John Robert Stevens held his first service in Hawaii in 1953, just two years after founding his first church, Grace Chapel of South Gate, California. As long-time member Vicki Androus recalls, Stevens received a call from someone he had never met who said Stevens would go to Hawaii. This was strange, since Stevens had no plans to go to Hawaii. According to Androus, he didn’t even know where the Islands were! But soon a friend of Stevens confirmed that he should go.
Shortly after this, John Robert Stevens had a vision in which he clearly saw a church building; so he sent an associate pastor to Honolulu to find it. Once in Hawaii, the associate pastor easily found the church, a landmark replica of Germanic churches from the early 1800s, notable for its large stained-glass windows.
Prominent Lutherans Heinrich Hackfield and Paul Isenberg built the church in 1900 for the fifteen hundred German workers that their businesses employed. The Territory of Hawaii had recently purchased the building, as it was located in an area slated for government development in anticipation of impending Statehood for Hawaii.
By the time John Robert Stevens arrived by steamship in Honolulu, the Territorial government had agreed to allow him to hold services there temporarily. This was a true miracle, for there were few spaces for churches in Honolulu at that time. Besides, the government had turned down many other ministers who had asked to use the same building!
It took only a few days for word-of-mouth to spread about John Robert Stevens and his dynamic teachings. Paul Mickelson, long-time organist for Billy Graham, attended many of the first services in the Beretania Street building, playing piano for the time of worship. Beginning with seven in attendance at the first service, Grace Chapel experienced an increase in each service thereafter. At the close of the first week the church was filled with people who had heard of Stevens and the Word he spoke.
In the late ’50s, Hawaii was preparing for its transition to statehood. These preparations included civic improvements on Beretania Street. Unfortunately for the congregation of Grace Chapel of Honolulu, these plans included tearing down the Beretania church building to construct the State Board of Health building. The church immediately began to look to the Lord for a new facility. They would have no place to worship unless their prayers were answered.
In 1959, on the very last day Grace Chapel could occupy the Beretania Street building, a newer building on nearby Young Street became available. Just as the previous occupants moved out, Grace Chapel of Honolulu moved in; it had been vacant for less than one hour.
Grace Chapel of Honolulu was always very close to John Robert Stevens’ heart. He spent a lot of time in the Islands in the early 1980s, towards the end of his ministry. To this day, we are thankful to John for his vision to create the foundation for our church.
The church stayed at Young Street for over forty years. Although many property purchases had been considered over the following years, the Lord did not lead the way for Grace Chapel to move from the Young Street facility until early 2003, when a two-acre property was found in ‘Aina Haina, a suburb of Honolulu.
This property was another miraculous gift from the Lord to the congregation. Finding two acres on the beach suitable for church use within the city limits of Honolulu is virtually impossible. But this miracle was for a purpose. An influx of younger men and women in the last few years has made it necessary for Grace Chapel to physically expand, providing a place for these young adults to grow and find their expression before the Lord. By mid-2004, an all-volunteer group of church members had finished the construction of a new chapel, where Grace Chapel’s services are now held.