LAHAINA, Maui (BP) – Lahaina faces an uncertain future following the Aug. 8 wildfire that consumed the town. As survivors continue reckoning with the series of chaotic events that generated one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history, local pastors and residents are asking what it will take to persevere through the tragedy.
The latest official death count reached 114, but with roughly 850 people unaccounted for, the toll may climb to multiple hundreds.
“From our house in Lahaina, we came out in the evening, and normally there’s a sunset,” said Richard Murray, pastor of Kaanapali Beach Ministry in Lahaina, “and I could see this dark, black, what we thought was a cloud just over the town facing the water.”
Murray at first thought there was a major storm brewing before his friend pointed out that, no, it was smoke from a fire. Lahaina was burning.
A combination of drought-parched land and gale-force winds turned the wildfire into what Murray described as a gigantic blow torch.
“About 20 minutes later, the police were coming around the corner saying, ‘Evacuate. The fire is headed this way.’ So, we had to grab my wife’s two therapy dogs,” Murray said. “We jumped in the car, and we evacuated.”
The Murrays thought this would be like similar wildfire evacuations they’ve experienced in their 30 years of living on the island – that they would eventually get the “all clear” and return safely to their home.
Instead, the fire reduced their home to ash.
Barry Campbell is serving as the transitional pastor of Lahaina Baptist Church. Campbell and his wife, Marci, had moved out of an apartment complex in Lahaina Town just a few months earlier. That entire complex was destroyed.
“All but two of our families (in their church) have lost their homes and everything they had,” Marci said. “So, we’re just working with our families, trying to meet immediate needs and trying to get them places to stay.”
The Campbells cooked and provided meals for their neighbors after the fire went out. They tracked down their church members and helped them find missing loved ones, and they opened their home for some who had been displaced by the fire.
Erik Naylor, a Send Network church planter, arrived on Maui back in December 2022 to be sent out of Lahaina Baptist Church to help a core group grow into a new congregation in the community. He and his family were renting a home in Lahaina, and the home and most of their belongings were lost.
“In the early afternoon, our cell phone service went out. The Wi-Fi went out, so we didn’t have any communication,” Naylor said. “Probably around 2 or 3, all of Front Street is burning down, but we didn’t know it. We were walking distance from Front Street. We just didn’t realize it was that bad.”
Right before they left, they walked across a field toward Lahaina Baptist Church and saw the massive cloud of smoke. His neighbor and fellow church member, Todd, went over and prayed for the church building, which miraculously survived the fire.
God has provided the Naylor family with temporary housing through a believer on the island opening their home for the next few weeks. Now as they help their own family of seven get back on its feet and into school, Naylor and his wife Danni have continued ministering to their community by engaging others and sharing the Gospel.
“We have seen God show up through churches (from the mainland) and agencies like Send Relief just showing up to be there for us, support us, encourage us, pray for us,” Campbell said. “People praying for us has just been huge. We’re so thankful for the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention and local churches contacting us.”
Several churches that were outside the burn zone have been meeting needs and supporting the survivors who had been displaced by the fire, and Send Relief has helped to undergird some of those efforts financially in cooperation with the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention. In addition, Send Relief sent a shipment of fire recovery supplies to Maui to assist Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams as they serve families who have lost everything. This shipment left Send Relief’s warehouse in Ashland, Ky., and was packed with protective gear including Tyvek suits, N95 masks, goggles and more.
“Traveling around the island this past weekend speaking with pastors and residents in Maui, you can’t help but grieve with them over the tremendous loss of life,” said Bryant Wright, president of Send Relief, following a visit to the island. “There is a long road of recovery ahead, and we at Send Relief want to help connect churches from the mainland to the needs in Hawaii.”
Published August 23, 2023