Harpers reach out to Maui church during milestone trip

Jay FitzOur Town Faith

Joe and Nancy Harper of Clinton, Tennessee, had a goal of visiting all 50 states in the U.S. When they finally planned a trip to Hawaii, the 50th state on their list, they didn’t know the island of Maui would be devastated by a deadly wildfire on August 8, 2023.

One month after the tragedy, the Harpers were still able to experience their Hawaiian vacation, but they also took the opportunity to share some Christian love. While in Maui, the couple met with the Rev. John Crewe, pastor of Lahaina United Methodist Church, which lost its historic sanctuary to the fire.

The Rev. John Crewe reads notes from Memorial UMC on Sept. 22. (Photo by Nancy Harper)

The Harpers were sad for the congregation and wanted to help. They talked to their pastor and Sunday school class at Memorial UMC in Clinton, which led to a special offering.

Members of Memorial United Methodist Church gave roughly $1,500 and wrote personal messages to members of Lahaina UMC. The Harpers delivered the check and messages to Crewe on September 22.

“We have a gift for you from our church to your church,” Nancy Harper told the pastor. “He got choked up when he read the notes from our children.”

The Maui wildfires claimed nearly 100 lives and destroyed more than 2,000 buildings, including the 101-year-old Lahaina United Methodist sanctuary. When reached by phone, Crewe said that many church members had also lost their homes.

The pastor said he was grateful for the visit from the Harpers and had read aloud the notes from their church to his congregation.

“Things like that lift our spirits and we know we’re not alone,” Crewe said. “We feel like we’re all part of the body of Christ, and we’re not going to be forgotten.”

Though a sign survived, the Lahaina United Methodist Church sanctuary was destroyed by the Aug. 8 wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui. (Photo by Tiffany Winn)


Lahaina United Methodist Church’s sanctuary, built in 1922, was lost to the fires that devastated the community of Lahaina on Aug. 8. (Photo courtesy Lahaina United Methodist Church)

The Lahaina congregation has been worshiping in another church as they await access into Lahaina which has been restricted since the fires. While the church’s initial goal is to purchase and pitch a tent on the property, the long-term goal is to rebuild the church, Crewe said.

Financial donations received through the Lahaina United Methodist Church website are currently being used to help fire survivors in the church and community, the pastor said.

Crewe sent a video back home with the Harpers, thanking Memorial United Methodist Church for their gift and compassion. Memorial’s pastor, the Rev. Scott Wilks, said the video was shown during the “joys and concerns” part of Sunday worship.

“We’re mighty proud of Joe and Nancy for doing this,” Wilks said. “We’re just glad they had the opportunity to be our emissaries.”

The trip took the Harpers to three Hawaiian islands and involved seven flights. Nancy is 79. On November 5, Joe Harper will turn 90 years old.

This story is a shortened version of a story from “The Call,” a newsletter edited by Annette Spence and published by the Holston Conference of The United Methodist Church.


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