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Beauty for Ashes in Lahaina

Pastors bring hope, healing, and the love of Jesus to Maui despite horrific personal loss.
Pastor Kawi, 49, and Shalia Keahi, 48, whose last name means “the fire,” had just celebrated three years as site pastors at the Lahaina campus of King’s Cathedral Assembly of God in Maui when fires swept through the island, destroying their home and the church building — but not their hope.

“Nothing is left of our home,” Shalia told AG News. “It’s total ash. Nothing identifiable at all but maybe our ATV and our truck.”

But the couple already sees God using the hardship for good.

“I see revival,” Shalia says. “God is going to give us beauty for ashes. That was the first word Kawi got. It’s going to come through a lot of love, patience, and caring for the people, helping them heal. As they heal, God is going to bring revival.”

Born and raised in Wailuku, Kawi met the Lord while recovering from addiction to methamphetamines, which had robbed him of health, home, work, and family.

“I was living on the streets, at the beach, and in abandoned homes,” he says.

He met Shalia while she was serving in worship ministry at King’s Cathedral. Their first date was at the church’s Good Friday service. They married and both became active in ministry at King’s. One day, James Marocco, the founder of the network of churches which span the Hawaiian islands, Alaska, the mainland, and beyond, asked Kawi what he thought about being a minister.

“I never wanted to be a minister or pastor. I just wanted to set people free the way I had been set free,” Kawi says.

But he felt the call and quit a well-paying job in construction to serve in ministry full-time, eventually becoming the Lahaina campus’s site pastor. The burgeoning congregation met in a historical building near the old sugar cane mill. In recent years, they outgrew the building.

“People were getting saved, being delivered, marriages were being restored, people were being set free from addiction,” says Kawi. “Beautiful things were happening in those three years.”

But on August 7, 2023, high winds picked up, which is not unusual in Lahaina, “but the winds on August 8 were crazy,” Kawi says. “We thought the house was going to cave in.”

The electricity went out that night, and the family was sheltering in place the next afternoon when a neighbor came pounding on the front door to warn them that the fire was fast approaching.

“I looked at the mountain and it was like a tornado coming down toward us, picking up branches and leaves, the fire expanding,” Kawi recalls. “I ran into the house and said, ‘We’ve got to go.’ We grabbed the kids and the dog and threw them in the car.”

Hundreds of cars crawled toward safety, and when the Keahis reached Front Street, Kawi wanted to turn right, but Shalia demurred, “No, turn left!”

“No, we’ve got to go right,” he replied.

“God, please talk to my husband!” she prayed.

Kawi turned the car left, then looked behind him to see that a truck which had turned right was already engulfed in black smoke, and buildings were catching fire and falling down. In the back of the car, the kids, Shalom, 9, and Shem, 7, prayed fervently.

“Hon, I think we lost our house,” Shalia said.

“But thank God we still have each other,” Kawi answered.

They soon learned that the house and everything in it had been lost — as had the church building. Worse, three people who attended the church lost their lives, and at least two remained missing.

King’s Cathedral, with a central campus in Kahului, immediately became a hub of help, offering shelter and cooking huge numbers of meals for locals.

“We kept getting a whole bunch of donations, and still are,” says Shalia. “Four containers arrived yesterday. We’re still sorting through them and distributing them. It’s been amazing how God is providing for his people. I think of something we could use and it shows up at the church.”

The donations include baby items, toys, clothes, food, water, toiletries, mattresses, generators, water filters, and more.

“It has opened the door for the gospel as we are able to reach people in ways we’ve never reached them before,” says Shalia. “They are so open and receptive to hearing about Christ and receiving prayer.”

Major media also came knocking, and Kawi did an interview with an ABC affiliate.

“I didn’t want to do it because I was still processing, but Pastor Josh [Marocco] counseled me that I could get the word out, and I was able to say that Jesus is the hope for Lahaina,” says Kawi.

The family is staying in a condo in Kihei. Their Lahaina congregation missed just one service and has been meeting at a beautiful wedding venue near the beach.

“We didn’t want people to start isolating, feeling hopeless, and giving up,” Shalia says. “We are doing a lot of connecting, making phone calls. We have a great database for our church. We print out sheets with names, numbers, and addresses, and contact them. It helps them to see us still declaring the Word, standing and believing. God comes in power and lifts us up.”

“We wake up with joy and peace in the midst of all this,” Kawi testifies.

Joel Kilpatrick

Joel Kilpatrick is a writer living in Southern California who has authored or ghostwritten dozens of books. Kilpatrick, who served as associate editor of the Pentecostal Evangel in the 1990s, is a credentialed Assemblies of God minister.