An OSBDR team spent a week helping Lahaina residents sift through the ashes of their homes looking for treasured mementos of their lives.
By John Heading, OSBDR state director
Within hours of the first fire alert, the town of Lahaina, Hawaii was engulfed in flames. Eighty mile per hour wind gusts fanned the flames that destroyed roughly 2600 buildings and took the lives of over 100 people. The physical recovery of Lahaina is underway and will take months, but the emotional recovery will take years.
Ohio Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (OSBDR) spent the week prior to Thanksgiving escorting fire victims back to their homes for the first time since the August 8 fires. Due to security concerns, residents were locked-out of their homes and neighborhoods until their zone was reopened by authorities.
Ninety-nine days after the Lahaina fire took the life of Cherie’s father she was allowed access to his home. On November 17 she was able to go to the house for the first time to see where he died and to assess what was left of the home where she grew up. Our OSBDR team met Cherie as she stepped into the ashes of the home and broke down in tears.
As team leader and chaplain, I ministered to Cherie as she saw the ashes of her childhood home. It took Cherie half an hour to regain her composure and begin sharing stories about her father. By then the rest of the OSBDR team joined us, and she was ready to see if anything could be salvaged from the ashes.
OSBDR teams help Cherie find the coroner’s tag marking where her father passed away during the wildfires in Lahaina.
After hours of sifting, little had been recovered. All Cherie really wanted to know was where her dad had died. Later in the day as the sidewalk to the front door was shoveled clear of debris, the coroner tags were uncovered, and Cherie knew for sure where her father passed. In the following days Cherie returned to that spot and spent time talking to her dad.
is there anything that can be saved?
Her initial response was indicative of people who saw the ashes of their burned-out homes for the first time. For most people, the initial shock subsided quickly and then they asked, “Is there anything that can be saved?” Most people were only interested in finding specific things. Salvaged items included a set of wedding rings, an urn with a mother’s ashes, a Vietnam veterans NCO sword, a set of burned Hot Wheels cars and a clay bowl made by a child in school.
The work in Lahaina was some of the hardest work OSBDR has ever done. The depth of the trauma care needed and the hot work of sifting through ashes while fully decked-out in Tyvek suits, masks and gloves was challenging, but extremely rewarding. We had opportunities to encourage residents and to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. This was a challenge because we weren’t allowed to initiate a gospel conversation, but we were able to share if the residents opened the door first.
Our OSBDR team members represented Ohio Baptists well. The team consisted of Charity Scaggs, Cornerstone BC, Batavia; Isaac Hopper, Hill Station BC, Goshen; Chris Crothers, Lifepoint BC, Delaware; Jim Carpenter, Genoa Church, Westerville; and Ervin Andy, Jersey Church, New Albany.
In Hawaii, you are never homeless, only houseless. Residents love their town and most believe there is a bright future. The work of the local church in Lahaina is in full motion. Church members and local pastors are connecting with those who are now houseless. NAMB has also placed a church planter on the ground to bring residents together to form a new church. Through the ashes of loss there is hope and a secure future in Jesus Christ.