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A Filipino congregation took in its own members after their Lahaina homes burned

Pastor Estella Aguero leads Koinonia Pentecostal Church with her husband. There are at least 20 church members sleeping in the parish hall because they lost their homes in the fire.
Deanne Fitzmaurice for NPR
Pastor Estella Aguero leads Koinonia Pentecostal Church with her husband. There are at least 20 church members sleeping in the parish hall because they lost their homes in the fire.

LAHAINA, Hawaii — The fire in western Maui destroyed or damaged more than 2,000 buildings. Most of those were homes. That's left many residents in Lahaina in need of shelter.

At a park and ride just south of Lahaina, pastor Estrella Arquero is loading up her van and getting ready to drive into the burn zone.

She and her husband lead Koinonia Pentecostal Church, where twenty members of their Filipino congregation are sleeping in the parish hall.

"When the fire broke out out people, we had members of our church whose houses burned down, so they came to the church," said Arquero.

When you flee with almost nothing, you need almost everything. So on this morning, her van is filled with the kinds of supplies people need when they've taken refuge in a church.

"These are food. Coolers with food. Gasoline. Cat food. And supplies. Bathroom supplies and we have water in the trunk."

Arquero says bearing each other's burdens in this way — caring for neighbors — is the work of the church. "That is what we are called for to. That we care for people. In fact the mission of our church is we love God and we love people."

Burned buildings are pictured in the aftermath of the Maui wildfires in Lahaina, Hawaii.
Yuki Iwamura / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Burned buildings are pictured in the aftermath of the Maui wildfires in Lahaina, Hawaii.

In the back of the van is congregation member Magna Laguna. He immigrated to the U.S. seven years ago from the Philippines and lives with his wife and sister and brother-in-law. Their home was in Lahaina. Tears roll down his cheeks as he recalled the day the fire broke out and a fierce, hot wind blasted the flames toward them.

"Burn. Burn the house. We walk, I have no car. So one of the neighbors pick up to help," said Magna.

He switched to Tagalog to better explain what happened, as a church member translated. "They had not brought anything except their passport which is always on the side of their bag. The wife wore black slipper, the other one is white."

Laguna's wife was so rushed she put on two different color slippers as they scrambled to flee. Despite all that he's lost, when asked what assistance he needs, he replies softly, "I want to give assistance. Food, shelter."

He wants to give assistance. Worship services at Koinonia Pentecostal Church in Lahaina are usually streamed on Facebook so anyone can watch. But last Sunday, pastor Estrella Arquero wasn't able to go live online. She's busy caring for the congregants still living at the church.

With her husband on the phone trying to get clearance to enter the burn zone to bring in supplies, Arquero said this is how she'll pray the next time she stands in front of her congregation. "You are good God. We believe in you. That you are good. That you will will hold our hand, that you will give us the strength, that you will supply the needs for our people whose houses and most everything is gone. And my prayer is that my people in our church will love him because I believe God is with us."

With them in loss. With them in pain. With them in the love they show each other through Koinonia Pentecostal Church.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The number of people known to have died in the horrific wildfire that leveled a Hawaiian town is now more than 110, authorities said, as a makeshift morgue was expanded to deal with the tragedy. Governor Josh Green has repeatedly warned that the final toll from last week's inferno in Lahaina, already the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century, would grow significantly.
Yuki Iwamura / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
The number of people known to have died in the horrific wildfire that leveled a Hawaiian town is now more than 110, authorities said, as a makeshift morgue was expanded to deal with the tragedy. Governor Josh Green has repeatedly warned that the final toll from last week's inferno in Lahaina, already the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century, would grow significantly.

Corrected: August 17, 2023 at 9:00 PM PDT
An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Estrella Arquero as Arguero.
Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.