takeuchi worked for the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Floyd was born on Majuro in 1953.
“I was in high school in Honolulu in 1968. Miss Wilson got word to me at Mid-Pacific Institute that she was in town and staying nearby at the Arcadia retirement home. She asked if I could join her,” Floyd recalled. “I did and we spoke for what seems like a very long time. It was a wide-ranging discussion about life. She was keen to know what I planned to do with my life, all heady stuff for an impressionable 15-year-old.”
Floyd says the meeting moved him. Miss Wilson, whose permanent residence was a retirement home in California, died a year later at age 80.
“I promised myself at the time I’d find a way — somehow — to honor Miss Wilson and her work in the Marshalls.” It took 50 years, but when Floyd traveled to Majuro in 2018, he asked for permission to photograph during a Sunday service at the Rairok Protestant Church. He got there early for Sunday school, and stayed through the social time at the end of the service, where he caught up with family friends.
The ‘zine features a two-page essay by Floyd, and 22 photographs.
In his essay, Floyd noted that his family was close to Miss Wilson and Fr. Leonard Hacker, SJ, who led the Roman Catholic mission. And their house was between Assumption Church and the Protestant Church by today’s Alele Museum. On some Sunday’s, “if the trade winds were just right, you could hear the hymns sung at the Congregational Church, beautiful harmonies in the high range that Marshallese seem to hit with such ease.”
Floyd also writes, “Sundays were always special. That’s when couples, families and single people walked to church, almost to a person dressed in white, which glowed bright against their mocha-colored skin in the hard tropical light.”
Floyd says he purposely published his ‘zine in color to show off the bright colors of clothing worn by congregants at the Rairok Protestant Church. “I wanted to make the point that Marshallese Protestants have firmly taken over the church, and that starched white of the 1950s has given way to a sea of brightly colored Sunday best clothing,” he said. “By The Grace of God” is available at www.Blurb.com for $8.49 plus shipping.