One way we understand our work in domestic disaster response is that wherever Lutherans are responding to a disaster — Lutheran Disaster Response is present. What is meant by this is that our church’s response to disasters are not solely the activities of the churchwide office or the program staff of Lutheran Disaster Response. All activities by Lutheran members, congregations, synods, social ministry organizations, camps and others allow the church to be church in the time of a disaster.
I was made of aware of a great example of this through the blog of Sky Ranch Lutheran Camp, near Fort Collins, CO. A week ago (June 12) the camp was informed that it would have to evacuate since the High Park Fire was moving in that direction. Though the camp was not in any immediate danger its main road was going to be shutdown to all but emergency vehicles. This meant the camp would have only one exit road, which is less than the two required for safety during a forest fire.
The staff had just finished orientation where they had gone over the disaster preparedness plans of the camp, which included evacuation procedures. So when they were informed at 11:30 a.m. that they had to evacuate they were ready to head out by 12:30 p.m. In an orderly way, the staff moved the campers and all their belongings onto the buses destined for Fort Collins.
Once in Fort Collins, the group was welcomed into Trinity Lutheran Church where they found impromptu housing and food provided from members of surrounding congregations and local restaurant owners who heard of their situation. In the words of Andy Sprain, the camp Associate Director:
“We were welcomed with open arms, with rooms around the building being transformed into cabins for the night. Once we all arrived safely, we spent some time in worship, cabin Bible study, and congregational time. We then sat down to a feast–with over 85 pizzas, plenty of salad, and cupcakes for all — donated by local restaurants. Everyone had more than enough to eat.”
After this first day of camp away from camp, the staff and campers of Sky Ranch were welcomed at Highlands Presbyterian Camp & Retreat Center located near Estes Park, CO. Here the work of Christ will continue in the lives of campers and staff alike, affected but not limited by the disaster.
This story is full of so many points worth mentioning it’s almost overwhelming. The value of disaster preparedness and having a plan for times of disaster; the outreaching of Trinity Lutheran Church, other local Lutherans and the community of Fort Collins; the fullness of the body of Christ in Highlands Presbyterian Camp creating space for fellow Christians in need. Whatever angle you take, this is the how the church is called to respond in times of disaster.
As the camp and its supporting congregations continue to move forward in their ministry this summer please keep them in prayer. Pray that God may sustain the staff in their changing context, that the lives of campers will continue to be touched and that the camp location and others threatened by the fire may remain untouched. May they continue to encounter what they have deemed the “Everyday Graces” of God’s people doing God’s work.