In September 2022, a year after the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was commemorated, Hawaiians marked the 30th anniversary of Hurricane Iniki, the most destructive hurricane to strike the island in recorded history. The southside of Kauai, Hawaii’s northernmost island, became their ground zero.

The Category 4 storm was supposed to pass south of Kauai but turned north. Though the majority of residents were unprepared for Iniki to make landfall when and where it did, The Salvation Army was ready to serve when the storm hit.

Jurassic Park to the Rescue

Captain Phil Lum, who now carries the rank of major, was in charge of The Salvation Army’s unit in the town of Koloa. He had staffed the community centre shelter, and they all watched as Iniki raged.

“It was a harrowing experience,” Phil remembers. “You could hear the wind slowly coming. You could hear tree branches breaking, and a huge utility pole snapped in half. There was an older house across the street—we saw first the roof go, then the walls, then the furniture, until the only thing left was a concrete pad and a refrigerator. It was very scary.”

The Salvation Army’s emergency disaster relief efforts began immediately. Welcome contributions were made by director Steven Spielberg and his crew, who had been wrapping up filming the original Jurassic Park movie in the area.

“The outpouring of everyone’s generosity made it a blessed time in the midst a terrible time,” Phil says.

“The Jurassic Park people still had a lot of their equipment on the island and had huge generators for their set lighting. They donated the use of those temporarily while everyone was in need of electricity. Some parts of the island were without power for six months. Those generators were amazingly quiet because they had to be used on a movie set. They were so kind, they even allowed The Salvation Army to use their private plane when none of the commercial flights were flying.”

Getting to Know Each Other

When commercial flights did resume, college student Debbie Navarro flew in from the University of Hawaii to help her parents, who were also Salvation Army pastors in Kauai at the time, reach out to those in need.

“There were little tents set up where long lines of people stood to make sure they were able to get water, ice, rice and canned foods that were provided,” Debbie remembers. “It was so neat to see the community unite.”

During the relief efforts, as Debbie and Phil helped others put their lives back together, their lives also merged together as they were continually working up close and personal.

“We had met in passing previously, but really got to know each other during the hurricane’s aftermath,” Debbie says. “Then I went back to school. That was the beginning of our long-distance relationship. It was before cellphones, so we got to connect through lots of letter writing. Spending all night talking on the phone made for expensive bills!”

“When we had been working together, we saw first-hand that we both had a strong desire to help and serve with The Salvation Army,” Phil recalls. “To find someone to share that passion to serve the Lord with was a godsend.”

Debbie had three more years of college to work through, then two years at The Salvation Army’s College for Officer Training.

“So we used those five years to get to know each other better,” Phil says. After Debbie was ordained and commissioned as a Salvation Army officer, the couple were married. “We had kept saying if it’s the Lord’s will, it will happen, and it will be in His timing. It was and it continues to be.”

Hurricane Iniki
Hurricane Iniki at peak intensity just south of Kauai on September 11, 1992

Heaven-Made Match

Phil says the hurricane blew them together.

“There’s a silver lining to everything,” he says. “We were blessed to find love in the midst of tragedy.”

Their bond is made secure by the firm foundation that they have, in that they both love the Lord and trust His Word. Phil’s favourite Bible verse is Jeremiah 31:3.

“The Lord says, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness,’ ” he recites. “Experiencing God’s love is beyond anything I could imagine.”

Now married 25 years, Major Phil and Major Debbie are living their happily ever after as divisional commanders of The Salvation Army’s Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division.

Since Phil has been with the Army more years than Debbie, does he pull rank at any time with his seniority, or are all their managerial decisions made fifty-fifty?

“I would say Debbie’s vote weighs in at 75 percent,” Phil teases. Then he adds, “No, truly we live our life and ministry as a team of equal partners. Our gifts and personalities complement each other, and I love that The Salvation Army allows us to work within our gifting.”

“We find joy in all the things we do and have done. It’s a great journey,” Debbie agrees. “We have two adult children who are a blessing to us and our ministry as well.”

“We almost gave our first-born the middle name of Iniki for the hurricane that brought us together, but decided not to make him live with that,” Phil laughs. “But Iniki will always be our reminder that love does conquer all.”

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