General Baptists have been ministering in Guam since 1911. This is our first and oldest field of ministry outside the continental United States. Over the years we have been blessed by our connection with Guam and look forward to many more years of ministry and outreach to the residents, guest workers and military families of Guam
US Territory of Guam
Area: 541 sq km
Most southerly and largest island of the Marianas Archipelago; 6,000 km west of Hawaii. Also included here (but not as part of Guam itself) are the three tiny US Territories of Johnston Island (2.8 sq km; 1,300 km from Hawaii), Midway Island (5.2 sq km; 2,350 km) and Wake Island (6.5 sq km; 3,700 km).
Population: 179,893 Annual Growth: 1.31%
Official language: Chamorro; English Languages: 8 All languages
Largest Religion: Christian
|Religion||Pop %||Ann Gr|
Prayer for our churches and pastors as they reach out to both those from Guam and those guest workers and military families who are living on the island temporarily. Agana Heights is one of the island’s first Baptist churches, this church was built in 1955. It is one of the first buildings located among a row of religious institutions along one of the village’s main roads.
The church has a great and long history on Guam as can be seen from the old video below and this article about Pastor Joaquin Sabalan.
- Prayer for our military outreach that we may effectively change the lives of young men and women who serve our nation.
- Pray for our churches on Guam that they may faithfully proclaim the good news of God’s love.
- Prayer for leaders for the Guamanian churches. Pastors are urgently needed.
A Golden Salute for the 50th anniversary of the Liberation of Guam
|Baptist Pastor Joaquin Flores Sablan, the only Protestant minister on Guam during the occupation, is shown with his family after the Liberation. He was beaten by occupation officials for his Protestantism, “the American religion.” In photo, Pastor Sablan gathers in Frederick and Irene as wife Beatrice holds infant Franklin.|
Sablan never afraid to preach
By PAUL J. BORJA
The late Joaquin Flores Sablan loved to teach. He lived a long life and career as a school teacher before and after World War II and was a professor at the University of Guam. But he possessed a greater love – to preach the Word of God.
Sablan, who died just last fall, was the only Protestant minister in Guam during the Japanese occupation. But through the hardship of the occupation and war, Sablan’s ministry as a Baptist preacher continued despite Japanese threats of reprisals against those who practiced “the American religion.”
Annie Sablan Aldeguer, now 79 years old and residing in Agana Heights, said her brother, the first Chamorro Protestant minister and just 29 years old in 1941, continued preaching though the Japanese military officials attempted to intimidate him. “Yes, the Japanese beat my brother, slapped him, telling him that they were going to erase America from Guam, and that he was teaching people Protestantism, ‘the American religion’,” Mrs. Aldeguer said.
She said that the late Pastor Sablan, who was schooled and ordained in Indiana, traveled around Guam by bicycle, by walking, and by carabao cart to Inarajan, to Talofofo, to Agat, and also even Yigo to minister to Guam’s Protestant families. “But they chased him away from the church; the church was right there in the heart of Agana,” Mrs. Aldeguer said.
The Japanese confiscated the Baptist church, using the building’s first floor to store food and the second floor as a Shinto place of worship; the occupation authorities also kept the church organ for their own use. The Catholic cathedral in Agana was likewise converted for the Japanese as a center for propaganda and as a site for Japanese entertainment.
“They told him that he should not preach, but my father told him not to be afraid to preach the Word of God, that if he couldn’t preach in a church, he should preach in the jungle, preach the truth of God anywhere.”
And that Sablan did.
Pastor Sablan’s ministry to people seemed to be fairly normal despite the occupation and the Japanese presence, said the Rev. Angelo Sablan, the late pastor’s younger brother and the current pastor of Agana Heights Baptist Church. “Everything was the usual,” said Pastor Angelo. “There were services, Bible studies, baptisms – we did those in rivers – and funerals.”
Deacons and members of the Christian Endeavor Society also assisted in ministering to the people’s spirits during the occupation. But the Japanese did not want things to be normal by any means.
Sablan and the two Roman Catholic priests, the Rev. Jesus Duenas and the Rev. Oscar Calvo, were allowed to remain in Guam and tend to the spiritual needs of the people … but only under conditions set by Japanese Governor Homura, the head of the occupying authorities.
|“… he was preaching of Christ until he died. When you have faith, faith in God, you can move mountains.”
— Annie Sablan Aldeguer, about her brother Pastor Joaquin Flores Sablan
The Chamorro clergymen were ordered to start every service by having all present bow to the emperor; they were only to speak in Chamorro, no English was allowed; they were to meet with the Japanese governor every month and brief him on their religious activities, “and to cooperate by telling the people that the Japanese were winning the war,” Pastor Sablan wrote in his memoirs, “My Mental Odyssey”.
“No sermon was permitted to be preached unless it was approved by the governor a week prior to its delivery.”
At his very first service after the Japanese invasion, Sablan was monitored by a Japanese officer. “I had been speaking in English, but immediately shifted to the native language, aware that the unexpected guest would not know what I said. I asked my people to stand, face northward to Japan and bow to the Emperor. Once again scared, they gave me dreadful expressions. The service turned into a Bible study and meditation without singing because we could not make use of the hymnals written in English. After giving a short talk, I dismissed the congregation with a benediction,” he wrote.
Despite the fact that he lived in a valley and in a time of darkness, Sablan was led to the mountain top. In December 1942, he and the members of the General Baptist Church met – as a preacher and his congregation. Together, they spent a very special Christmas, at Mount Santa Rosa in Yigo.
There, at the mountain top, they gathered “…in order to be as far away as possible from the enemy. Church members also appreciated the fact that the place offered a panoramic view of the island and people could be sighted approaching from a far distance,” wrote the late Pastor Sablan in his memoirs.
He wrote that the all day service included “pep talks” by brothers John San Nicolas Taitano and Jose San Nicolas Taitano who encouraged the people not to lose faith that Americans would liberate the island. “The DeLeon sisters came in an oxcart from Barrigada, a distance of 10 miles, to sing special songs. The women, as usual, served sumptuous meals throughout the day and we ate sugar cane in place of candy because the Japanese had taken over all the stores where we might have obtained candy.”
That Christmas was a blessing but still the Japanese did their best to discourage him, coming to their family farm in Mama. In his book, he noted that he and his wife, Beatrice, finally tired of the harassment. “Besides taking our bananas, chickens and eggs and killing one of my cattle, they forced me to climb the tallest coconut trees in the Fonte Valley, and beat me several times for being pro American. We finally abandoned our farm to go back to Yigo and be with my in-laws.”
He wrote of one mandatory meeting with the Japanese naval Governor Homura where the official berated him in particular. “He told me that the Japanese had come to do away with all American influences, and that meant me and my religious people, being the Baptist denomination, of American origin.”
Homura then ordered him to conduct a census of Baptists “by name, age, village, and submit it to him as early as possible.” Sablan conducted the census; only one family refused to be listed as Baptists “…yet the rest of my people bravely maintained their willingness even to die for their faith, if need be.”
Though Sablan feared the worst, it was late in the war and the census data was never submitted, never requested. Sablan and his wife, however, never forgot the threat that the Japanese official had made about erasing American influences. When their son was born in 1944, they named him Franklin Delano Sablan in honor of President Roosevelt.
The late Pastor Sablan also described of a meeting between the three Chamorro clergymen and Homura. The governor told the Catholic priests in particular to discourage people from celebrating patron saint days and weddings with elaborate fiestas. He told them that war might be prolonged and the people might experience hunger and even starvation.
Sablan wrote that Duenas objected, saying that the people believed that the saints gave them necessary assistance in time of danger and that he would not suggest to his people, in spite of hardship, that they should do less to demonstrate their love and devotion to these saints. “The governor became so furious that I thought he might use his Samurai sword on Duenas’ neck, because of the priest’s uncompromising attitude toward the conquerors, Pastor Sablan noted in his writings.
Duenas, who was to be executed by the Japanese just prior to the Liberation, was a man of courage, Pastor Sablan wrote. “Witnessing Father Duenas in his courageous and firm stand for his faith, he represented religion at its best and spoke for his people without any concern for his own safety.”
Likewise in character was Sablan, a preacher of peace in a time of war, a man who received his strength and calling from a power higher than those who occupied his homeland.
“Oh my goodness,” said Mrs. Aldeguer when asked what gave her brother Joaquin so much strength in those occupation years. “You know, my brother … he was preaching of Christ until he died.”
“When you have faith, faith in God, you can move mountains,” she said.
The United States is defended by the 1.4 million active duty members of the Armed Forces that are serving on bases and posts, aboard ships and around the world. These numbers are bolstered by Reserve and National Guard components making the total approximately 2.3 million personnel who are willing to give the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.
At General Baptist International Ministries, we are committed to reaching and ministering to the military God has sent our way on the island of Guam. Please pray for our military personnel, their families and for their selfless service to our nation. Pray also for a GBIM missionary who will reach sailors, soldiers, airmen and marines on the island of Guam for the glory of God.
We are looking for a spiritually mature person with military background and experience who has a strong call to ministry and feels led to minister to the 7,000 military and their families on the island of Guam.
Origin of the Chamorro Protestant Congregation on Guam
Chamorro Protestants, 1899-1944
The first Protestant missionaries on Guam were two Chamorro brothers, Jose and Luis Custino, who came to the island from Hawai’i in 1899. The Custino brothers’ surname was actually Castro, of the “Kaban” branch of that family. They had left Guam many years prior, during the Spanish era, on the whaling ships and, after their travels, eventually settled in Hawai’i. By this time, both brothers had become Protestant. Hearing that their birthplace had become an American territory, they decided to return to Guam to evangelize.
The Custinos made a few converts within a short time in the northern part of the island and started the first Chamorro Protestant congregation by August of 1899. They converted the Flores Brothers, including Jose (Enko or Cabesa) who later served as the Congregation’s leader. They also made contact with fellow whaler, Jose Mendiola Taitano (Cueto). The Cueto and Cabesa clans had five marriages that produced hundreds of children and grandchildren, many of who continue to attend the Baptist Church that their elders had helped establish.
The community worshipped in the Custino home in Hagåtña. Help came from Major A.C. Kelton, the Protestant Marine chaplain, and William Coe, originally from Samoa, who had acquired land in Adelup.
At the same time that the Custino brothers began their evangelistic efforts on Guam, the American Board of Commissioners for the Foreign Missions also began to take an interest in Guam. The Board was connected with the Congregational Church and had its offices in Boston. The Board had a historic link to Micronesia, supplying Protestant missionaries in the area since the 1852. A mission in American Guam was thought to present advantages to the Board’s work in the whole region.
First Chamorro Protestant families
The Reverend Francis M. Price and his wife were sent by the Board to Guam, arriving on November 27, 1900, more than a year since the Custinos had laid the foundations of the Chamorro Protestant community. Besides the Flores and Taitano families some of the prominent pioneer Chamorro Protestants were the families of Tomas Cruz Gutierrez, Manuel Flores Torres, Jose, Joaquin, and Jose Guerrero Flores, Jesus Fausto Cruz, Jose and Vicente Manajane Taitano, Ramon Diaz Sablan, Jose Diaz Sablan, Joaquin Indalecio de Leon, Juan Pangelinan Guerrero, Manuel Ulloa and Vicente Arceo.
Land at Adelup was acquired for the Protestant mission. In time, houses for the American missionaries and Chamorro caretakers and school rooms were built. Worship services continued in Hagåtña, but the Adelup location was considered better than the crowded neighborhoods of the capital. A single woman by the name of Channell assisted the Prices for a short while. The Price’s daughter and son-in-law, Reverend and Mrs. Arthur C. Logan, also assisted in the Guam mission for a brief period.
Besides leading church services, Sunday school and evangelizing, the Prices taught school, especially since English classes were attractive to some Chamorros. Price also started to translate the Gospels and Psalms into Chamorro with the help of several Chamorro Protestants. The Gospels and Psalms in Chamorro were later published by the Board. In 1903, the mission was officially organized as the Iglesia Evangélica de Guam (Guam Evangelical Church). It totaled sixty-one members. A small mission in Inarajan, under the care of Jose Aguon Flores, was also begun.
Social isolation, taunts endured
The emerging Protestant mission faced many challenges. The overwhelming Chamorro reaction to the mission was negative. On some occasions, rocks were thrown at the Protestant buildings. But the greater opposition came in the form of verbal taunts and social isolation. The Spanish Capuchin friars on Guam at the time forbade their flock from any interaction with the small Protestant community.
Relations with the U.S. Naval Government, which at times could be neutral or somewhat positive, could, at other times, be strained. In December, 1903, Governor William Sewell issued an order forbidding religious preaching in the streets, which hampered the evangelistic work of the Protestants. It seems the Naval Government, though officially neutral in religious matters, did not want to upset the Catholic majority. There were some complaints by the missionaries that the small American community on Guam did not support the mission enough and, at times, even behaved in ways harmful to the mission’s reputation.
In 1905, Reverend Herbert E.B. Case and his wife replaced the Prices as head of the Protestant mission. In Case’s view, the mission had grown stagnant by then and had little hope for any further significant progress. His opinions prompted the Board to start evaluating its presence on Guam. Episcopalian missionaries working in the Philippines were asked to consider taking the Guam Protestant mission, but Episcopalian Bishop Charles H. Brent, visiting Guam in 1909, declined. The Board closed the Guam mission in 1910.
Before leaving Guam, Case appointed Jose Flores to lead the congregation. However by the following year, a new Protestant denomination was willing to assume care of the Guam mission. The General Association of General Baptists, centered in Oakland City, Indiana sent Reverend and Mrs. Arthur U. Logan to Guam in 1911. Under the Logans, the Hågatña church was renovated with concrete walls. A mission station was started in Umatac under Vicente Taitano. Eventually, the mission facilities at Adelup were given up. Just before the Logans left Guam for a new assignment, the renovated church was dedicated in 1922.
Joaquin Flores Sablan ordained in 1935
The Baptist congregation was then led by Reverend and Mrs. D.R. Thomas (1922-1925), Reverend and Mrs. A.L. Luttrell (1925-1928) and Reverend Dale Tennison (1928-1930). When Tennison left Guam in 1930, the General Baptists did not send a new pastor to Guam from the mainland. In 1935, however, Joaquin Flores Sablan, whom Reverend Luttrell had accompanied to Oakland City for schooling, returned to Guam as the first ordained Chamorro Protestant minister. Another Chamorro, Manuel de Leon, was also educated in the mainland under Baptist auspices but did not return to Guam to become a pastor.
When the Japanese occupied Guam during World War II, Reverend Sablan moved to Yigo and, from there, traversed Guam to attend to his scattered Baptist congregation. After the war, a new church was completed in Agana Heights in 1955. The missions in Umatac and Inarajan eventually closed but new congregations were started in Yigo, Agat and Talofofo after the war.
General Baptist Mission Video Sample
Featuring the Guam Baptist Mission:
For further reading
Forbes, Eric, OFM Cap. “The Origins of Protestantism on Guam.” In Guam History: Perspectives, Vol. 1, edited by Lee Carter, William L. Wuerch and Rosa R. Carter. Mangilao, GU: University of Guam Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, 1997.
Pesch, William D., Esq. “Praying Against the Tide: Challenges Facing the Early Prostestant Missionaries on Guam, 1900-1910.” Master’s thesis, University of Guam, 2000.
Sablan, Joaquin F. My Mental Odyssey: Memoirs of the First Guamanian Protestant Minister. Poplar Bluff: Stinson Press, 1990.