Responding to Wildfires On Our Islands
Updates are being added to this post below. Scroll down to "CONFERENCE UPDATES."
Make a donation to the Hawai‘i Conference's Hawai‘i 2023 Wildfires Relief Fund:
NOTE: The Hawai‘i Conference Office will share updates on our impacted churches and the ways we are responding. For updates on the situation on Maui, there are resources at the bottom of this post.
Most recent updates on top:
September 6, 2023 – Conference Minister shares "Prayers and Funds as Avenues of God's Love"
(Originally published in the Coconut Wireless e-newsletter, September 6, 2023)
Many of us participated in Kīpuni Aloha no Maui (Embrace Beloved Maui). These series of prayer services this past Friday occurred across the islands and were anchored in Hawaiian spiritual practices.
The noon Honolulu service hosted by Kawaiaha'o Church included 24 faith leaders representing five religious traditions. Two insights from the service continue to abide with me. First, Bishop Larry Silva of the Honolulu Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church prayed for a future Kula and Lahaina rebuilt on hope, peace, love, and joy. It was a crucial reminder that what makes a town habitable are the hallmarks of our relationships with one another.
Second, Bishop Eric Matsumoto, Hawai'i Association of International Buddhists commented on how our interconnections with one another become the channels by which compassion is expressed. I found myself appreciative of the Buddhist insight that through interconnectivity of our lives God's compassion continues to be incarnated among us.
To date between the Conference and national offices $19,100 has been released for immediate and critical needs on Maui. The Conference is committed to Maui's long-term recovery as well. While details are still being finalized, this includes the possibility of support for ministers as they support folks affected by the fires, the rebuilding of homes, and the support of business and employment opportunities.
It is intended that these funds help sustain hope, peace, love, and joy and be part of the interconnections which incarnate God's compassion for those caught in this tragedy.
David Popham, Conference Minister
August 30, 2023 – Hawai'i VOAD Provides Update on Wildfires and Resources
Danny Tengan, HCUCC Disaster Ministries Coordinator, provided a comprehensive update on the Hawai'i Wildfires from Hawai'i Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD). Read the entire update HERE.
August 21, 2023 – Danny Tengan, Disaster Ministries Coordinator
FEMA disaster assistance:
Immigrants can get short term emergency disaster relief.
There is no cost for applying, as well as no cost for a home inspection.
FEMA does not confiscate property if un-liveable, only determines the amount of assistance.
Separate individuals or multiple families living at the same address can get their own assistance. There was initially where only the first to file got the assistance.
Cannot duplicate benefits. Insurance comes first. Donations next. Then FEMA.
$700 was for critical needs assistance initially. Not the only payment.
To get FEMA assistance, one does not have to sign over their land or property.
There is a cap on FEMA Assistance - Around $40,000. You will not always get the full amount of your losses.That is where insurance, donations. etc come in.
If needing more funding for your losses, Small Business Administration is not only for businesses. Low percentage loans are available to homeowners.
August 20, 2023 – Prayer for Maui service held online
August 16, 2023 – Reflection by Associate Conference Minister
(Originally published in the Coconut Wireless e-newsletter, August 16, 2023)
Last Wednesday, I was up just before 5 a.m. I was expecting a normal day. Conference work. I planned to finish a sermon. A few checks-in with Kahu and congregations. But I wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary, and then I started to read the news. Our islands had been ripped apart by tragedy. The winds that bring so many blessings to our islands had turned flames into chaos and brought death. Our beloved 'āina burned, buildings burned, and lives were destroyed. We lost homes, church buildings, 'ohana. We lost things that cannot be replaced. Scenes of death, of destruction have now filled my screen for over a week. We weep and our tears become our prayers.
I was inspired by theologian Makoto Fujimura who wrote "Jesus wept, and he continues to weep today." This powerful insight comes from the Gospel of John 11:35 as Jesus wept with Mary, Martha, and the mourners at Lazarus' grave. Fujimura reminds us that "tears of God are powerful. They may evaporate, or soak the ground, but they never disappear. We breathe today the tears of Jesus…When we weep and join God, our tears are commingled with God's tears, and multiplied like the fishes and loaves that Jesus touched. All of the twentieth century was an upheaval of lament, of angst, of anger—Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Calcutta, Maycomb, Darfur—what the Irish poet Micheal O'Siadhail called the 'irreversible tragedies of our time.'…The cultural river runs with the tears of God."
Tears are so important to us. Tears remind us of our connections. Our connections to our own bodies as well as to fellow humans, places, and even to our God. Secondly, tears wash and soothe our heartbreak. Scientifically, tears give our brains a psychological reboot. Tears let our overloaded emotions out so we can refocus for what comes next. Finally, tears empower us to act. Prayers that run down our faces and communicate to everyone that your pain is also my pain. And none of us walk this road alone. This Sunday, August 20, I invite everyone to join in a Zoom prayer service of lament with and for Maui (details below). Let us be there for each other with tears, scripture, prayer, and action.
Jonathan Roach, Associate Conference Minister
August 15, 2023 – UCC Global H.O.P.E. Launches Appeal
The UCC Global H.O.P.E. team has launched an appeal to provide support for victims of the wildfires in addition to the appeal of the Hawai‘i Conference UCC. We encourage all UCC folks outside of Hawai‘i to give through Global H.O.P.E. by going here: https://support.ucc.org/hawaii-wildfires. Read more in a UCC News Digest story: "Amid wildfires devastation, UCC makes appeal for Hawaii"
August 15, 2023 – Conference Office, Kahu of Waiola Church, Disaster Ministries Coordinator
We are grateful for the gracious generosity of all who are donating to the Hawai‘i 2023 Wildfires Relief Fund. Immediate assistance is already being distributed to those in need through our local UCC churches and related channels. The United Church of Christ Global H.O.P.E. team is launching an appeal to provide support for victims of the wildfires in addition to the appeal of the Hawai‘i Conference UCC. We encourage all UCC folks outside of Hawai‘i to give through Global H.O.P.E.by going to https://support.ucc.org/hawaii-wildfires. As of August 15, 99 lives have been lost in the fires, making this the deadliest natural disaster in Hawai‘i’s history since becoming a state. The numbers are still expected to climb as response teams continue to sift through the charred rubble. An online prayer vigil, “Prayer for Maui,” will be held on Sunday, August 20, at 4:00 p.m., Hawai‘i time. More information will follow. Kahu Anela Rosa of Waiola Church in Lahaina shared the following message: Aloha e ku‘u ‘ohana o Waiola, It is with a broken heart that I write to you. As many of you have heard and seen, our Lahaina community has been ravaged by fire today. Our beloved Hale Pule and Keōpūolani Hale have been devastated by the flames. As a 200-year-old congregation, Waiola Church has faced many obstacles such as this one, and like all the others, we face the reality of this loss as a community in Christ. We lift up our voices in prayer that those who have suffered and loss will find healing and peace; those that will struggle in the days, weeks, and months to come should find the hope and assistance they need in the friends, family, neighbors, and community that will coalesce around them; and that the path to rebuilding will draw us closer. As always, our church (whether Ebenezer, Waineʻe, or Waiola) was never a building, and although this loss hurts, we have faced challenging times like these before and we will find a way through, together. E Iesu pū a me ke aloha, Kahu Anela Read an update from Danny Tengan, HCUCC Disaster Ministries Coordinator: All of Hawai‘i has come to the aid of Maui residents who have suffered losses from the wildfires last week. The death toll will increase as searchers go deeper into the burned-out area. Monetary donations are best because it takes an army to sort and store the more than 45 containers already on island with another 50 on its way. Maui has limited space for storage and most donations are left sitting before someone can get to it. This is not to say other donations are not needed. Most needed are baby supplies, feminine hygiene products, toothpaste, toothbrushes, snacks, pop top canned food. Not needed right now is clothing. Looking for someone? Call 1-800-redcross, #4. They are taking DNA from family members to match with bodies found in the burned area. They are asking not to self-deploy because it will put a burden on Maui. Rooms are needed for the evacuated families and response workers. Anyone needing Disaster Assistance should call 1-800-621-3362 to register. There are over 3,000 already registered. FEMA has 10 inspectors that will be interviewing claimants. To volunteer to assist in the response, please text Danny Tengan at 808-620-5403. Leave your name, what church, and what you can do to assist or general volunteering. Right now there is a need for volunteers to help man the Crisis Cleanup phone bank where families can call to request assistance in cleaning their property. All churches on Maui should be compiling a list of their members who have had losses. There will be a Disaster Recovery Center that will be set up with Federal, State, County, and Non-governmental organizations that will be a one-stop location to receive services. The UCC will work with these families and ensure every family will have a long-term recovery plan. The services are good for citizens and non-citizens, owners as well as renters. It would be good to have documentation but things will be worked out on a case-by-case basis. Please keep your prayers in your hearts as we go thru this long period of recovery. ~ ~ ~ The Conference office has been informed by church leaders in affected areas that 19 homes in the Kula, Maui area also were destroyed by fire. On Hawai‘i Island, the wildfires have been extinguished and no UCC churches were damaged or destroyed. We continue to pray for and send our aloha to all who have lost loved ones, homes, belongings, and livelihoods in the wildfires, as well as our first responders, National Guard, and volunteers helping with the relief and recovery efforts.
August 11, 2023 – Conference Office & Disaster Ministries Coordinator
We are still in a time of disaster response and planning and the situation is very fluid. Our number one concern has been for peoples’ safety and well-being. We are assessing what peoples’ most pressing needs are at this time and trying to ensure that their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being are tended to. The Conference is taking a two-pronged approach in our response. The first prong is immediate assistance through funds from the HCUCC disaster relief funds reserve. Funds could be used for gas, clothes, toiletries—those types of immediate needs. An initial release of funds was made Thursday. The second prong is long-term recovery. Danny Tengan is heading this up as the Conference Disaster Ministries Coordinator. He is well-networked and is leading the way. Danny is active with Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) and has already advised that financial funds are the best way to help. Goods gathered on neighboring islands would need to be sorted by volunteers on Maui, straining the volunteer pool there. He sent out this notice yesterday:
No food needed. (Salvation Army is the lead) – Too many unannounced volunteers dropping food off that is being wasted.
Shelter numbers -Tavares - 103, Maui HS - 234, War Memorial - 265, Hawaii Convention Center - 622, Honolulu Airport - 1,400. No count at Maui LDS and King’s Chapel.
Federal declaration for Individual Assistance approved.
Five Cellular on Wheels (COW) inbound.
DO NOT SELF DEPLOY!!!! Too many people plugging up the roads and not enough bed spaces.
Red Cross has reunification number: 1-800-redcross.
211 is Hawaii State VOAD resource number for any type of services needed.
Further, Danny has already alerted our Maui pastors about VOAD’s Long Term Recovery Committee. The Conference will be working in partnership with the Committee which will open cases for each family affected.
All three national UCC officers have contacted us. Karen Georgia Thompson, General Minister and President, shared a prayer and sends her aloha.
The financial entities of the UCC have pledged help and are creatively thinking through best methods to assist the recovery.
For updates on what’s happening on Maui please visit: www.mauicounty.gov.
August 10, 2023 – Conference Minister & Office Coordinator
David Popham, Conference Minister:
Adventures in Conference Ministry leads to solidarity in times of sorrow. . . . The death toll is now at 36. The 200 yr old congregation lost all buildings on its property. The Hawaii Conference Foundation lost an historic home for which it held the deed. Elsewhere on Maui two ministers evacuated, one was in a prepare-to-evacuate zone, one taking in a family of his church. Last night some of our Maui ministers gathered via Zoom. We talked through recovery response, how our souls were, and shared prayer. What a great privilege to work with these colleagues focused on helping the community even as they face their own uncertainties.
Lori Yamashiro, Office Coordinator:
Last night some of the Maui pastors gathered and we received updates on some of the churches. Kahu Anela Rosa (Waiola Church) was able to join the meeting and is doing as well as can be expected and fortunately, her house was spared. She has not been able to get into Lahaina so the extent of the damage to Waiola’s sanctuary is unknown at this time. I am still optimistic that the church is still there…We know for sure the Hall is gone, as seen on the front page of this morning’s Star-Advertiser, as well as the Campbell House down the road a bit from the church. As far as we know, no other HCUCC church buildings have been affected, however, some of church members were forced to evacuate and do not know the status of their homes. There are others that folks are trying to reach but without cell phones, landlines, or internet, it has been a challenge. People have been generous in their support as we’ve received $4,200, as of this afternoon, for the Hawaii 2023 Wildfire Relief Fund. In the meantime, please continue to keep our friends and family on Maui and Hawaii Island, especially those affected by the wildfires, in your prayers. Please also pray for the first responders, national guard, and others who are helping with the search and rescue efforts.
August 9, 2023 – David Popham, Conference Minister (original post)
No doubt, like me, you watched in horror the newscasts and read news stories as the fires spread across Maui and Hawai‘i Island. Most heartrending, at this time, are the images of Lahaina on fire. Due to limited phone access, we are still seeking firm information regarding people and church properties directly affected.
We do know the following limited information: Waiola Church fellowship hall burned in the fire, we do not have word on their sanctuary. We know the Campbell House and adjacent park were also in the path of the Lahaina fire. We have heard that many church members are affected by the evacuation orders, but we do not know the status of their homes at this time. On Hawai‘i Island we know that access to some churches were blocked by fires. Six fatalities have been reported so far.
In these times we want to be of help and assistance to our ‘ohana in distress. Offerings and collections taken through your local church can be sent to the Conference Office where we will work to distribute the funds to devastated areas and those in need. Individuals may also donate online directly through the Conference's Hawai‘i 2023 Wildfires Relief Fund (part of the Conference's general "Hawai'i Disaster Relief Fund," which is also accessible via our website at hcucc.org/donate.)
Please join me in prayer, e pule kākou:
It came so fast God, relentlessly driven by winds and we were so vulnerable. Escaping with the clothes on our backs. Lives in tatters. Homes gone. Businesses gone. Jobs gone. Lives lost. Where do we go to even raise our prayers when our hale pule became a burnt victim to the ravages of the fire? There is so much loss, so much that one day was there and is now ashes. Comfort us in our tears and carry our heavy hearts in our time of sorrow.
Eventually Ke Akua, our energy will turn to rebuilding our homes, our businesses, our jobs, our lives. Walk with us during the long recovery that lies ahead. We will become frustrated by bureaucratic red tape and supply chain delays and price gouging. We will fume and shake our fists and we will cry even more tears. Yet, the journey will not be as overwhelming with you by our side.
Bless O God, those fighting these wildfires and those fires yet to come during this dry season. Grant wisdom and insights to our government officials—county and state—as they navigate how best to administer the government response. Lift up on wings our pastoral leaders as they give spiritual nurture to those depleted by these fires.
May we root ourselves in you God, knowing your Spirit groans with ours. Grant us succor in this time and in the days ahead. ‘Amene.
View updates on the situation from Maui: