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Churches, ministries responding to deadly Maui wildfires

Local churches in Maui are reaching out to wildfire victims despite many members suffering loss themselves. They are the first on the front line as national ministries rprepare to rush in aid.

The fast-moving blaze has destroyed the historic resort town of Lahaina, causing an estimated $5.5 billion in damages and burning more than 2,100 acres, according to Reuters, which said the death toll had reached 95 on Monday. It is one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history. The deadliest was The 1871 Peshtigo fire in Wisconsin that killed 1,152, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green warned that the death toll could increase as more victims are discovered. Maui County Police Chief John Pelletier said dogs trained to detect bodies had covered only 3 percent of the search area.

However, the historic Maria Lanakila Catholic Church in Lahaina remained untouched, with viewers hailing the phenomenon as an act of God. Monsignor Terrence Watanabe expressed shock at the apparent divine intervention, and members of the church community expressed gratitude.

“Basically what we know is the fact that all of Lahaina Town has been consumed by fire,” he said. “It’s all gone. The church, Maria Lanakila is still standing, as is the rectory.”

Pastor Kawi Keahi and his wife, Shalia, who lost their home and the King’s Chapel in Lahaina, spoke of escaping the blaze and helping others. Shalia told ABC News that they were informed by their neighbor that the fire was right above them, leading them to evacuate with their children and dog in their car.

“We are thankful to be part of a big church,” Shalia said. “We have many locations. And so our church in Kahului is helping in the efforts to get supplies together. And as soon as we get the green light to go in and get supplies to the homes in Kahana and Napoli, we are going to do that. We are providing a place to stay for the people that are coming out.”

Samaritan’s Purse teams are on the ground in Hawaii spearheading the emergency response ministry’s relief efforts. Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains are also on the island to provide emotional support and spiritual comfort to residents reeling in the wake of so much loss.

As soon as affected areas are accessible, possibly as early as Monday, volunteer teams will assist residents in some of the most devastated communities sift through the ashes in search of valuables, photos, and mementos. Tons of relief supplies are being shipped to the island via our DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham, in a Facebook post Aug. 11, asked people to pray.

“So many are in shock and devastated,” he said. “Pray for our teams, that we would be the hands and feet of our Lord Jesus Christ, and pray especially for those who have lost loved ones and their homes in this tragedy.”

Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship has set up a relief fund to help the Maui-based congregation and others in the community. The effort will not only help Harvest members “rebuild their lives” but also benefit “other people in the community who’ve been devastated by this,” and provide “hope and comfort in the Name of Jesus,” Laurie said in a video message.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice

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