Global Engagement Series: APU Students Share Their Experience Serving in Maui

Lucy Boles ’25, Sage Griffing ’25, and Cassia Arnold ’25 felt called to serve in Maui with 16 other Azusa Pacific University students for six days over winter break. The Maui Global Engagement trip aimed to provide for communities impacted by devastating fires that took place just months before the trip. The largest and most destructive was the Lahaina fire that occurred last August.

All three students wanted to help those in need while living out their faith. “My family and I had been to Lahaina a-year-and-a-half ago. When I heard about the fires, it was hard to think of all those people suffering,” said Boles, a psychology and theology double major. Griffing, a kinesiology major, also enjoyed serving on the trip. “I hoped that there was something I could do to help,” he said. “Over time, God led me to make the decision to commit to the trip and guided me through it.” While Boles and Griffing felt connected to the trip through faith and compassion, Arnold, an honors humanities and commercial music double major, felt called to serve since she’s from Maui. “I wanted to help out Maui’s community,” Arnold said. It was really nice to get to know other students from APU too.”

APU students served in the central Maui area. Residents of the Lahaina area had only recently been given permission to see their houses, so the majority of students were not allowed into the area, with the exception of those like Arnold who live in Hawaii. Students spent most of their time working Christmas related events and doing physical labor jobs.

Boles recounted her experience helping families shop for presents at a Christmas carnival. “Some people worked at a hot chocolate stand or helped at a stand where people could decorate shirts and hats, but I got to work in the toy section,” she said. “I got to greet families and help them shop for their toys and get their gifts wrapped.” One family in particular impacted Boles. She formed a special connection with a nine-year-old girl who was shopping for presents for her older brother. The girl’s parents mentioned that they were going to set up a Christmas tree in the hotel that they were living in. A group of APU students decorated ornaments for the family to put on their tree. Boles is still in contact with the family.

While events like the Christmas carnival involved working with families, a majority of the tasks involved manual labor. The team was tasked with spreading wood chips on loose soil. The fires damaged the soil, and the wind would blow it around, which hindered new plant growth. The wood chips helped keep the soil in place. Griffing said the work the team completed was mentally impactful. “I was going through a lot last semester. Academics were challenging and there was a lot on my plate, but diving into tasks to serve was significant for me,” he said. “I found out that I love service.” Arnold found the trip to be spiritually impactful.

“I had a lot more bottled up than I realized, and this trip helped me to work through everything by being able to help others and get in a clear headspace,” she said.

Arnold was one of three students given special permission to enter Lahaina. The students took pictures of a friend’s property and sorted through what was left. Other jobs that students helped with included staging a house for people to rent, building cubicles for families to talk with organizations in private, moving planter boxes, taking inventory of items in a warehouse, sorting donations, and helping with the tear down of Christmas events.

One of the biggest challenges that the rest of the team faced was not being able to help in Lahaina. “At times I didn’t understand how we were making a difference. On the days where we put trees through a wood chipper or did oddball yard work jobs, it was a little confusing,” Boles said. “However, the team learned that if we were too caught up in what we thought was most helpful, then that would be putting our desires before the needs of others. Supporting the workers that were there long term was what the community needed most, and they were really grateful for it.”

All three students found that interacting with the people of Maui was one of the most inspirational parts of the Global Engagement trip in regards to their faith. “A lot of people in West Maui are still shell shocked and worn out, so it’s good for them to see APU students who are enthusiastic and ready to help,” Arnold said. “It was nice to work with people in the community in a caring way that supported each other both locally and in the church.” Griffing was inspired by a man named Ted. “He was an old guy, but the way he carried himself, his powerful testimony, and the way he loves people regardless of who you are or if you know him was impactful,” he said. “He truly gave himself in every encounter he had. He taught me what a heart of giving can look like. It's not about looking for something in return, but rather serving unconditionally out of pure love.”

Global Engagement trips serve as a reminder to students of how God wants them to implement faith into their everyday lives. “About 15 years ago, a pastor at one of the churches wondered if their church disappeared one day, would anybody notice? And he didn’t think so,” Boles said. “He realized that we should be out in the community serving other people because that's what Christ taught us and how He wants us to act. Rather than only being focused on the church community, the pastor wanted to extend that care to all others. The church is more service oriented now, and I would love to emulate that on campus.” Similarly, Griffing realized the importance of putting his whole heart into serving the APU community. “I’m involved in a lot of areas on campus, and I want to continue to be engaged while putting myself out there to give back everything that God has given me,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what God can do with my future endeavors and commitments.” Arnold found that serving together makes a community feel like a family.

“We can all benefit from not only viewing everyone as a peer, but as a brother or sister in Christ,” she said. “Lifting each other up is helpful for those you serve and for yourself.” APU students who attended the Maui Global Engagement trip learned to lean on their communities while finding value in selflessly serving others.

All APU undergraduate students serve 120 hours over the course of four years. There are many opportunities during the school year and the summer to serve both locally and globally. Learn more about global engagement trips here or by emailing [email protected].