On Friday, August 18, Elder Mark A. Bragg, a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and president of the Church’s North America West Area, visited Maui to give comfort to the members of the Church and see the devastation from the deadly wildfires that struck the island the week before.
Five Latter-day Saints died in the fire and 80 lost their homes.
As he met with Latter-day Saints, Elder Bragg told them that he brought the love of President Russell M. Nelson with him. He expressed that the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were praying for them constantly.
“Our hearts go out to you and the members around the world are praying for you,” he said.
“I would hope that everyone, Church members and those who are not members of our faith, that they feel hope. That there’s a purpose in this.”
Unaloto Taukeiaho and his family evacuated during the fires and later found out their home was destroyed. He and others gathered together on a beach near Lahaina to hear from Elder Bragg and to draw comfort from each other.
“I know that my Savior lives. I know that through all these trials will help us to be stronger than ever. I’m grateful that I grew up in a community like this, that it doesn’t matter who you are and what you do in life, you are all brothers and sisters in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and then through His Atonement we can overcome all of this,” Taukeiaho said.
During the evacuations, two church buildings on Maui opened as shelters for people in need, where they could sleep or receive food, clothing, personal hygiene supplies and connect with community resources.
Hawaii Lt. Governor Sylvia Luke and State Senator Lynn DeCoite toured the shelter in Kahului after meeting with Elder Bragg.
“We are just so grateful for the outpouring of support. This shows what people are made of. In a time of crisis, in a time of devastation, it’s people, it’s community, it’s the Church that steps up,” said Lt. Gov. Luke.
“I have never seen a set up behind me in any of our shelters. I think the state can learn from something like this,” Senator DeCoite said. “This is something I feel we need to take in and prepare ourselves. I have learned a lot here, more about people that are there for the community. I want to say thank you so much.”
Members of the Church have organized other relief efforts on the island, and missionaries have been serving in the community.
“We have spent a lot of time in what they call up country, cleaning up some of the debris from fallen trees up there. We came together as missionaries and with another church up there, and spent a lot of time serving the people there,” said Elder Parker Vannoy.
“We pray to be able to comfort and help. We just do our best.” said Elder Brayden Howells.
Elder Bragg ended the day’s visits with a youth devotional.
“Because we have a Savior, there’s always hope. And talk about the scriptural reference to beauty from the ashes — this is what it means,” he said. “We can rebuild, we can strengthen our testimonies, we can bless the lives of other people.”