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.

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.

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.

Fort Collins, CO: Ministry Amidst the Flames

Posted on June 21, 2012 by Matthew Ley

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.

To find out more about the camp and their situation please check out: Sky Ranch Website and Sky Ranch Blog.