Amid wildfires devastation, UCC makes appeal for Hawaii

The United Church of Christ, through Wider Church Ministries, is issuing a special appeal to provide essential items and long-term support to those impacted by wildfires across Hawaii, including the deadly wildfires on the island of Maui.

“As we learn of the rising toll of the wildfires in Maui and see more and more of the extent of the destruction, we hold the people of Hawaii in our prayers, including UCC members and Hawaii Conference leadership,” said Peter Makari, transitional executive for Wider Church Ministries. “The outpouring of concern and support across the UCC that we have already seen is a reflection of the sense of compassion and connection that is the Church.”

The fires, spurred on by an unseasonably dry summer and strong winds from Hurricane Dora, began Aug. 8. The community of Lahaina, once a whaling center and now a city of about 13,000 on northwestern Maui that attracts two million tourists yearly, was hit the hardest, with more than 2,170 acres having been burned.

As of Aug. 14, reports say that 85% of the fire in Lahaina, which is the largest of the wildfires, has been contained. Kula’s fire is 60% contained. Two other fires on Maui are 100% contained.

Officials also report that as of Aug. 15, the death toll was 99 and expected to rise.

Church response

With more than 2,200 buildings significantly damaged and destroyed, 86% of them residential homes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates it will cost $5.5 billion to rebuild Lahaina. Including all fires, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said the overall damage was estimated at close to $6 billion.

A damage assessment map from the Pacific Disaster Center and FEMA shows the extent of the devastation caused by the Maui wildfires.

The historic Waiola Church in Lahaina, a UCC congregation, was among the buildings destroyed, according to members.

The blaze that decimated Lahaina is the deadliest U.S. wildfire since 1918, when northern Minnesota’s Cloquet Fire, which raged for more than four days, claimed 453 lives, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Hawaii’s fires are the most lethal disaster to hit the islands since a tsunami killed 61 people in 1960 — a year after Hawaii became a U.S. state.

Amid the devastation, the church has been active in response. The UCC’s Global H.O.P.E. team leader, the Rev. Josh Baird, has been working with Hawaii Conference Disaster Coordinator Danny Tengan, in consultation with Hawaii Conference Minister the Rev. David Popham and other leaders, to continually assess the situation.

“As the tragic impact of these wildfires is revealed, local congregations already are providing resources and assistance to those who are affected, including gas, clothes, food and shelter,” Baird said. “Through this Hawaii wildfires appeal, the United Church of Christ will increase support to immediate relief efforts and be present for the journey ahead, enabling long-term aid for persons who require assistance with their recovery.”

Ways to help

The Hawaii Conference quickly publicized a giving opportunity for supporting response which was shared through the National Setting’s social media while assessments were conducted.

In a prayer shared on Facebook, Popham said, “There is so much loss, so much that one day was there and is now ashes. … May we root ourselves in you, God, knowing your Spirit groans with ours.”

With a clearer picture for the significant and long-term assistance required, the UCC is launching this appeal to amplify the Church’s capacity for response.

A July 17 webinar from the UCC’s Environmental Justice Ministries looks at how recent wildfires have been affected by climate change.

Partnerships will be key to the recovery, Baird said. Tengan, who represents the UCC and Hawaii Conference to Hawaii VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster), is engaged in complex, multiagency coordinating efforts. By sharing his experience with recovery and his knowledge of the local communities with national partners, he is strengthening the stewardship of resources and of relationships which will be critical in the months and years ahead.

Makari affirmed the importance of strong partnerships, both outside of and within the church, during crisis.

“We know that the needs are both immediate and long-term,” he said. “We accompany our siblings in Hawaii now and in the days, weeks and months to come.”

Donate to the UCC’s wildfires relief fund here.

The Rev. Josh Baird contributed to this story.

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Categories: Disaster Updates United Church of Christ News

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