This photo provided by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources shows burnt areas in Lahaina on the Maui island, Hawaii, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, following a wildfire. Photo: Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

North America

Indiana Youth Escape Maui Fire, Now Assisting Relief Efforts

Literature evangelist learns how to lean on God and find opportunity and hope in the midst of tragedy

United States | Danni Thaw

On August 8, 2023, at 3 a.m, a phone call jolted Kamil Metz, senior pastor of the Evansville Seventh-day Adventist Church, from his sleep. The caller was Dallas Matthew, age 26, one of Metz’s members serving this summer as a student literature evangelist on the island of Maui in Hawaii. Matthew's news was grave. He called to report that deadly wildfires had engulfed Lāhainā, the town in Maui that Metz had left the week prior.

The sun had barely risen over Maui's picturesque landscape when the unexpected fiery chaos ensued.

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 of the original capital of the 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 Lāhainā.

"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," said Maun. "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 Lāhainā to spread the Gospel ministry. However, when their group leader, Mario Bravo, noticed the severe winds that day, he made a providential decision to avoid going out. Little did they know that they were escaping the path of destruction that would soon engulf the very 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 Lāhainā during the height of the chaos when the fire was spreading out of control," related Maun.

As they 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 more than 100 people. It was quickly becoming the deadliest recorded wildfire in the history of the United States.

The Lāhainā Seventh-day Church sustained extensive damage after the wildfire. Photo: Mark Tamaleaa

The Lāhainā Seventh-day Church sustained extensive damage after the wildfire. Photo: Mark Tamaleaa

Miracles in the Madness

"Two parts of this experience blew my mind and demonstrated the power of the Living God," said Maun. "One of them is that everything surrounding the Lāhainā Seventh-day Church where we were originally stationed was burned to the ground by the fires, but the Seventh-day Adventist church is still standing."

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

"The other thing that blew my mind is that Khrapov's house is also still standing," said Maun. "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. Praise God!"

The experience profoundly impacted Maun's spirituality. Amid 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 his faith in God during times of uncertainty—an anchor that guided him through the storm.

"I feel very changed by this experience," shared Maun. "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."

Back to the Frontlines: A Commitment to Relief Efforts

Maun was inspired by his grandmother's involvement in disaster relief ministry and a previous but 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," said Metz. "As his pastor, 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."

Left, Kamil Metz during his stay in Maui a week before the fire, with his Evansville members Jaxson Maun, center, and Dallas Matthew, right. Photo: Kamil Metz

Left, Kamil Metz during his stay in Maui a week before the fire, with his Evansville members Jaxson Maun, center, and Dallas Matthew, right. Photo: Kamil Metz

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 Maun to confront the transient nature of our earthly possessions. In the wake of the devastation, Metz reassured him that prioritizing spiritual and communal values over material gains was essential.

"Every time we go through a natural disaster like this, we must 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," said Metz.

With the death toll over 100 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 amid the ashes of tragedy. God has and always will have a hand in it all.

To learn how you can help, visit www.hawaiisda.com.

The original version of this story was posted on the North American Division website.

arrow-bracket-rightCommentscontact