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  • Writer's pictureTerry Miller

Maui Disaster Relief

I wasn't excited, and I wasn't afraid. I felt like I was in the middle of what God wanted me to do, but I didn't know what it would look like. Loving people was the goal. Whether that was sharing Jesus, giving hope or encouragement, or simply listening, I was here for people affected by a freak of nature. This wildfire was unexpected and unpredictable. While I was planning my vacation months ago, I planned beach camping with the family. After that, Lora and I were going to go to the desert. I wanted to take my trailer to the Sierras to breathe, think, and create, but God said no. Every time I began to look for a place to camp, it was clear that I was to come home on the 19th. So I did. As it turns out, I was asked to deploy to Maui on the 21st, and I knew this was my moment to stretch out and fulfill the Foursquare Disaster Relief Chaplain role. The first day, we saw some of the destruction. It was terrible to look at. While on the way to our assignment, we saw a neighbor's charred remains and some other destruction. It looked like something out of a movie. Stone was the only thing left standing in most cases. As we engaged people at Honu-Kawaii Park, a sacred park to the Hawaiians, we began to hear stories of how people escaped and how and why some did not. Children played under a canopy and casually said their gramma, auntie, or dog died in the fire. Some people were mad; most ensured we were not with the Red Cross or FEMA. Many have an axe to grind against them. The park was under an upside-down Hawaiian flag and 95 ribbons on a wire to honor the dead. Some of the stories are too gruesome to tell here. There was traffic and downed trees that inhibited some from escaping. I talked to many who lost their homes or apartments, and everyone I spoke to lost their job.

The resilience of the people was evident as we spoke to many. Several Christians were filled with hope. A plan from God was going to materialize. The one thing that stood out was that the young, old, poor, and well-off were pitching in to help each other. Since FEMA wasn't helpful, the community decided to care for themselves. They had clothes, food, water, medical, massages, a children's play area, and even a veterinarian who volunteered their services. Trucks came with ice, shelving, canopies, and other supplies, and people unloaded them and set them up in the park. There was some clear organization to the effort Don and "uncle" led. Everything was free. It was pretty amazing.

The second day, we returned to the same park I described above. On the first day, I talked to a dozen people or so in a significant way, including a Homeland Security Special Reaction Force officer who lives in San Pedro. I am hoping he will call me and get together. This day, however, wasn't like the first. It was different. First, we honored the head guy by announcing ourselves and greeting him first. We also didn't wear our red shirts, so we weren't confused with the Red Cross. I didn't talk to as many people, but it seemed like I talked to people for significantly longer. I again listened to tragic stories and commiserated with them as I listened. Richard was a 70-year-old bartender who was a big wave surfer and, as he put it, "should have been dead 13 times, "including being stabbed with a butcher knife by a home intruder and wiping out on a 35-foot wave at Waimea. We talked at length about his friends who died in the fire. He had a bandage on his shoulder, and I asked what was wrong. He told me he fell the day before and hurt his shoulder and knee. I prayed, and the pain left in the shoulder and the knee. He said when I touched him, he felt a lot of heat. I got to share Jesus with him and the fact that Jesus still has plans for him. He wasn't ready to give his life away, but he was encountered. I helped unload more groceries than the day before, making inroads with the locals as a guy who will work. Today, I asked one of the leading "uncles" what I could help him with. He asked me to help at the front gate with the young guys directing traffic. The conversation with the young men was good, but I was there for over two hours and wasn't talking to many other people. I wondered if I should go somewhere else. We had all talked about Jesus and life and, of course, fitness. While alone with the 24-year-old from CA, I asked him what he did for a living. After a stammering for words, he said he was a sex worker. I tried not to be surprised and asked him how he got into that. He told me his story. I had never had anyone say it that plainly to me before. My heart went out to him because now I was putting together some things he had said earlier about his life. I encouraged him that He was meant for more than that. He said volunteering to help people was the most fulfilling thing he has ever done. He was happier than ever. We talked for a little longer, and then I had to get a drink and use the restroom. Tomorrow, we will talk more. It was a divine appointment, and it was when I was thinking, what am I doing up here helping direct traffic? We also got to meet the owners of a local pizza shop who were believers and set up their place for opening and folding pizza boxes. When people started coming in, we started praying for everybody. I prophecied over the owner and then encouraged him about self-care. God was going to expand his business, but it was his choice whether it would be more trouble and burden. He was a big guy, but I put my hand on him and directed him to use wisdom as a father would. His dad died one month after they moved to Maui. He was a great man of God and received what I said. Today, I got to exchange numbers with the young man who was a sex worker. I shared Jesus' plan with him, and he said he needed to get out of that line of work. We had a few moments when we were able to talk freely as there was plenty of traffic at the gate. As I prayed and walked the park, I met a man who had lost it all, and he told me of the most horrifying escape where he passed by burned bodies. What do you say to people who have experienced that? The answer is not much. Just listen. I talked to a nice couple who lived close to the park, but their dive business burned with everything in it. We spoke, and they showed me pictures of some of their dives and shared how they got married. I encouraged them and prayed for them. They will begin their business again, and it will be successful. I may even come back and get PADI certified with them. The team created some kids' games, and suddenly, more than a dozen kids were playing all kinds of games and having fun. Most locals have accepted us because of God's favor and our putting our hands on the plow. I honestly hate to leave. We have two more days, and I am unsure what those days hold or our assignment. I know that these people are hurting. So many want to get into the burn area to at least see their house burned to the ground so it will settle into their souls. It will help them to process. They haven't let in a but few people since Friday, August 25. That is 2 1/2 weeks after the firestorm. Today was a change for me and some of the team. We went to a large distribution center and helped out there. There were many more supplies and many more people who drove through. I was on traffic detail. That allowed me to greet everyone who came and interact with some. When the traffic would back up, I engaged the people in the car. I blessed them as I touched them as I had time. Most of the people I engaged had a deep sadness in their eyes. They would say they were doing okay, but I would ask a more profound question to which they confessed they were hurting. One family of 9 still didn't have a place to stay. This is two weeks and five days after the fire! The father was so sad. I prayed for him and spoke an encouraging word. The atmosphere was different at "Gateway". It didn't have the angry at the government feel. At one point, the sadness caught up with me, and I had to hold back tears and pull myself together. That was the first time that had happened. While I was on a break in the early afternoon, information came in that there was a fire in Ka'anopali, the next town over. Soon, we saw the plume of smoke and heard they were evacuating people. We saw the plume turn to white smoke and knew the fire was being fought. The distribution center decided to close early, but a few minutes later, the word came that the fire was 100% contained. As you can imagine, people were on edge and a little freaked out by all of this, and the traffic was backing up. There is only one way out. We helped close the center down and thanked all the volunteers as we left. We were in no danger, but a few on the team were shaken. Luckily, I was next to Jay, a 30-year veteran firefighter and battalion chief, who confirmed my assessment. We headed home early and enjoyed dinner out as a group with Pastor Dwane of New Hope Maui. We will not be going to any sites tomorrow as most are closed. We all need to decompress a bit. We will go to church and the beach for our last day. I don't particularly appreciate leaving. It is not in my nature to leave before the work is done. However, the work here will go on for months and months. This has been different than I thought it would be. It is a radical departure from my typical kind, style, and type of ministry. Yet Jesus sent me here to love and give hope to people. One of the team gave me a Word that I was a door of hope. I want to be that for people. Not because I am saying the right thing but because I am carrying the presence of Jesus. Tomorrow should be fun; for some, it will be a rare swim in the ocean. I have grown to love the team I am with, and that, too, will be sad to leave. My heart aches, but I am satisfied that I did what my King asked me to do. I would do it again when I have the chance and the assignment. In the meantime, I think I will return to Maui for ministry soon.

I am on my way back, thinking about all that was done by our team. It isn't the numbers that are important; although we touch multiplied hundreds of lives, it is the hearts of people that were touched. God reminded me of the scripture about giving a cup of water in the name of Jesus as we sometimes served without being able to talk much to people—God's work. At church, I was able to pray and prophecy over some people and bought a couple of young gals lunch at the food trucks. Because of the generosity of some of you, TLP was able to give $ 1,000 to the church's relief fund. Kevin and Melissa Parker happened to be on the island and came to church with us. Melissa reached over to me at some point and said, "You were made for this PT." Maleah had said the same thing. This trip was a growth experience for me, and it was an honor to serve and help the people of Maui. I think we all can do things like this, and I am glad that others see the gifting in me to bring Jesus to people who have suffered a significant loss. I don't like leaving Sid, Solomon, Don, Rob, and all the others I talked to in depth. I know my assignment is done for now, and I need to be home for a number of reasons, but it is hard to leave. I pray that I have left a mark on the people I talked to, the church that asked for us to be there, and the team I was a part of, which was a great team. Thank you for your prayers and financial support that allows me to do what I do, which now includes being a Foursquare Disaster Relief Chaplain.


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