LIBERATION Guam Remembers
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
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
"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
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
"... 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
"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
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
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
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.
17 March 1942
General Douglas MacArthur, ordered by President Roosevelt to leave
the Philippines 11 March, evades capture by Japanese forces and arrives
in Australia. There, he makes a vow and one of the war's most famous
declarations: "I came through and I shall return."
Japanese sentries stand guard. In
occupied Guam, many families were evicted from their homes as military
officials desired the residences for their own.
A huge mound of coal sits in the Piti
Navy Yard, a facility utilized during the occupation by the Japanese
naval garrison charged with the administration of Guam.
The USS Penguin, a minesweeper
scuttled by her crew after an attack by Japanese aircraft on Dec. 8,
1941. Ensign Robert White was killed in that engagement.