Adventist Young People Escape the Hawaii Fire, Turn to Relief Efforts

Two visiting members of a local church in Indiana saw God’s hand in the midst of the chaos.

Danni Thaw, for Lake Union Herald
Adventist Young People Escape the Hawaii Fire, Turn to Relief Efforts
This photo provided by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources shows burnt areas in Lahaina, on Maui, Hawaii, August 11, 2023, following a wildfire. [Photo: courtesy of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources]

Jolted from his sleep at 3:00 a.m. on the morning of August 8, Kamil Metz, senior pastor of the Evansville Seventh-day Adventist Church, awoke to a phone call. The caller was Dallas Matthew, 26, one of his members serving in the summer as a student literature evangelist on the island of Maui, Hawaii, United States.

Dallas’s news was grave — he was calling to report that deadly wildfires had engulfed Lahaina, the town in Maui that Metz had left just a week earlier. When the unexpected, fiery chaos ensued, the sun had barely risen over Maui’s picturesque landscape.

Jaxson Maun, 29, is another member of Metz’s church who found himself at the heart of a nightmare as devastating fires rapidly consumed more than 2,100 acres (850 hectares) of the original capital of the old Hawaiian Kingdom. The morning started with powerful winds, misidentified as a potential hurricane, only to escalate into an inferno of flames that engulfed the historic town of Lahaina.

“When the fires started that morning, we had already been experiencing heavy winds from the night before. Branches were falling from trees. It felt extremely chaotic,” Maun said. “We all thought it was a hurricane, but it started to pick up midday, so we decided not to go out into the field.”

Maun, Matthew, and a youth team had been working as colporteurs going door to door in Lahaina to spread the gospel. But when their group leader, Mario Bravo, noticed the severe winds that day, he made a providential decision to avoid going out. He did not know that they were escaping the path of destruction that would soon engulf the area they had just left.

“Much later, we found out that if we had stayed even a little bit later and if any part of our movements that day had been different, we would have been stuck in Lahaina during the height of the chaos, when the fire was spreading out of control,” Jaxson Maun said.

As the group drove away from the danger zone, the sight of yellow smoke transformed the island’s serene beauty into a terrifying battleground that would take the lives of at least 115 people. It was quickly becoming the deadliest wildfire in the United States in more than a century.

Miracles in the Madness

Maun and his team eventually found solace at the nearby Seventh-day Adventist church in Kahului, pastored by Vassili Khrapov and located just 35 minutes from ground zero of the disaster.

“One thing that blew my mind is that Pastor Vassili’s house is also still standing,” Maun said. “When he went back to see what was left of his home, he realized that in his neighborhood, everything around his home was burned down. But the fire stopped at his doorstep.”

The experience profoundly impacted Maun’s spirituality. Amidst the chaos, he found himself praying with the group for the community and reflecting on the impermanence of material possessions. This spiritual awakening taught him the importance of placing faith in God during times of uncertainty, an anchor that guided him through the storm.

“I feel very changed by this experience,” Maun said. “Our group got together during that time of chaos and prayed. I feel more spiritually in tune with the living God who guided our movements throughout the experience. While the chaos was brewing, we didn’t know what would happen to us the next day — we just prayed and believed. That was all we could do at the time.”

A Commitment to Relief Efforts

Jaxson was inspired by his grandmother’s involvement in disaster relief ministry and a previous minor earthquake in Indiana. His dedication to helping others in times of crisis found a powerful outlet in Maui, demonstrating that passion and purpose can transform personal experiences into life-changing endeavors.

“I’m just so glad that Jaxson is able to spend his time working on his passion for disaster relief,” Metz said. “As his pastor, [I find] that’s really thrilling because I always look for how I can help my young people work on their passions and further the kingdom of God. This was both a tragedy and an opportunity.”

Even after being evacuated from Maui to Honolulu, Maun’s commitment to disaster relief led him back to Maui the following day. He began aiding the efforts in the church kitchen, assisting with community support, ensuring the safety of the church building, and helping provide essential supplies to those in need.

The fire’s aftermath forced Jaxson to confront the transient nature of earthly possessions. In the wake of the devastation, Metz assured him that prioritizing spiritual and communal values over material gains was essential.

“Every time we go through a natural disaster like this, we need to remember that Jesus is near to the suffering ones, and He cares. And for the rest of us, as we build our American dream, let’s consider that one day it can be taken away,” Metz said.

With the death toll so far of at least 115 and hundreds still missing, the fires serve as another poignant reminder of the fragility of life and the importance of kindling meaningful connections with others while furthering the work of Christ. The island and town will rebuild and recover, and Maun’s experience stands as a reminder that hope can rise amidst the ashes of tragedy — God has and always will have a hand in it all.

The original version of this commentary was posted by the Lake Union Herald.

Danni Thaw, for Lake Union Herald