Class of 1986
By Kortni Kurata
Since June 2000, James White has served as the minister at Aiea United Methodist Church on Oahu. He is the spiritual leader of the church and oversees all aspects of church life. Besides preparing and leading the weekly worship services, Jim tends to the needs and emergencies of his congregation providing personal counseling, performing weddings, baptisms, and funerals. He explains his job in these terms: “I get paid to get to know people, love people, and help them in their walk with God.”
Jim never intended to become a minister. Instead, he had dreams of becoming a lawyer. Selected to attend the United States Coast Guard Academy, his well-laid plans of becoming a maritime lawyer were dashed when he failed his physical exam due to a severe case of acne on his chest. Although medication eventually cleared up his acne, he was not allowed to enter the class of 1990.
His epiphany came while participating in a summer camp repairing the homes of people with Hansen’s disease at Kalaupapa, Molokai. While pondering his future, he heard a question in his head asking, “What about the ministry?” He conferred with his UMC (United Methodist Church) camp leader, Rev. Alan Mark, and was encouraged to “keep listening.” By Christmas of 1986, he knew where his path would lead him. Jim explains: “I never chose to be a minister. God chose me.”
Jim became an ordained minister by graduating from high school, earning a degree in theater from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a Master of Divinity degree from Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey. The ordination process was long and detailed, taking him approximately four years to complete.
Reflecting upon his life as a minister, he expresses his joy by spending time with people and being creative in worship so people can think about God in new and relevant ways. Loving his congregation and being loved by them also brings him much happiness. However, there are downsides to his job, such as the late hours due to emergencies that take him away from his family. Although he loves NFL football, he rarely gets to watch it because Sunday is a “work day” for him.
Matthew 18:3 is Jim’s favorite Bible verse. This verse is where Jesus is talking to his disciples and trying to teach them what it means to be involved in the things God cares about. All the disciples were thinking only of themselves trying to see who would be the greatest in God’s kingdom. Jesus, on the other hand, puts a child first in their midst and says they have to become like a child in order to be part of God’s kingdom. We can all learn from children through their creativity, enthusiasm, trustfulness, and sincerity. To him, this means God doesn’t care about prestige, status, honors, or seniority. God sees us through our hearts. Jesus was trying to teach the disciples to loosen up and enjoy life instead of being so caught up in wondering who’s the best. We should make the most of this life that we’ve been blessed with.
Jim’s first pastorate was in July 1994 at Christ UMC on Oahu, which is the first Korean Christian church anywhere established outside of Korea. His next assignment was home to Hilo at the Hilo United Methodist Church, where he was assigned for three years. He has also had the privilege of doing a one-month pulpit exchange program with a pastor from the Methodist Church of England, and has traveled to South Korea and the Philippines as part of his evangelical mission experiences.
When asked about any particular teacher or class that he remembered from his years at Waiakea High, Jim had quite a list. They are former Principal John Sosa, Mr. Gary Beals (marine science), Mrs. Netlie Yokoyama (“Mrs. Yo!”), Mrs. JoLynn Llaneza (senior class homeroom) , Mrs. Helen Kobayashi (AP US history), Mrs. Cherlyn Chong (junior English), Mrs. Leo Kunimoto (chemistry), Mrs. Patricia Ozeki (history), Mrs. Corliss Yamaki (AP English), Mr. Mackay Yamamoto (AP calculus), and Mrs. JoAnn Fujimoto, counselor. Jim enjoyed the challenge of the three AP classes that were offered at the time. These were U.S. History, English and Calculus. Yet he can’t forget the all time classic favorite, lunch recess!
There are some memorable high school experiences that Jim fondly recalled. He played on the varsity basketball team which placed 3rd in the BIIF tournament his senior year. That same year, the Mock Trial team he was on made it all the way to States. He was also active in the follies for three years, which was the annual talent show, held each spring. Being the typical teenager, he cheered at Waiakea’s football games and attended the dances held in the cafeteria. Last but not least, he remembers passing notes to his girlfriend, Jody McCollum, also class of 1986, who later became his wife. Jody is the Executive Assistant to the CEO of Alexander and Baldwin. They also have two children, Ezra (born 1994) and Emily (born 1997).