Lutheran Disaster Response

Our response to disasters in the U.S. and around the world; look for sections of this blog related to specific disaster locations. Comments are welcomed and moderated.

Minot, ND: Field Report

Posted on October 4, 2012 by Pastor Michael Stadie

This is Pastor Michael Stadie, Program Director for Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR).

Last week I returned from a week-long visit to the Minot, North Dakota area. As you know, the area was profoundly impacted by flooding in June of 2011. (Please see the previous blog post from Matthew Ley about the One-Year Anniversary events.)

While there, I had the opportunity to see the work going on at Hope Village, the volunteer and construction site for the rebuilding efforts by our affiliate, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSSND), and other partners. Shirley Dykshoorn is the LDR coordinator for LSSND. While the actual volunteer housing portion of Hope Village is going on hiatus, the work will continue through the winter months with volunteers staying at “satellite” sites—area congregations. Shirley and her staff are doing a great job working at making sure the volunteers and materials are coming together to efficiently help with the rebuilding process.

While progress is being made, there is still a great need for rebuilding; something that will continue for several more years. There is a special need for skilled construction workers, especially electricians and plumbers. And what is true in Minot is also true for most of the other reconstruction sites—more skilled laborers would help more families move back into their homes.

During my time there, I also made these observations:

  • This flood is unique in that it impacted every quadrant of the city.
  • The way the river flows through the city means the flood impacted many neighborhoods that are isolated from one another. For many reasons, this slows the long term recovery process.
  • Because of the above reasons, as well as some others, the long term recovery process will take longer than most flooding events.
  • Lutheran Disaster Response will need to encourage volunteer teams to work in the Minot area for a longer time than normal.

Despite the challenges, there is hope shining through, literally. The New York Says Thank You Foundation work includes asking children to make “Stars of Hope.” Children from the Minot have made stars which been put on stakes and “planted” all around the area as a symbol of hope and encouragement. These multicolored stars not only brighten up the streets, they put a smile on the face of those driving through the areas still under construction as a reminder there is indeed hope, something that the people of Minot and the surrounding area live each day.

Northeast Minnesota: Field Report

Posted on September 12, 2012 by Pastor Michael Stadie

This is Pastor Michael Stadie, Director of Lutheran Disaster Response.

This past week, I had the opportunity to do a field visit to Minnesota. While there, I spent time with Nancy Beers of Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota (LSS-MN); Nancy is the Lutheran Disaster Response Coordinator for the state. She is also the Director of the Camp Noah program, a ministry that works with children following a disaster, helping them to heal by processing their disaster experiences. To find out more about this program and how it makes a positive impact on the lives of children, please check out their website at www.lssmn.org/camp_noah. With the help of new staff members they are already planning ways to help children impacted by the recent disasters around the county as well as preparing for whatever disasters may be around the corner.

While Lutheran Disaster Response continues to monitor the situation in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama following Hurricane Isaac, it is important that we not lose sight of other parts of the country which have been impacted by disasters this past year. As you may know, most disasters do not reach the level of a federally declared disaster, which is a necessary trigger for many funding resources. While these disasters may be considered “small” on a national stage, for those who were impacted, these disasters are “huge”. This is in-part why we say no matter how big or small a disaster and no matter how much help comes from outside a community, the response is always a local one.

An example from earlier this summer is when Barnum, Moose Lake and Duluth, Minnesota were impacted by flooding that did not receive a federal disaster declaration. Pastor Karen Bockelman, a former member of the Northeastern Minnesota synod, came out of retirement to help work with congregations and communities as they engaged in their recovery efforts. Although new to disaster work, Karen has a great grasp of the needs and is a great asset to the recovery efforts. Since federal assistance is not available, the state legislature held a special session to address the needs of those impacted by the disaster. As part of the assistance package, LSS-MN recently began providing disaster case management in the impacted areas. The LDR national office has also provided an initial grant to LSS-MN to help them begin their work. As they continue this work LDR will be there to help as needs arise.

This is a good example of how Lutheran Disaster Response and its affiliates are willing to assist even in the “small” disasters, and how the generosity of our donors, especially those who give to the undesignated disaster account, makes a significant impact in helping people to recover.

Please continue to remember the people in this part of Minnesota in your thoughts and prayers as they go through the recovery process.

Joplin, MO: Field Report

Posted on August 4, 2012 by Pastor Michael Stadie

Pastor Kathy Redpath standing next to the previous site of Peace Lutheran Church.

This is Pastor Michael Stadie, Program Director for Lutheran Disaster Response with another field report.

Last week, I spent two days in Joplin, Missouri. Duane Moudy and Jim Eckrich from Lutheran Family and Children’s Services (LFCS) of Missouri were my hosts. While there are not many Lutherans in the Joplin area, Duane’s work in the community has raised the visibility of Lutheran Disaster Response a great deal; Duane is a key player in the Joplin Recovery efforts. Jim, a long time LDR Coordinator manages the Disaster Case Management Contract for LFCS. LFCS has subcontracted with several other agencies to provide these services.

Driving through the areas impacted by the May 2011 tornado, one can easily see Joplin is in full rebuilding mode. Many homes and businesses have been rebuilt; and there is a lot of construction work going on all over the impacted area. But interspersed among the completed homes are many empty lots and even whole blocks that have weeds growing up on them. Duane shared that most of these lots were rental homes where the landlord decided not to rebuild.

McGregor, MN: Flood Waters Still Affecting Community (w/ photos)

Posted on July 20, 2012 by Matthew Ley

A flooded cabin in Big Sandy Lake.
Credit: Grace Lutheran Church/McGregor, MN.

The rains that struck northeastern Minnesota at the end of July are still having an effect on the surrounding communities. Below is an update on the situation of McGregor and Big Sandy Lake from Pr. Karen G. Bockelman, Disaster Coordination for the Northeastern Minnesota Synod (ELCA). It’s a good reminder that disaster response is a marathon not a sprint and that need will continue long after the initial impact of the rains.

REPORT: Big Sandy Lake, north of McGregor, is within the Mississippi River watershed and was very heavily hit by the rains/flooding in June. It took the Mississippi River some time to crest, resulting in weeks of standing water. Only now (a month later) is it safe to begin clean up in the McGregor area. It has taken this long for the water to go down. The presence of E. coli in the water (now tested safe) as well as major fish and snail kills have contributed to the delay. All but a couple small sections of road are now passable. However, the sheriff warns that any more significant rainfall will cause the lake to rise again and might lead to still more delay.

Aitkin County officials are preparing to start the clean up process on Monday, July 23. Grace Lutheran Church, which has been serving as an information site and supply depot, will be the staging area for volunteers.

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Regarding this work at Grace Lutheran Church, I have received a few email updates and pictures from a couple who have been working with the church in this response, which I include below. Their testimony is a great example of how we can accomplish more when we work together as the body of Christ.

“I am a member of Holy Family Catholic Church in McGregor, MN. My husband and I are volunteers assisting at Grace Lutheran [in McGregor, MN] in their mission to aid in flood relief services. The need for this service is evident in the numbers of people who continue to visit Grace Church’s relief services area. Grace Lutheran is a beautiful church with amenities well-suited to this effort and it’s congregation is a community-minded resource for our area. Grace Lutheran and Holy Family participate in and enjoy women’s functions together as well. Grace Lutheran truly “lives” its mission statement.”

A flooded cabin in Big Sandy Lake.
Credit: Grace Lutheran Church/McGregor, MN.

Another flooded cabin in Big Sandy Lake.
Credit: Grace Lutheran Church/McGregor, MN.

Flooded home on Long Pointe Rd on Big Sandy Lake.
Credit: Shirley Scollard.

Tethered propane tank to prevent it causing damage.
Credit: Shirley Scollard.

Field Report: Minot One-Year Anniversary

Posted on July 10, 2012 by Matthew Ley

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

My name is Matt Ley and I am the Program Interpreter for ELCA Disaster Response. The last weekend in June I was in Minot, ND for the anniversary of the flooding that took place there last year. The horns that signaled the final evacuation blew in the early afternoon of June 22, 2011 and so this date was observed as the official anniversary though the floodwaters stayed for over a month.

It was a bittersweet trip as I had both the joy of reconnecting with those I had met during my last trip in January (along with the joy of meeting more of the amazing cloud of witnesses working there) yet also the pain of seeing how disaster can take it’s toll on both the physical as well as emotional/spiritual landscape of a community. I was many times reminded of something I learned in my Pastoral Care class at seminary: in moments of care it is not the caregiver who bears Christ into the situation but the one who suffers, for that is where Christ is most present. The role of the caregiver is to affirm that presence and help the one who suffers to see it.

This post is a bit later than I was hoping since upon returning there was the need to respond to the newest wave of disasters that hit throughout the US. Yet, in this time I have also been able to look back and reflect upon the days I spent in Minot. In that time I decided to build off this learning from class and do a reflection piece on where I saw Christ present during this anniversary time of looking back and looking forward instead of a traditional report.

The congregations of First Lutheran and Christ Lutheran, both affected by the flooding gathered for a memorial service at the 6th St bridge, which was underwater during the flooding.

The Ministry of Claiming & Abiding
I saw Christ present in the pastors I met in Minot. Ministry can be taxing in the best of times, so in times of disaster it can at times seem overwhelming. It can seem that one’s faith and ability may not be sufficient for the task of caring for others so in need while also being one of those affected. Yet in those I met I found a deep abiding faith. It was a faith that was able to own the fatigue and tragedy of the situation personally experienced and still (pro)claim Christ’s continuing presence. I affirm Christ in the gift of presence these leaders bring to their community, the gift of suffering with those who suffer while still holding and pointing to the cross.

Homemade cookies made by members of the Minot community. These are free for the taking volunteers at Hope Village as a token of thanks.

The Body of Christ in Operation
It was overwhelming to walk into Hope Village and see the buildings that were nothing more than blue prints when I visited in January. To see trailer after trailer, for housing volunteers, for cooking, this one for showers was amazing, all bearing the names of denominations who have helped bring this village to life. It was truly the body of Christ with moving limbs, a sharp mind, breathing lungs and beating heart (along with a full stomach of ever present cookies from a thankful community). As any new body it had moments of learning how to coordinate movement and learn it has. I affirm Christ in the beautiful example of Christ’s people bringing together a greater unity through their diversity of gifts.

Giving From Abundance
Peace Lutheran in Burlington, ND (a few miles outside of Minot) was one of the four ELCA congregations affected by the flood. They have been working with Mission Builders to build a new wing onto their church since they lost the use of their basement in the flooding. One of the aspects of this partnership is that Peace Lutheran agreed to provide a meal each Saturday for the crew of Mission Builders as they worked. The congregation decided this was not enough and opened up the meal to the entire community of Burlington as both a thank you and an invitation. I was able to attend one of these meals and was struck by how something as seemingly as simple as a meal could bear so much import (Last Supper anyone?). I affirm Christ in this act of giving from the gift of abundance even in perceived scarcity.

“I’m Back” signs lining the street outside Oak Park.

The Power of Signs
One of the things you might see while driving through Minot are little yellow yard signs. These signs began popping up soon after the flood waters receded with the simple phrase “I’m Coming Back”. They were a simple and profound way for the community to show it’s resiliency and hope. As I attended the opening of Oak Park, one of the main parks in Minot, the entrance road was covered with these signs. Yet, there was one small change, the Coming had been taped over, leaving “I’m Back”. I affirm Christ’s presence in this reminder of a community’s ability for resiliency and hope.

The Spirit’s Permanent Address
The greatest place I saw Christ’s presence was also the most subtle. It was in the seemingly ordinary moments, conversation around plans for future campus ministry, the familiarity of Lutheran liturgy, sitting in and discussing the history of the Stave Church in the Scandinavian Heritage Park, running a 5K with a local pastor who beat me by a step. In these and the many other “ordinary” moments I had was the reminder that though the Spirit may vacation in the miraculous its permanent address is in these day-to-day moments. I affirm Christ in the fact that ministry and life go on in the midst of disaster as the Spirit continues to empower and sustain us.

These are just a few examples of where I saw Christ present in Minot. In them is the reminder that Christ has not forgotten the people of Minot and neither have we. May God continue to sustain us all in the days, months and years to come.

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To learn how you can continue to support the effort in Minot please check out the Hope Village website for volunteer opportunities and the ELCA Disaster Response website to donate.

U.S. Fires & Floods

Posted on June 29, 2012 by Matthew Ley

The last week and a half have been a busy time for disaster response around the U.S. As wildfires continue to rage throughout Colorado, Montana and surrounding states, there have also been record breaking rainfall in Northeast Minnesota that led to flash flooding. Florida Tropical Storm Debbie drenched much of the state leading to rivers cresting past flood levels. Below is an overview of these disasters and how our church is responding.

Colorado Wildfires

Currently four separate wildfires have consumed over 20,000 acres destroying 600 structures and threatening thousands more. The fire has led to one death and a handful of injuries. It is hoped that all fires will be completely contained by the middle of July. The fires have also led to the evacuation of Sky Ranch Lutheran Camp, one ELCA pastor losing his home and one ELCA congregation having 95 percent of its members evacuated.

Our local partner, Lutheran Family Services of Colorado has activated its disaster response program and is assessing the situation. Much of this work involves connecting with local ELCA congregations and church bodies, like the ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod, to determine the need and appropriate response. We are helping to evacuate several foster homes and are working with United Way to find alternative housing. Funds have also been disbursed to help Sky Ranch as they continue to host their outdoor ministry at a Presbyterian Camp. To learn more about the situation at Sky Ranch see the previous post Ministry Amidst the Flames.

Montana Wildfires

Wildfires are also threatening parts of the ELCA Montana Synod. The Rev. Amanda Liggett of Zion Lutheran Church in Roundup, Mont. said, “We’re doing alright. Lots of people have lost a great deal in the last 24 hours, but no human lives as far as I know.”

We are working with local partners to assist in the evacuation of two assisted living centers, one in Ashland, Mont. and one on the Northern Cheyenne reservation. In conjunction with St. John’s Lutheran Ministries and Lutheran Social Services of Montana, we are helping to provide food, toiletries and medical supplies.

Northeast Minnesota Flash Flooding

Last week Duluth experienced its wettest two days on record receiving over seven inches of rain in 48 hours. The affect was massive flash flooding that destroyed roads and homes, even picking up and moving vehicles. The city of Moose Lake was unreachable for five days because of high waters. In the early assessment much of the damage seems to be infrastructure, yet many basements are flooded and one member of the Northeast Minnesota staff lost their home. Hope Lutheran, an ELCA congregation in Moose Lake, was flooded but did not sustain any major damage.

Our local partner, Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, is working to assess the situation and future needs. They are working through the United Way to coordinate volunteers and focusing on setting up and managing a long term recovery committee. This committee will help oversee the recovery until it is finished (a process of many months and possibly years). They are also working with ELCA congregation Hope Lutheran to host Camp Noah starting August 20th.

Tropical Storm Debbie Hits Florida

Tropical Storm Debbie brought heavy rains over many days that led to sporadic flooding and many rivers cresting above flood stage. Assessment is still on going as some rivers have still not yet crested. The state is reporting four fatalities associated with the flooding. There have been no reports of affected ELCA congregations or members.

Lutheran Services of Florida, our affiliate in the state, is continuing to stay connected with ELCA churches and church bodies in the area as they assess the situation. They have been  putting together flood buckets for distribution in more affected areas, like Hudson.

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While the hard work of first responders and local agencies continues please keep these people in your thoughts and prayers. Also pray for our local ELCA congregations, church bodies and affiliates as they continue their work of being church even in the midst of disaster. May God give them strength, patience and wisdom.

Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond at home and globally in times of need. Donate now.

Minot, ND: One-Year Anniversary of Flood Evacuation

Posted on June 22, 2012 by Matthew Ley

Today at 12:57 CST marks the one year anniversary of when the horns blew in Minot, ND and residents had to leave their homes. What followed was massive flooding of the Souris (Mouse) River that left many homes underwater for over a month. The timetable of the evacuation was constantly being updated as the amount of water continued to be higher and faster moving than expected. So many were still in the process of moving out their belongings when they had to leave. Though no one was hurt in the flooding many lost a great deal of their personal belongings.

Today and this weekend there will be many events within Minot and the neighboring town of Burlington to mark this occasion as these communities look to see how far they have come and where it is down the road they wish to go. Wherever that may be Lutheran Disaster Response, the domestic program of ELCA Disaster Response, will continue to be present as long as we are needed.

Please take a moment today to remember the people of Minot. Pray that they may see and take joy from the good work they have accomplished in this past year and that God may give them rest when they are weary and strength for the rest of the journey.

To learn more about how the ELCA has been involved in the last year please check out the one-year anniversary piece on the ELCA Disaster Response webpage U.S. Flooding – One-Year Later.

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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond at home and globally in times of need. Donate now.

Minot, ND: Camp Noah Comes to Minot

Posted on June 11, 2012 by Matthew Ley

A new article in the Minot Daily News shares about the Camp Noah program that is coming to Minot this week and later in June to help children affected by the flooding last June as they continue to process and deal with the effects of the event. The article lifts up the work of the Western North Dakota syond (ELCA) and Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota (where Camp Noah was created). It gives a great overview of what a Camp Noah entails and how it has been received.

Read the article: Camp Noah helps children deal with flood disaster

Learn more about Camp Noah: Camp Noah

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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond at home and globally in times of need. Donate now.

Joplin, MO: One-Year Anniversary

Posted on May 22, 2012 by Matthew Ley

Today marks the one year anniversary of the deadliest tornado in the last 60 years that tore through Joplin, Missouri. 160 people were killed, many more were left injured and homeless. Main stays of the community were destroyed, like the local high school and Peace Lutheran Church (ELCA).

In the year since there have been many stories of Lutherans from Joplin and across the country coming together to respond. Lutheran Disaster Response, the domestic arm of ELCA Disaster Response, has been working through Lutheran Family and Children’s Services of Missouri to coordinate our on the ground response. Part of this work has been to work wit the Long Term Recovery Committee to help address the unmet needs and case management of those affected by the tornado. Lutheran Disaster Response was also able to bring in trainers to help the committee lay the groundwork for how to move forward.

Immanuel Lutheran Church and Martin Luther Lutheran School, both Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, have given of their resources and time to house and feed volunteers. The school also served as the location for a Camp Noah, a program created by Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, which helps children affected by natural disasters to deal with the trauma. The camp was so successful that four more camps are schedule for this summer as well as a God’s Can Do Kids program for the fall.

Amidst all of this work within the local community there have also been volunteers from around the country showing up to help, lending a day, a week, a professional skill, whatever they had. To give a sense of what these groups experience and as a reminder that Joplin is not forgotten I would like to share a reflection from Kelli Joseph who travelled with a group to volunteer in Joplin:

St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church in Omaha, NE sent a group of 13 individuals to assist in Joplin from April 23 – April 29. The group had a variety of opportunities to serve while in Joplin. Some of these opportunities were bigger and some seemed smaller. The construction manager (Trent) was organized, informed and wonderful to work with. There are no unimportant jobs, no unimportant people, no unimportant acts of kindness. The group experienced loving the people they served when 1) they met the owner of the first Habitat home we worked on, 2) they served the victims of the tornado when we dispensed clothing, cleaning supplies and food, 3) the mothers came to pick up the children they cared for during Stepping Out, 4) as well as meeting a man from NE whose wife was in a nursing home and had worked for Habitat in his past. The group saw God each day they worked – in everything from the fun food snacks that were provided for lunch, to the care that the people at Abundant Life gave to us and the tornado survivors at Stepping Out, to having a different type of work each day so none of our muscles were overtired, to the weather that was without rain until the morning they left.

The experience for this group has created an awareness of our needs versus wants and an appreciation for all God has given us. The faith and determination of the people in Joplin is amazing and has been such an inspiration to our group. They have learned that with God’s help they can do things they never thought possible. The group returned to Omaha humbled, thankful, tired, inspired – but most of all they were blessed by the people in Joplin, the people they went to serve.

So today we stand in remembrance with the people of Joplin to both remember the tragic affect nature can have in our lives and give thanks for the role the church can play in mending lives and livelihoods.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities in Joplin and Missouri check out the LDR volunteer page.

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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond at home and globally in times of need. Donate now.

Joplin, MO: Peace Lutheran Remembers

Posted on May 20, 2012 by Matthew Ley

Under the title “Praise on the Parking Lot,” Peace Lutheran Church of Joplin, MO included a special event with their regular worship service this morning. The congregation returned to their now empty lot at the corner of Wisconsin Ave. and 20th Street in Joplin. Friends and neighbors joined them under a tent that was erected on the former parking lot. It was on this same parking lot that the congregation held worship the Sunday following the tragic tornado which destroyed their church building, and much of Joplin, May 22, 2011. This service was an opportunity to remember, and lament, the past while continuing to focus on the future. As a sign of this focus the congregation hosted a picnic style lunch open to all who attended after the service.

This seeming simple, yet extremely powerful, act of worship and rememberance is truly the heart of ELCA Disaster Response. It is the church standing in the face and aftermath of disaster to proclaim that though we may be shaken by tragic acts of nature our faith holds us firm and sustains us. It is truly an act of the church continuing to be church in the midst of disaster.

Let us add our prayers of rememberance and thanksgiving to those of Peace. And this Tuesday, on the one-year anniversary of the tornado, let us again pray, that the commuinity of Peace and the people of Joplin know they and their situation are not forgotten.

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ABOUT PEACE LUTHERAN: In the months since the tornado destroyed their building, the congregation of Peace Lutheran has been enjoying the welcoming hospitality of Bethany Presbyterian Church at Main and 20th which shares its office and worship space. Congregational workshops have been held in which values, beliefs and mission have been discussed and defined. A building committee is now actively engaged in the work of determining where Peace will build a new facility and what shape that facility will take. The goal is to take time now to discern where God is leading Peace for the future, for the sake of the Gospel.

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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond at home and globally in times of need. Donate now.