A week after the wildfires broke out on the Hawaiian island of Maui it’s feared rescue teams could find as many as twenty bodies a day as they continue to search through the debris. 99 people are confirmed to have died and whole communities have been destroyed.
Churches are helping the emergency response, despite many of their buildings also being affected.
Rev Canon Dr Jennifer Smith who is Chair of the Global Relationships Board for the Methodist Church told Premier how Christians are responding:“Thank you everyone for praying for this situation. When we're far away and we hear news of a tragedy, the whole body of Christ cries out.
“We know that the United Methodist Church in Lahaina has been destroyed. But we give great thanks that Pastor John Crewe and his family were evacuated safely. He’s asked us to pray into the verse John 16 :33 - 'In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.' I find that really moving because it takes seriously the fact that this is a real tragedy, and that we as Christian people don't want to move too quickly into a rosy, happy sunshine view of it.
“We need to grieve as God's heart breaks. Thank God, we have tears. So I have a sense as we pray and try to respond we’ll have lots of practical things to do. But the first thing to do is to feel solidarity and compassion. As the heart of God breaks, that we let our hearts break as well.”
Bishop Escobedo-Frank, Resident Bishop of the Los Angeles Area, California-Pacific Conference of The United Methodist Church has published a pastoral letter urging people to pray: “On this day, as we hear about fires, evacuations, and deaths, we offer up our prayers for safety and life.
"We ask for God’s Presence to comfort those who grieve, to give strength to those who are fleeing and those who are rescuing, and to open up a way when it seems there is no way. The people of God and this California-Pacific Conference are praying for you. They will be in action to provide the future resources that love requires of us.”
Rev Dr Smith said that although the fires have reaped great tragedy, the Christian spirit will prevail: “Together we are much stronger than we are as individuals.
"On days when we are weeping, we can weep with one another and also help each other stand up. I was very struck by one of the residents from Lahaina who said, ‘I don't just want to build back, I want to build back better.’ And I think that there will be such an opportunity for Christian witness, because people don't often see what churches do, because we're also behind our doors. So now, even though it’s for the worst and most tragic reasons, there will be opportunities for us to be out of doors – and I think we're best when we're out of doors.”
You can read Bishop Escobedo-Frank’s pastoral letter here: