Arizona Disaster Relief brings aid to Maui, Guam

By Claudia Macdonald | Oct 24, 2023

Disaster Relief volunteers prepare a meal for fellow volunteers.

Windowless, destroyed buildings. Blown-out tires on vehicles swallowed by flames. “Everything was burnt to the ground,” Becki Haag said. “Everything was gray.”

Haag is back in Phoenix after serving as an Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer in Maui, which was ravaged by wildfires starting in August. She returned along with other volunteers at the same time a new team headed to the island and a team of 10 volunteers returned from Guam. Guam was struck by Typhoon Mawar on May 19, with heavy rains continuing until June.

In addition to the 10 who served in Guam, so far, 22 volunteers have served or are currently serving in Hawaii. Four volunteers were scheduled to go to Hawaii Oct. 25, while a team of 9 was expected to return to Arizona the same day. Thirteen volunteers, including four who have already served in Hawaii, are scheduled to go to Hawaii before Thanksgiving.

The 10 volunteers serving in Guam did recovery work and a lot of re-roofing for families who live in substandard housing, said Don Vickers, director of Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. They worked hand-in-hand with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A Maui resident provided this photo of the Disaster Relief team that helped sift ashes at their home.

“It will take years for them to get back on their feet,” Jim Godfrey, one of the volunteers, said. “Pray for hope and that they’re made aware of the gospel.”

Volunteer Russ Wise added, “Regardless of the task at hand, the Lord will form a team at the right time and place to care for His children. We all answered the call and blessed many people.”

In Hawaii, Becki Haag and Theresa Chesser volunteered as kitchen staff, making around 40-50 meals a day from 4:30 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. for their tired and hungry team. Other volunteers were tasked with sifting through ashes, helping homeowners find personal property. They heard stories of volunteers finding wedding rings and precious childhood toys, and of how thankful the Hawaiians were.

Norma Turner, a Disaster Relief chaplain, heard these stories firsthand as she served at a FEMA-State Disaster Recovery Center in a school gym, where FEMA, the Red Cross and other organizations —  including Arizona Disaster Relief — offered assistance. There, Arizona Disaster Relief chaplains greeted residents at the door and walked with them to the various providers. Other volunteers manned an Arizona Disaster Relief table where residents could sign up for help with recovering valuables among the ashes.

An Arizona Disaster Relief volunteer cuts a pineapple.

“Most of the residents I spoke to always came in with a smile,  even though I knew they were brokenhearted,” she said. “Most of the homes [that were destroyed] had been in the family for many generations. People were open to share their stories and allowed me to share tears with them.”

Arizona Disaster Relief chaplains not only offered conversation and hugs at the FEMA-State Disaster Recovery Center, they also were on site in neighborhoods with every Arizona Disaster Relief recovery team, either visiting with residents or helping sift through ashes, said Les Young, Arizona Disaster Relief lead chaplain.

Conversations began with a simple “How are you doing?” or “How’s your day going?” Young said. Sometimes, chaplains’ offers to pray with residents were accepted.

God was at work even before the volunteers landed on the island.

“On the first flight out, the stewardesses were very interested in our gold shirts,” Chesser said. “When we told them what we were doing, they were so grateful. Our chaplain asked if we could pray for them. They knelt down on their knees, bowed their heads in the middle of the aisle, and we prayed for the two stewardesses.”

Disaster Relief volunteers pose outside the FEMA-State Disaster Recovery Center, where Arizona Disaster Relief chaplains offered comfort and residents could sign up with Arizona Disaster Relief for help finding valuables in the ashes of their homes.

This was Theresa’s first deployment with Arizona Disaster Relief.

“It was long hours, hard work, and the best blessing ever,” she said. “I’m ready to do it again.”

Haag echoed her sentiment and has signed up to do field work at another deployment to Maui, ready to minister to the residents and hear their stories firsthand. Vickers is preparing Hawaii deployments for the next several months.

“Aloha isn’t just a greeting; it also means love,” Haag said. “A gentleman told us we brought ‘aloha’ back to the island.”

Next Steps

  • Pray for the residents of both Guam and Maui and for any gospel conversations that have or will take place.
  • Pray for the safety and physical endurance of Disaster Relief volunteers on current and future Maui deployments.
  • Consider signing up for a Hawaii deployment, or giving specifically to Disaster Relief so expenses like travel can continue to be covered.

Claudia Macdonald, a freelance writer living in Phoenix, is a member of First Southern Baptist Church at Sahuaro Ranch, Glendale.

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