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. [Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources]
When the unexpected fiery chaos ensued, the sun had barely risen over Maui's picturesque landscape.
Jaxson Maun, 29, is another member of Pastor 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 Jaxson. “We all thought it was a hurricane, but it started to pick up midday, so we decided not to go out into the field.”
Jaxson, Dallas, and a youth team had been working as colporteurs going door to door in Lāhainā to spread the gospel ministry. But 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 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 Jaxson.
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.
Miracles in the Madness
“Two parts of this experience blew my mind and demonstrated the power of the Living God,” said Jaxson. “One of them is that everything surrounding the Lahaina 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.”
Jaxson and his team eventually found solace at the nearby Seventh-day 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 Pastor Vassili’s house is also still standing,” said Jaxson. “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 Jaxson's spirituality. Amidst 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 faith in God during times of uncertainty, an anchor that guided him through the storm.
“I feel very changed by this experience,” shared Jaxson. “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
Jaxson 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.”
Even after being evacuated from Maui to Honolulu, Jaxson'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 Jaxson to confront the transient nature of our earthly possessions. In the wake of the devastation, Pastor 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 need to 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 Jaxson’s experience stands as a reminder that hope can rise amidst the ashes of tragedy — God has and always will have a hand in it all.
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Danni Thaw is a freelance writer.