“OHANA IS EVERYTHING IN HAWAII”
A local family shared, “Hawaiian cultural belief is that the land is not ours. God gives us the land to take care of it, and if we do, it will take care of us. Lahaina was the original capital and where all of the original Hawaiian culture was preserved. Family, or Ohana, is everything, and all share what they have, tend the land carefully, and preserve our history by passing it down through generations.”
This wildfire caused more than a loss of homes and land, but a loss of identity, loss of heritage, and a loss of ohana as known here. Everyone on the Island of Maui has been affected directly or indirectly by these fires, and all are suffering and mourning their losses.
An estimated 12,000 people are displaced, with people in shelters that will be closing soon, placed in hotels by the American Red Cross for the next 45 days, or living in their vehicles, tents in the park, on the street, or with family and friends. With businesses destroyed, there is also a massive loss of jobs, income, and tourism
Lutheran Church Charities received an invite from Rev. Michael Lange of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod California Nevada Hawaii (CNH) District, CNH District Disaster Response Coordinator (DDRC) Phil Zabell, and Leif Sjostrand, Congregational President from Emmanuel Lutheran Church & School in Kahului on Maui to assist this congregation in how to respond effectively in their community from this devastating disaster.
Rev. Chris Singer, LCC President/CEO, Jeanette Singer, and Kathy O’Day, LCC Director of Disaster Response, arrived in Maui on Thursday, August 17. They immediately met with Russell Wilson, Head Elder, Diane Wilson, Church Secretary, and Josh Rempfer, Emmanuel Lutheran School Principal, to discuss what they were experiencing and hoping to accomplish during our stay.
“I want to thank you for helping LCC ‘Be There’ with those who were suffering and in need from the wildfires in Maui. The loss and grief was described as a dark cloud hanging over Maui,” shared Rev. Singer.
“I heard stories of survival from displaced residents receiving free meals who lost their properties. One adult son who had been visiting his parents raced to their home with the fire bearing down onto their neighborhood. His parents were not in the house and, with just mere minutes, he grabbed a few photos that he could carry and ran to a safe distance onto the beach and watched his parents’ home burn. His mother and father recounted the details to me through tears. A hotel worker shared that their home was burned to the ground and that his wife and children were now being housed at the hotel where he worked.
There were so many stories shared with our ministry team, who sat with each person in their grief. Our very presence alone brought so much comfort. Each person was moved to gratitude that could only be expressed by tears as we told them of the outpouring of financial support, the hundreds of prayers being lifted on their behalf, and LCC’s commitment to continue to be there through ongoing support of their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.”
On Friday, we met with the school staff. Rev. Singer led devotions and explained LCC’s role and partnership with Emmanuel. Rev. Rod Hall and Jeanette Singer, Licensed Counselors, offered individual emotional and spiritual care opportunities to them and their students. Pastor Rod and Jeanette were invited to visit and talk to students in three classrooms. The children expressed many things they had heard from their parents and were reassured to “have faith in God.” Several staff members were also ministered to privately.
Reaching Those in Need through Food Pantry
Last week we also met with food pantry leaders from Emmanuel and Wailuku Union Churches and a community distribution site in Lahaina to discuss how to get the needed food, hygiene, and paper products to distribution sites for survivors in need.
Orphan Grain Train (OGT), a Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) Recognized Service Organization led by Rev. Ralph Schmidt on the Island of Maui, will be partnering with Emmanuel Lutheran Church to provide requested items to designated sites. A shipment will arrive in Maui this week for those in need.
Tears of gratitude appeared on cheeks as all discussed the deeper ministry that occurs through relationships started through meeting one’s basic physical needs.
Providing Spiritual, Emotional, and Trauma Care
Lutheran Church Charities and Emmanuel Lutheran Church were invited by the Hawaii VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) to provide spiritual, emotional, and trauma care to displaced residents staying in hotels. Rev. Rod Hall and Rev. Mark Hannemann, President/CEO GracePoint Institute for Relational Health, have been ministering to these displaced residents.
This entire team of servants has been ministering to those affected by this disaster at distribution and feeding centers, hotels, and other community businesses and sites, as well as first responders and National Guard soldiers.
On Sunday, Reverends Chris Singer, Rod Hall, Mark Hannemann, and Ralph Schmidt led the worship services at Emmanuel. Rev. Singer delivered a message of hope to those assembled. When asked to consider what Jesus might be asking them, the congregation shared: "Do you trust Me?, Do you believe in Me?, Do you love Me?"
Rev. Singer shared Matthew 15:21-28 and Jesus’ recognition of a faith that is trusting even when the “WHY” is not answered and God appears silent. During Bible Study, Pastor Mark Hannemann leaned into this as he instructed on Christian Care and the fact that the “WHY” question should be replaced with “WHAT” does Jesus want for us through this.
Inspiration from a Sunday School Student
Rev. Singer was inspired by the faith demonstrated by so many as each one actively worked to care for the other. Emmanuel Lutheran School’s principal shared a story that inspired him the most as it came from the heart of an elementary student during Sunday school.
“Me and my brother went to Lahaina to go help out the people stuck there. All you could smell was smoke if you rolled down your windows or through the AC vents, it was tragic. We gave water to all the people who were living on the beach. We gave them water to drink and to shower, and we gave them food to eat, but the one thing they were looking for was hope and happiness, which is what we did. We had made them so happy that they cried tears, and they were hugging us so hard that it was hard to breathe. After that, we went home and we prayed for them so they hopefully could rebuild what they had lost.”
“What amazing faith,” shared Rev. Singer. “May each of us have our eyes and hearts open to the grief around us and respond with the mercy, compassion, presence and proclamation of Jesus!”
Lutheran Early Response Team Training for Church Members
Sunday afternoon, Deaconess Kathy O’Day provided LCMS Basic Lutheran Early Response Team (L.E.R.T.) training to twenty congregation members and school staff from Emmanuel. They learned what they could do as church L.E.R.T. volunteers to assist their community during the immediate and long-term recovery process, and received spiritual and emotional caregiving ideas. Deaconess O’Day will lead another Basic L.E.R.T. training at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Aiea on the Island of Oahu on Saturday.
he congregation of Emmanuel and the people we have met and minster to extend heartfelt “Mahalo nui” for prayers and financial support sent on their behalf.
The greatest need is for financial donations to help the people of Maui. They do not have the ability to take in any more donations of items. If you are so moved by this disaster, please donate generously so that we can help survivors with this unfathomable loss.
Thank you for your faithful prayers and support for all of the communities affected by these wildfires as well as for the local first responders, LCC staff, and volunteers that help during the long recovery process. Be there with LCC to show them the love and presence of Jesus!
Lutheran Church Charities is ready to show the Mercy, Compassion, Presence, and Proclamation of Jesus Christ to those who are suffering and in need. We only go where we are invited and we never charge those we serve.
LCC works in coordination with LCMS Disaster Response national and local districts of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.