Maui stake president shares miracles and lessons learned from Lahaina fires

During a BYU–Hawaii devotional, a Kahului stake president shared four ways to remember to find Jesus — and recognize His miracles — ‘as we go’

Wind-whipped wildfires grew out of control on Aug. 8 in the community of Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui, destroying the homes of 80 members of the Kahului Hawaii West Stake and killing nearly 100 people, including five members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In speaking during the weekly devotional at BYU–Hawaii on Tuesday, Sept. 26, Kahului Hawaii West Stake President Benjamin Hanks expressed love and gratitude for the support, faith, prayers, time and resources offered to members of his stake following the disaster.

“Each of the islands has poured out aloha in its truest form on us,” President Hanks told students and faculty gathered in the Cannon Activities Center on the Laie, Hawaii, campus, on Sept. 26.

His purpose in speaking, President Hanks said, was to share with listeners “a portion of what has been engrained in me as a result of the past seven weeks — specifically, experiences of feeling the Savior’s love and light in unexpected ways since that fateful day in August.”

President Hanks began his remarks with a spiritual insight found in Matthew 28, where Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary” find the empty tomb of the Savior. Angels reassure them, “Fear ye not … He is not here: for he is risen, as he said.” The women are then admonished to “go quickly, and tell his disciples.”

And “as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him” (vs. 9).

Kahului Hawaii West Stake President Benjamin Hanks and his wife, Nanci Hanks, and BYU–Hawaii President John S.K. Kauwe III and his wife, Sister Monica Kauwe, pose for a photo.
Kahului Hawaii West Stake President Benjamin Hanks and his wife, Nanci Hanks, and BYU–Hawaii President John S.K. Kauwe III and his wife, Sister Monica Kauwe, pose for a photo prior to the campus devotional on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Laie, Hawaii. | Monique Saenz, BYU–Hawaii

This “holiest of experiences” — seeing the risen Lord, the greatest miracle in all existence — did not happen as they waited or after they reached their destination, President Hanks pointed out. “Rather, like so many of His glorious miracles, it took place as they went.”

The world often entices individuals to be focused on the future. A student might be tempted to look forward to a new job, a new roommate, the next phase of life or for a difficult season to pass.

Those who measure their happiness by accomplishments or deadlines which have yet to take place, “are missing a special kind of joy God has prepared for His children,” President Hanks said. “In our ever-busy lives, you and I must not forget to find heavenly reminders, moments of laughter, treasured relationships, learning experiences, and, yes, miracles from a loving Heavenly Father and His Son as we go.”

President Hanks then shared four ways to remember to find Jesus “as we go.”

1. ‘You are uniquely prepared for this moment’

The first Sunday after the fires, the stake gathered several congregations together in the same meetinghouse that had served as a primary shelter for evacuees. 

“We united, visitors and members alike, in reverence as the emblems of our Savior’s atonement were passed along the same pews on which many of them had just spent the previous nights sleeping,” President Hanks recalled.

During one of the meetings, a bishop whose family had lost their home and whose ward had lost a family, bore his testimony. “I was not prepared for this,” the bishop said.

President Hanks said he immediately had a clear impression: This bishop “was uniquely prepared for this.”

Church leaders point out different burn spots around a chapel in Lahaina that was not burned in the fires.
Elder Mark A. Bragg, General Authority Seventy and president of the North America West Area, and Kahului Hawaii West Stake President Benjamin J. Hanks, point out different burn spots around a chapel in Lahaina that was not burned in the fires as Elder Bragg tours the damage area on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The bishop bore testimony of the Savior’s love and atoning power. “Amidst his own sorrow, he — like so many on Maui at this time — offered words of light and encouragement.” 

The Tongan Saints then sang “Ko Hoku Tauhi ‘a Sihova (The Lord is My Keeper).” Hearing that particular hymn from those particular Saints “felt as though we were surrounded by light and heaven’s angels joined in their beautiful harmonies,” President Hanks said.

Each one of the people who were singing, and all the others throughout the building, was uniquely prepared for what they were facing. “They were lifting each other up, ‘mourn[ing] with those that mourn[ed]… and comfort[ing] those that [stood] in need of comfort’” (Mosiah 18:9)

Whether it be amidst the devastation of disaster, or in the quiet day-to-day lifting of others, “You are uniquely prepared for a time such as this,” President Hanks testified to listeners.

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2. ‘Give thanks all along your way’

Speaking of the healing and wholeness that can come into life through gratitude, President Hanks encouraged listeners to “begin your day in thanks. Before classes and exams, before work and before worship, give thanks. Consider offering one prayer each day, or even one prayer each week to start, where you only give thanks to your Heavenly Father.”

President Hanks recalled accompanying his friend ‘Unaloto Taukei’aho to take fuel, food and water to those in need and to see the remnants of the Taukei’aho’s home, which had been lost in the fire.

Kahului Hawaii West Stake President Benjamin J. Hanks, hugs Unaloto Taukeiaho after the fires in Lahaina on Maui.
Kahului Hawaii West Stake President Benjamin J. Hanks hugs Unaloto Taukeiaho after a meeting at Wailea Beach Resort on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. Several folks have been given rooms at the resort following the fire in Lahaina. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“We walked through the neighborhood where his children had played. It took my breath away, and I had no words,” President Hanks said. As they observed the burnt rubble, Taukei’aho’s “light and gratitude never wavered.”

As they looked through the remnants of the home, they found his daughter’s piggy bank. Taukei’aho smiled as the two looked through the coins. While President Hanks’ eyes filled with tears, Taukei’aho said, “I can’t wait to show them.” 

“He was grateful amidst destruction. It was incredible, and it was humbling,” President Hanks recalled.

Expressing thanks to God daily and to others in one’s life — no matter the circumstances — “will brighten your experiences, enrich your relationships, provide a healthier perspective, and increase your faith,” President Hanks promised.

3. ‘Invite light and remove darkness each day’

Recently, President Hanks shared how he was preparing dinner as the sun began to set. It wasn’t until he was straining to read a spice label that he realized it was dark and flipped on the kitchen light. 

“It occurs to me that, too often in our lives, we have this same experience with light and darkness, spiritually,” he said. “If we are not careful, and without even realizing it, we may unintentionally omit simple but critical daily actions that invite light into our life, thereby allowing darkness to creep in almost imperceptibly.”

Kahului Hawaii West Stake President Benjamin Hanks speaks during the campus devotional on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Laie, Hawaii.
Kahului Hawaii West Stake President Benjamin Hanks speaks during the campus devotional on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Laie, Hawaii. | Monique Saenz, BYU–Hawaii

The “little things” — such as prayer, scripture study, partaking of the sacrament, or attending the temple — “are powerful instruments that connect us with Heaven and help us find Jesus on our way.”

Shortly after the fires, President Hanks said he felt impressed to share with gathered members the scripture found in Doctrine and Covenants 50:23-24: “That which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. That which is of God is light.”

Amidst the unity that has been felt on Maui and throughout Hawaii, there has been a growing sense of frustration, anger, disappointment and contention gaining traction, President Hanks shared. “I have felt, however, the need to remind myself and those I serve that ours is not the responsibility to sow contention or perpetuate discord during this unique time, or at any other time. Our responsibility is, as President Russell M. Nelson has taught, to be peacemakers.”

4. ‘Christ must be the center of your worship experience’

Both inside and outside of dedicated Church buildings and temples, individuals must make Christ the center of their personal worship, President Hanks said.

Making Christ the center of personal worship experiences in the quiet moments individuals create outside dedicated buildings will lead to more meaningful experience in worshipping Him inside dedicated churches and temples.

President Hanks recently traveled to the island of Moloka’i to attend sacrament meeting and visit with the members of the Church there.

He watched as the friends of Arlan Angco, who has terminal cancer, lifted him into a specially prepared recliner they brought to the meeting. “[Angco] insisted on worshipping in person and partaking of the sacrament with his loving ward ‘ohana.”

It reminded President Hanks of the story of the man “sick of the palsy” who was lowered by four friends from the roof to be healed by Jesus. Jesus tells the man, “Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way” (see Mark 2:1-12).

“Whether a bed or a recliner, we should all strive to be the kind of disciples who bring ourselves and others unto the Son of God, the Master Healer. Are we not all sick and in need of the healing balm only He can offer?” President Hanks asked.

In conclusion, President Hanks said, “May you and I find Him all along our way, as we witness His miracles — great and small — is my sincere prayer.”

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Episode 153: Seeking and giving spiritual solace amid the Maui wildfires, with Church News reporter Mary Richards
Lahaina Latter-day Saints gather to draw strength after Maui wildfires
‘We have the people ready and willing to help’: Church provides temporal relief to Maui after wildfires
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