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Hawaii death toll climbs to 99; Send Relief plans taking shape

Lahaina, Hawaii (Aug. 14, 2023) - FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams, Washington Task Force 1 and Nevada Task Force 1, continue Maui Wildfire response.

LAHAINA, Hawaii (BP) – Search and rescue crews have covered only 25 percent of the search area around Lahaina after a devastating fire destroyed the town and claimed at least 99 lives a week ago. Crews are using cadaver dogs to search for human remains. So far, nearly 100 deaths have been confirmed, though only three bodies have been identified.

“The fires in Maui have quickly become one of the most tragic natural disasters in U.S. history as it’s become the deadliest wildfire our nation has experienced in the last 100 years,” Send Relief President Bryant Wright said in a written statement to Baptist Press. “Yet, we’re seeing Southern Baptist churches respond to meet needs and offer spiritual care to survivors, and Send Relief and Hawaii Baptists are supporting their efforts as they distribute essential items and offer shelter to those who have been displaced by the fire.

“But the ministry has only just begun. This will be months and months of recovery based on the amount of devastation. Prayers and financial support are desperately needed for the days ahead. Pray that so many who have lost so much will be open to the Good News of Christ.”

Wright is making plans to visit the area next week. Meanwhile, at least six Hawaiian Southern Baptist churches are distributing essential items to survivors, offering shelter and providing spiritual care, a Send Relief spokesperson told BP.

On the ground update

In a video interview with Craig Webb, associate executive director of the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention, HPBC disaster relief directors John and Gay Williams urged people to pray.

“It’s our most valuable resource,” Gay Williams said.

The Williamses told Webb a small team is on the ground helping first responders and distributing supplies.

“We’re just being open and looking for opportunities for God to use us and He’s showing up,” John Williams said.

Government offices are asking for help from the Baptist DR teams, and the Williamses expect there to be a long-term partnership and relief effort.

Gay Williams urged people not to “self-deploy.”

“If you’re a trained disaster relief worker, we’ll be calling you soon,” she said. “If you’re not trained and want to be, we’ll be having those trainings soon.”

“We’re going to be deploying teams from across the mainland,” John Williams said. “Our partners … have been reaching out, giving financially, checking on us, showing Hawaii some love, and it’s been wonderful.”

Webb thanked Southern Baptists and others for the love they’ve shown so far, saying he’s heard from Lifeway Christian Resources, GuideStone Financial Resources, Send Relief and churches around the world.

A time for everything

Jay Haynes, pastor of Kahului Baptist Church, which has become an operations and distribution center in the aftermath, preached Sunday, August 13, from Ecclesiastes 3.

“I wanted to pick this text because I thought that it would help us understand what’s happened here in Maui over the past few days,” he told his congregation.

There are different kinds of tragedies, he said. Some take over the news cycle for a day or two. Some, like the COVID-19 pandemic, dominate our thoughts for months or years.

“That’s the level of an event that we’ve experienced,” he said. “In many ways, it is catastrophic. In many ways, it’s new. We’ve not experienced it. And in many different ways, this is absolutely normal.”

There is a time for everything, he said, adding: “There is a consistent ebb and flow to the world, and nothing will last.”

“We have officially entered a ‘season,’” he said, referencing the passage. A season of love and hard work.

“The Lord has used this church mightily over the past few days. … We need to be ready to meet the need.”

He urged his people to “exemplify the eternal joy” they have in Christ, despite the hard times that come.

“Live in such a way … that people know that your joy is not in the things of this life,” he said.