Wartime Protestant Minister

Joaquin Flores Sablan (1912 – 1993) lived a long life and cherished his career as a school teacher before and after World War II. But he possessed a greater love – to preach the Word of God.

Sablan was the only Protestant minister in Guam during the Japanese occupation. At 29 years old in 1941, he was the first Chamorro/CHamoru Protestant minister. He continued preaching despite the Japanese military officials attempt to intimidate him. They told him that he should not preach, but his 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 he 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. Instead of services at a church, however, they were held in private.

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.

Bow first, then pray

The CHamoru clergymen were ordered to start every service by having all present bow to the emperor; they were only to speak in CHamoru, 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 memoir, “My Mental Odyssey.”

He wrote of one mandatory meeting with the Japanese naval Governor Homura where the official berated him in particular. Homura had 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. 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.

Editor’s note: Reprinted with permission from Liberation-Guam Remembers: A Golden Salute for the 50th Anniversary of the Liberation of Guam, edited by Paul J. Borja and Tony Palomo.

For further reading

Sablan, Joaquin F. My Mental Odyssey: Memoirs of the First Guamanian Protestant Minister. Poplar Bluff: Stinson Press, 1990.