John and Gay Williams anticipate a very long response by Disaster Relief teams after wildfires decimated Lahaina, Hawaii. Beyond the immediate needs of those who lost everything in the conflagration, the Williams are thinking about spiritual ministry to those who are combing the ashes looking for evidence of victims.
“The islands are a small community, Gay said. “Everyone knows everyone, so there’s no one who hasn’t been touched.”
Maui is a long way from Colorado where they lived and worked for 19 years. And even farther from Granite City, Illinois, where they met in high school, attended Grace Baptist Church together, and married.
“We raised our children all over the world,” Gay said, then in a prolonged period in Colorado, they began serving with that state’s Disaster Relief. “John wanted to retire early, so we could move to Hawaii,” Gay said. “When the opportunity came to lead Disaster Relief for [Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention], it was obviously God working.”
“For such a time as this,” John quoted, “God has led us, first as yellow hat volunteers, we had a good experience and exposure to DR.”
Gay said, “I never dreamed we would have wildfires in Hawaii or that our work after wildfires in Colorado would prepare us for this, but it did.”
For Gay, a growing heart for missions started when she was a girl at her home church, engaging in all the training activities of the time. She was greatly influenced by Illinois’ renown WMU Director. “Evelyn Tully has an incredible legacy, that she led us as campers and then as camp staff, we are now all over the world,” Gay said.
“The years I spent as an Acteens camper at Lake Sallateeska (Baptist Camp) introduced me to international missions,” Gay said, “and with Sandy Wisdom-Martin who was my age and now leads national WMU. I felt at that time God calling me to serve him. I didn’t know when or where or how, but here we are today.”
Her voice brightened with the memories as she described Wisdom-Martin and another Illinois friend from their Acteen days, Cindy Bradley, who is now WMU Director for the Florida Baptist Convention.
The Williamses have served as HPBC Disaster Relief directors for two years. “This is the largest Baptist state convention geographically,” John said. “If there’s a Baptist church between the Hawaiian Islands and Thailand, it’s probably part of our convention.” Working from Maui, the Williamses were simultaneously dispatching teams to Guam following a deadly typhoon.
DR teams from the U.S. mainland will be scheduled for work on Maui later. “For a very long time, we are going to be recovering and the Lord will be opening doors.,” said Gay, who specializes in chaplaincy ministry.
“The long-term hope we can bring,” John said, “is hope in Jesus Christ.”