“Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” These are some of the most famous words in all of Disney history said by Lilo, a young Hawaiian girl in Lilo and Stitch (2002). Literally translating from the Hawaiian term, “Ohana” does mean family, but maybe not in the way we often use it.
In the summer of 2016, I visited some friends in Hawaii for about five weeks. When my plane landed in Maui, I was immediately greeted by the sun-kissed air, and I could tell I was not in Kansas anymore. There aren’t necessarily ladies waiting to place leis over your head as you enter the terminal like the movies portray. However, there are a bunch of eager people awaiting your arrival at their homes. Most of my friends had been living there for years and had established themselves in churches and in workplaces. They were used to crowded living rooms as close-knit groups gathered for devotionals or celebrations with nothing but the mountain breezes and box fans to cool them down. I was not.
My large family has always lived in the same general area. Growing up, we would get together quite often. We played games or reminisced about old times, watched movies with popcorn, and had family holidays. On the other hand, we’ve never sat together in one living room with no air conditioner and numerous others who weren’t blood-related.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “In Rome, do as the Romans do,” the same can be said about Hawaii. You may have a family of four or a family of ten-plus, but there will always be room for those thirty non-blood-related members of the family. I became one of those members on my trip. People that had only known me for five minutes were extending hugs, sharing stories, laughing with me, and welcoming me into their world. It was an unfamiliar sensation, but I loved it. I wasn’t a stranger to them; I was a long-lost sister.
Friendship is rather rare in Hawaii because no one is just a friend; everyone is valued at more intimate levels. You have the roles of mother, father, sister, brother, and so on, but my favorite titles of all are “auntie” and “uncle.” Those in a younger generation call those in the older generation “Auntie Jane” or “Uncle Joe.” While it may be a sign of honor and respect among those in the Hawaiian culture, it’s more than that. It’s Ohana. Everyone is family there. No one is left behind. No one is forgotten.
Spending five weeks being invited to a women’s bible study, not one but two baby showers, a vow renewal, dinner, shopping—where my clothes and food were purchased as a gift to me—was beyond anything I could have fathomed. I was even referred to as Auntie Becca. They didn’t know me well, but they loved me immensely. I know that it doesn’t matter if I ever have the ability to visit again (though I pray I do). I will still be a part of their hearts, and I will always have a home to go back to.
What if we treated our neighbors like that? Our coworkers, students, clients, employees, bosses, the lady in front of us at the store, the man on the corner with a sign asking for food? What if we had no ulterior motives other than to just love and welcome people home? What if changing our mindsets about people changes the culture all over the world and we begin to see none left behind or forgotten? After all, every single person was created in one unified image, the image of God, and I can’t begin to imagine a better Ohana than that.
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