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Hawaii volcano blasts churches into action

PAHOA, Hawaii (BP) — Amid a lava flow that has destroyed three dozen structures and the threat of a violent volcanic eruption, Hawaii’s churches “are working in really neat ways,” said Chris Martin, executive director of the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention (HPBC).

Congregations on Hawaii’s Big Island have banded together to pray, secure housing for some of the area’s 2,000 evacuees and, beginning next week, operate a mobile shower unit.

“The main focus of our people so far,” Martin told Baptist Press, has been ministry “to the needs that are immediate. But our history and our practice has been a long-term presence with those that have been affected by disasters.”

“Stepping in to meet needs,” Martin added, will “open great doors” for Gospel witness.

Since May 3, the Kilauea volcano has been releasing lava through vents in the ground, destroying 36 structures, including 26 homes, the Associated Press reported. Some 60,000 gallons of flammable liquids had to be removed from a geothermal power plant near the vents, according to CBS News.

Geologists warn that within a week, the largest eruption of Kilauea in a century could spew ash and refrigerator-sized boulders five miles high and scatter them across a three-mile radius.

“If it goes up, it will come down,” U.S. Geological Survey volcano hazards coordinator Charles Mandeville said, according to AP. “You don’t want to be underneath anything that weighs 10 tons when it’s coming out at 120 mph.”

At Puna Baptist Church in Pahoa, Hawaii, 10 member families have had to evacuate their homes and two of those homes have been destroyed by lava, associate pastor Rob Thommarson told BP.

“What we’ve done immediately is try to help all the families get into some immediate emergency housing,” said Thommarson, himself among the evacuees. “Everybody is staying with family, friends and church members.”

If the evacuation “continues for weeks or months,” Thommarson said, Puna will attempt to move its evacuated members into “intermediate housing” with more privacy.

The local Big Island Baptist Association’s mobile shower unit has been moved onto Puna’s parking lot and likely will begin serving residents early next week, said Thommarson, a retired International Mission Board missionary. A prayer tent nearby will be manned by volunteers available to pray with evacuees.

Local churches of various denominations will band together to provide evacuees with food and clothing, Thommarson noted. A community prayer meeting is scheduled for Friday evening.

Neither Puna nor nearby Paradise Park Baptist Church have had their facilities threatened by lava, Martin said.

“Several” pastors and other church members in the area, Martin said, “have been using their vehicles to help people move” their belongings from harm’s way.

HPBC disaster relief units are on standby, Martin said, and working with local officials to determine when and how they can best help.

Both Martin and Thommarson requested prayer from believers across the country as the lava flow continues.