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Maui churches continue ministry amid slow recovery

Hawaii Pacific Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers join with Lahaina Baptist Church for worship on Oct. 1 at Airport Beach in Kahekili. Photo from Facebook

LAHAINA, Hawaii (BP) – It has been 10 weeks since flames whipped over and through Maui, taking nearly 100 lives while destroying homes and historical markers. Even now, a return to normalcy seems far away, with many residents saying it’s frustratingly far away.

That pace, they hear, is due at least in part from the age of many structures lost in the fires that began Aug. 8. Harmful materials such as asbestos can be kicked up with any large-scale cleanup. A left-behind propane tank poses its own threat.

So, they wait.

Barry Campbell, interim pastor of Lahaina Baptist Church in Maui, preaches on Oct. 1. The church has remained without the use of its building since the Aug. 14 fires and has since met outside in public spaces. Photo from Facebook

All but two families at Lahaina Baptist Church lost their homes. The church building itself was unharmed, but transitional pastor Barry Campbell said he and others have been allowed only one five-minute visit to gather some essential office items. The church itself has been meeting outside at a local park. 

“The National Guard has been responsible for the perimeter [of the burn area],” he told Baptist Press. “We appreciate local officials and police trying to protect everyone. They’re doing the best they can to keep everybody safe.”

Some businesses such as a grocery store that are located on the edge of the burn zone have re-opened. For many others it will take time.

“Everything in the heart of the burn area is inaccessible,” Campbell said.

He has observed Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams accompany families when they are allowed to return. Those times include sifting through ashes for anything recognizable.

The most recent Send Relief statistics count 61 families assisted with recovery work such as ash sifting and other repairs. There have been nine recorded professions of faith and nearly 11,000 volunteer hours contributed.

The Hawaii-Pacific Baptist Convention has led the way in Disaster Relief response. Other Baptist conventions joining the effort include Arizona, California, New Mexico, the Northwest, North Carolina, Texas Baptist Men and Utah-Idaho. Two shipments of fire recovery supplies have been sent to the area from Send Relief’s warehouse in Ashland, Ky.

“So many residents on the island of Maui are still working to find closure and continue their road to recovery,” said Bryant Wright, president of Send Relief, Southern Baptists’ compassion ministry. “It’s only been in the last couple of weeks that some residents have been allowed back into Lahaina to begin assessing the damage.

“I am regularly thinking about and praying for the Hawaii Baptist leaders and pastors I met when I had the opportunity to visit in the aftermath of the fire. The road ahead is still long, but I’m grateful for the Southern Baptist churches, volunteers and other ministry partners who have been helping survivors in the last couple of months.”

First steps after the flames

Communication made difficult by spotty phone coverage became the focus for LBC and other churches in the days after the fire. Church members began showing up at the condo of Campbell and his wife, Marci. Many had gotten separated and were looking for a central connecting point.

Barry and Marci had planned a staycation beginning Aug. 7. Their daughter, Katie, had flown in from Oregon to visit the day before.

“Responding lasted pretty much around the clock,” Marci said. “We would get two or three hours of sleep a night. You just want to keep helping those who lost everything.

“It was a hard time.”

In a very real way their home, which wasn’t damaged, became the church. The outdoor pavilion where they usually meet can’t be reserved, so Campbell is usually there on Sundays two hours before 9 a.m. worship. There have been a couple of times when someone had already grabbed it, so Lahaina Baptist Church meets under a nearby shade tree.

Marci Campbell presents Leo, a member of Lahaina Baptist Church, with a new ukulele to replace the one he lost in the fire. Photo from Barry Campbell

Worship attendance is 30-40, not counting Disaster Relief volunteers, and down some because the usual tourists aren’t there right now. Since the fire, the Campbells have helped get others into hotels or other accommodations. Church team meetings are held at their home, with Marci preparing lunch on many Sundays.

There have been things to celebrate. When Leo, a young man with Down Syndrome, lost his beloved ukulele that he played during worship each week, a church member gifted him with another one. Another family with two teens starting college this fall were provided with laptops.

Campbell has seen the church respond even as his time there is coming to an end. On Oct. 15 LBC voted for Erik Naylor to preach in view of a call to become pastor. Naylor arrived in Maui last December with his family as a Southern Baptist Send Network church planter.

“I’m amazed at the resiliency of the people in this church and their commitment to shining the light of the Gospel,” Campbell said. “They are grieving and hard-hit, but keep showing the light of Christ in a difficult moment.”