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.

New Home New Hope

Posted on August 2, 2013 by Joseph Chu

Two months ago, Duane Moudy, the Lutheran Disaster Response US Regional Coordinator of Lutheran Family and Children’s Service of Missouri gave me a tour of Joplin, MO, a city ravaged by an EF5 tornado on May 22, 2011. We visited the McGuirk family at their new home. The 4-bedroom house newly built by Habitat for Humanity and partially funded by Lutheran Disaster Response is beautiful, inviting and filled with warmth.

Delbert McGuirk, Shandie Reed and Jackie McGuirk in front of their newly built home.

Delbert McGuirk, Shandie Reed and Jackie McGuirk in front of their newly built home.

The McGuirk family has five members – Delbert and Jackie McGuirk, their adult daughter Shandie Reed and their two granddaughters, 4 and 10. When the twister hit, their three-story rental home was decimated and the collapsed debris inflicted varying degrees of injuries on everyone in the household. Delbert’s right leg was badly injured; he had to undergo multiple surgeries and the amputation of a part of his right leg. Shandie, who is in her early 30s and has juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, was also wounded.  The injuries have further complicated her multiple medical and mobility related issues.

But the tornado did not shatter their perseverance and resilience.  When I met Delbert, he was walking around with his prosthetic limb. He is maintaining his sense of humor and forward looking attitude. Shandee is a true inspiration. She is youthful, poised and energetic; she carries with her a strong sense of purpose. I later learned that she and her mother Jackie are the true heroes. Jackie has been Shandee’s caretaker for years, and together, they would not allow injuries, disability and even disasters deter them.  Today, against all odds, Shandee is still walking, driving and holding a job with a local non-profit organization.

Immediately after the storm, the family rented a tiny house as their temporary home. Trying to rebuild their lives and dealing with complicated health and mobility issues was extremely challenging. They needed a new home that would work for them and not against them.  A year ago, Shandee wrote a passionate letter to present their case to the local Habitat for Humanity chapter, which is a member of the local Long Term Recovery Committee.  As you may recall, Long Term Recovery Committees are made up of faith-based and civic organizations as well as government agencies with the purpose of assisting individuals and families impacted by disasters.  Duane Moudy has been a member of the Joplin committee since it was formed in June, 2011.  Habitat for Humanity, hearing the McGuirk story, approved their application.  Subsequently, Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran Family and Children’s Services, and other local partners joined hands to contribute towards the building of the new home for them.  It is rewarding to see the McGuirks moving into their new.

In disaster recovery, individual perseverance matters but so does the support from the faith-based, civic groups and governmental organizations. Your support has enabled Lutheran Disaster Response US to be a vital partner in these communal efforts to help individuals and families like the McGuirk of Joplin to rebuild their lives. Thank You!

Lutheran Disaster Response webpage: www.elca.org/disaster

Donation Webpage: https://community.elca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=358

The Journey of Peace Lutheran Church, Joplin, MO

Posted on June 27, 2013 by Joseph Chu

On Sunday, June 23, 2013, Peace Lutheran Church, Joplin, MO celebrated the dedication of their newly completed building. Bishop Gerald Mansholt of Central States Synod was present for the day of great joy and thanksgiving. “It was a marvelous event and we had a full house!” said Pastor Katherine Redpath of Peace Lutheran Church. While the building is charming and lovely, for members of the congregation the journey to reach this milestone has been filled with many twists and turns.

The newly completed building of Peace Lutheran Church, Joplih, MO

The newly completed building of Peace Lutheran Church, Joplih, MO

On May 22, 2011, the EF5 tornado that decimated Joplin, MO also leveled the church. Since then, the congregation has to deal with grief on many levels. One member was killed by the tornado. And due to circumstances beyond their control, the congregation had to find a new location to rebuild.

Although they had to abandon their location, Peace Lutheran Church did not abandon their ministry; immediately following the storm they began to worship at Bethany Presbyterian Church. In August, 2011, they received Pastor Kathy as their pastor. Incidentally, Pastor Kathy is a tornadoes survivor; nearly 40 years ago, her house in Ohio was destroyed by twisters and she lived through the painstaking process of recovery. Unbeknown to her at the time, that experience was good preparation her for the ministry of healing and hope she is bringing to Peace Lutheran.

According to Pastor Kathy, a key turning point for the congregation was the Praise Service they held under the big tent on the parking lot of the old church site on the one year anniversary of the storm. While embracing the pain and sufferings that came with the losses, the congregation recounted God’s grace and rededicated themselves to move forward into God’s unknown future.

For Pastor Kathy, the dedication of the new building marks the beginning of a new phase of ministry. In her most recent newsletter article, she affirms “worshipping and building up the Body of Christ,” as key purposes of the newly relocated Peace Lutheran Church. But citing the story of King Solomon dedicating the new temple in Jerusalem (1 King 8), Pastor Kathy underscores the importance of “inviting and welcoming of ‘foreigners’ [--those who are not already in our faith communities--] who can come and learn more about this God whom they hear about from us.”

For “foreigners” and family alike, Peace Lutheran Church has a very compelling story of God’s Grace and Peace in the midst of chaos and turmoil. May God continue to bless the people of Peace Lutheran as they live into the future God is calling them!

For “foreigners” and family alike, Peace Lutheran Church has a very compelling story of God’s Grace and Peace in the midst of chaos and turmoil.

May God continue to bless the people of Peace Lutheran as they live into the future God is calling them!

A Tribute to Leon A Phillip, Jr.

Posted on June 24, 2013 by Pastor Michael Stadie

     With the passing of Leon Phillip last week, the person we consider the founder of Lutheran Disaster Response, we have asked Gilbert B. Furst to share some reflections on his life and ministry. We appreciate Gil taking the time to share these thoughts.

Leon A. Phillips, Jr. was greater than the sum of his parts. Leon, who died peacefully in his sleep last week, was an extraordinary person, family member, pastor, church leader, and director of Lutheran Disaster Response. His love and insight touched countless thousands of lives around the world. He brought hope to the hopeless, help to the helpless.

A brief history of Lutheran Disaster Response will provide a context for Leon’s disaster ministry. LDR emerged after the 1972 Hurricane Agnes flooded northeast Pennsylvania. Leon, who lost his home and most of his possessions, coordinated thousands of volunteers and material donations. In 1973 the Lutheran Church in America, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the American Lutheran Church discussed how disaster response could be part of the church’s ministry on a national level. The Lutheran Council USA oversaw an advisory committee of representatives appointed by the three church bodies. Disaster response was a small-scale program providing some training and sending small grants to places where there were disasters. Leon was appointed to be an LCA representative.

In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s many inter-Lutheran programs were cut back due to financial pressures and church issues. As the Evangelical Lutheran Church merger was planned, The LC-MS and the emerging ELCA agreed on three primary areas of inter-Lutheran cooperation: Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and inter-Lutheran Disaster Response. An LDR board with ELCA and LC-MS representatives met for the first time in December 1987. One-fourth of Leon’s time was designated as LDR director.

Leon visualized a system that could expand during emergencies and shrink when there were none. He believed social ministry organizations could manage local programs, handle finances and volunteers. He trained a group of consultants, many from social ministry organizations. The consultant program worked well following Hurricane Hugo, in St. Croix, in Charleston, the Isle of Palms, and South Carolina coastal islands.

In 1992 Leon’s quarter-time position increased and he became the first full-time director. That year Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida and Hurricane Iniki struck Hawaii. In 1993 a major earthquake hit Oakland and San Francisco.

Lutheran cooperation came quickly and was deep. Leon also reached out to work with other church denominations, as well as FEMA, and the American Red Cross.

Leon was aware of clergy attrition following Hurricane Andrew. He had an LC-MS pastor-psychologist study the situation, and his conclusions led Leon to change response priorities. “Care for the Caregivers” became a primary focus. Over the next decade trained psychologists, counselors, and theologians provided care for pastors and caregivers, working through ELCA Synod Bishops and LC-MS District presidents.

Leon expanded the scope of disaster response to include human-caused intentional disasters (such as the Oklahoma City bombing) and technological disasters (such as the Times Beach chemical leaks).

During his ten years as director and response to 150 disasters, Leon developed a national network of responding agencies. His vision provided LDR with an effective means of carrying out responses, and enabled agencies to draw closer to meet the needs of their communities. When Lutheran Services in America was organized in 1997, a pattern was set to provide for the needs of disaster survivors.

Leon provided a strong confessional-rooted theological approach to disaster response, and he saw LDR as an integral part of the church’s ministry and life. Under his leadership Lutherans were relied upon for case management, rebuilding, advocacy, pastoral care and spiritual care.

The needs of children traumatized by disasters became apparent following tornadoes in southwest Minnesota. In cooperation with LSS-Minnesota, Camp Noah became a ministry program for disaster-affected children across the country.

Leon once told me, “Each disaster was an affirmation that God finds resources and ways of lifting people up…the church in action….”

Leon was not constrained by “ordinary” practices. He often carried a pocketful of cash – much to the consternation of church officials – and distributed it to pastors following disasters. He felt that “$50 now when it is needed is worth ten times that much in two months.”

One agency executive recalls, “In 1997 in the early days of the Red River flood that occasioned the evacuation of 60,000 people, at the NW Minnesota Synod office a pastor and his wife came into the office. Leon was standing by the front desk. Before the pastor said a word, Leon said: ‘do you have a place to stay tonight?’ ‘No.’ Leon turned to me and said, ‘Go get a key.’ Dutifully I went into the conference room and got a key to a motel room and returned. Leon gave the key to the pastor and said, ‘Now, tell me your story.’ The pastor did, confessing his conviction he could be of no help to his people. Leon dug into his pocket and pulled out a thick wad of $50 bills. He said: ‘Here; Take this. Find your people. Tell them the church cares.’ The pastor did and became one of the heroes of the Red River Valley flood.”

If your life was touched by Leon, your life was changed. Many are attesting to the influence Leon had in their lives. Here are some of their remarks:

·       “He was truly and in all sincerity a man with a great heart. And one to be remembered for what he did for others.”

·       “God’s peace to one who was such a gentle spirit among us. Prayers for all who feel the loss of this loved one.”

·       “Leon helped me understand what it meant to be a pastor and what it meant for us to be a community of faith in immediate, concrete ways!”

·       “Rest in peace, brother Leon, God’s servant!”

·       “We are better people knowing him. Working with him over the years was a true blessing.”

·       “We have been blessed and enriched by his life that he shared so generously.”

·       “A great and faithful and graceful guy.”

·       “He was a gentle man full of knowledge and compassion. Enjoyed working with him.”

·       “A fine man who was committed to service. I learned so much from him. Well done good and faithful servant. Rest in peace.”

·       “He changed my life forever as did you Gil. I am so much richer for knowing him. Rest now Leon.”

·        “We all stand on the shoulders of greats who have gone before us in the faith. What a heritage we have!”

I add my simple personal words. It has been my privilege and blessing to know Leon over the years as a colleague, pastor, travel companion, and most-of all, friend. We were together in an amazing number of places and situations, from floods in Fargo to balconies in Budapest; from Virgin Island hurricane destruction to tuk-tuks in Bangkok; from German halls to San Antonio floods; from Denver courthouses to Prague cathedrals; from celebrating life with East Germany colleagues to enjoying friends on his patio. He was my colleague, my mentor, my friend.

So we say “ave atque vale“ – “Hail and Farewell.” Thanks be to God for Leon’s partnership in a multitude of ministries through these years; for his creativity, sensitivity, warmth, support, leadership, guidance; and for his personal friendship. We give thanks for his life, rejoice in his faith, and mourn his passing.

Resilience, Human Kindness and Hope in Oklahoma

Posted on June 19, 2013 by Joseph Chu

When I visited areas decimated by the May tornadoes near Oklahoma City with the Lutheran Disaster Response team last week, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the destruction, particularly in the city of Moore.

A familiar scene on the streets of Moore, OK.

A familiar scene on the streets of Moore, OK.

Tributes paid to tornaodes victims at the site of Plaza Towers Elementary School, one of the two elementary schools destroyed on May 20.

Tributes paid to tornaodes victims at Plaza Towers Elementary School, which was destroyed on May 20.

Yet destruction does not have the last word; stories of courage, resilience and signs of human kindness are everywhere.

St. John Lutheran Church is located in Shawnee, about 30 miles east of Oklahoma City. The destructive path of the tornadoes came through Shawnee on Sunday, May 19, killing two residents and destroying nearly 100 homes. Fortunately, neither the congregation nor its members were affected. But when we visited Pastor Karen Fowler-Lindemulder and some leaders of St. John, they spoke passionately about the losses and sufferings of their neighbors and how they were “forgotten” by the media because the destruction in Shawnee was relatively “smaller scale.” Immediately after the event, members of the congregation rose up and volunteered at a local congregation that has set up a disaster relief operation. Working alongside other community volunteers, they delivered relief supplies to numerous survivors and were often amazed by their sense of self-reliance and resilience. 

Located just a few miles from the EF5 tornado’s path, Trinity Lutheran Church of Oklahoma City escaped damage but five member families lost their homes. Another seven families with close ties to the church also had severe damage to their homes. But when we visited with Pastor Roger Bruns, he did not dwell on the losses but spoke of the faith and courage of the survivors. One of the survivors was a teacher at Briarwood Elementary schools, which was destroyed by the twisters. She was injured while trying to protect her students, was taken by ambulance to the hospital, treated and released. She and her young children with special needs are now staying in temporary housing. Another member whose house was demolished by the storms managed to stay on top of her young children to protect them when the storm passed. These two families are now sharing the same temporary housing. 

Pastor Michael Stadie (left) Program Director of Lutheran Disaster Response, Pastor Roger Bruns of Trinity Lutheran Church at the table that serves meals to volunteers who come to Oklahoma City to help with clean up.

Pastor Michael Stadie (left) Program Director of Lutheran Disaster Response and Pastor Roger Bruns of Trinity Lutheran Church at table that serves meals to volunteers.

While Trinity Lutheran Church is not a large congregation, its members have a deep sense of service to the changing communities around them and have strong partnership with other congregations and community organizations in the area. Immediately after the May 20 event, the congregation partnered with the adjacent May Ave Wesleyan Church and other small not-for-profit organizations to provide assistance and relief to those whose lives have been turned upside down. In addition, they are actively working together to host volunteers pouring into the area to help with the clean up. We are grateful for the ministries of these congregations. 

Between June 24 and June 28, Camp Noah will conduct a summer camp for children impacted at University Lutheran Church in Norman. On June 28, Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson will visit people and congregations in the Oklahoma City areas affected by the tornadoes.

Lutheran Disaster Response, working closely with the Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod and the Lutheran Social Services of the South are actively assessing needs in the areas.  In collaboration with our partners and government agencies, we will determine the best ways to help those impacted over the long haul.  But we are already in action.  Please continue to keep those impacted by the storms  in your prayers and join us in sharing God’s hope and renewal.

For more information about Lutheran Disaster Response, please look to our webpage: www.elca.org/disaster

To donate, please click: https://community.elca.org/page.aspx?pid=840

Colorado Wild Fires – June 2013

Posted on June 17, 2013 by Joseph Chu

People in Colorado, particularly those affected by the 2012 wildfires that devastated many communities in the state, are again traumatized by major wildfires. The Black Forest Fire and the Royal Gorge Fire have already destroyed more than 480 structures, forcing thousands to evacuate and sadly, causing fatalities.

For members of Christ the King Lutheran Church, in Colorado Springs, the Waldo Canyon Fire of 2012 and the Black Forest Fire of 2013 is personal. During last year’s fire, the areas around the church were under mandatory evacuation. The fire came very close to the church but left it unscathed. Unfortunately, members lost their homes to the fire. Thankfully, this year, the threat of fire is not imminent but members, like the rest of the Colorado Springs community, are feeling traumatized. When visiting with Pastor Julie Bristch of Christ the King about the fire, she used words like stunned, anxious and a deep sense of loss to describe the mood of the community. “There is a lot of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder around as the same communities are being traumatized two years in a row,” said Pastor Julie. 

On Thursday, June 13, Pastor Julie hosted a special evening prayer service at Christ the King Lutheran Church that was open to the community. During the gathering, participants shared heart-wrenching stories of individuals and families who are deeply impacted. Some of them have left their communities devastated by the 2012 fires and moved to a new area to build their lives; and now they are traumatized again in their new homes. Some church members have family ties with firefighters who have lost their homes as they are giving of themselves to save lives, which only increases the sadness and the stress of the situation.

Yet in the midst of the trauma and chaos, hope and grace abound! Pastor Julie reported she is moved by the selflessness and love in the community through last year’s fires, during the recovery after the fire and now during the current crisis.  An interfaith group made up of 21 houses of worship has risen up to respond to the fires and to assist survivors with their unmet needs.

Pastor Ron Roschke, the Synod Minister for Shared Ministries of the Rocky Mountain Synod, attended the prayer service on behalf of the Synod. He spoke movingly of the experience of the prayer service and highlighted the deep connectedness between individuals and communities in times of crisis and recovery as a source of God’s grace. “In disasters people feel alone. But when we can find ways to let people know that they are not alone, people can find strengths to deal with their challenges,” said Pastor Ron.  

Lutheran Disaster Response, in collaboration with our local affiliate Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, and the Rocky Mountain Synod, have been actively engaged in the responses to the 2012 Colorado fires. Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains has offices in areas affected by the fires and is providing disaster case management services to those impacted by the 2012 fires.  Together, we are well positioned to understand the scope of what need to be done. We are monitoring the situations closely and will conduct careful assessments after the fires have been put out. We will then determine our best course of action in cooperation with local authorities and partnering with ecumenical, faith-based and civic organizations. Through Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, Lutheran Disaster Response will be there for the long haul of recovery.

Please keep in mind the Black Forest and Royal Gorge Fires are not the only wildfires threatening lives, there are others in Colorado and New Mexico as well; and new ones are starting every week since the area is very dry. Continue to pray for the evacuees and all who are in harm’s way, especially those who are trying to save lives and homes. May the Grace, Wisdom and Strength of God be with them!

Helpful information about how volunteer organizations work together in Colorado: https://covoad.communityos.org/cms/

Lutheran Disaster Response webpage: www.elca.org/disaster

Donation webpage: https://community.elca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=358

Remember the Forgotten

Posted on May 30, 2013 by Joseph Chu

It has been more than a week since the multiple tornadoes hit Oklahoma and adjacent states. The destruction in the City of Moore is indeed heart wrenching. But the impacts of tornadoes on May 19 and 20 around Oklahoma City are much more widespread.  The website of the State of Oklahoma has very helpful maps and information about the tornadoes: http://www.ok.gov/okstrong/Impact_Maps/index.html.   

Let us not forget that just a few nights prior, on May 15, a series of tornadoes devastated Granbury, Texas, 30 miles southwest of Fort Worth. The powerful storms left six dead and nearly 120 homes destroyed. Some of these homes were built by Habitat for Humanity.

The nature of media cycle and perhaps the nature of human attention always make us focus on high profile disasters and their developments within a short period of time afterward. Very soon, the tornadoes in May will become distant memories in our collective memory. And yet, for the thousands of individuals and families in Oklahoma, Texas and other states impacted by the string of tornadoes in May, the recovery process has just begun.

In the last few months, I have the opportunity to visit the long term recovery work of Lutheran Disaster Response in various states for individuals and families impacted by events that are no longer on the nightly network news – the tornadoes in Alabama in 2011 and 2012, the flood in Duluth in 2012, Hurricanes Lee and Irene in 2011,….. The one thing I have heard from the impacted residents as well as workers who assist them is “We are forgotten!”

Let us continue to keep ALL who are working very hard to put their lives together after disasters in our prayers. May God’s strengths, comfort and hope be with them through the many peaks and valleys in their recovery process.  Let us work hard together so that they will not be forgotten!

To see a listing of the places where Lutheran Disaster Response is actively responding to a disaster, please check out our website where you will see where we still have volunteer opportunities.

Lutheran Disaster Response webpage: www.elca.org/disaster and click on the volunteer button.

Donation Webpage: https://community.elca.org/page.aspx?pid=840

Donate and Volunteer Generously and Wisely

Posted on May 23, 2013 by Joseph Chu

Moore, Oklahoma is a town with more than 56,000 people.  According to the FEMA report today (May 23), 24 people were killed and more than 300 injured by the EF-5 tornado that touched down Monday.  In addition, more than 1,100 houses were destroyed and about another 200 have sustained damage, with many many more being impacted.  What it means is the life of thousands of individuals have been changed in an instant by this monstrous storm.

 So, you may wonder, “How Can I Help?”

 We want to offer some suggestions that are true for this and all other disaster areas:

  • Do not rush to the impacted area to volunteer right away. If you are a trained “first responder,” be sure to connect with a major organization that could use you before you go. In the chaotic aftermath of a disaster, your presence in these areas will create more problems for the very community you want to help.
  • Affiliate with an organization that has proven records and capacity to organize volunteers. Follow their rules and protocols.
  • Do not donate “stuff” unless they are requested specifically by an organization that has the proven capacity to manage them.  Do not donate used clothing and household items!
  • Do not donate to an organization because they have an “attractive sounding” name.  Frauds are common after disasters. Make sure the organizations you support have the proven record and capacity to use your money wisely.

Here are two useful links:

https://okvoad.communityos.org/cms/home

http://money.howstuffworks.com/10-worst-things-donate-after-disaster.htm#page=1

As you consider the question of “How can I help?” we want to invite you to join the work of Lutheran Disaster Response to help those impacted by this disaster in months and even years to come. Thank You.

Donation Webpage: https://community.elca.org/page.aspx?pid=840

Lutheran Disaster Response webpage: www.elca.org/disaster

Tornadoes in May

Posted on May 21, 2013 by Joseph Chu

The deadly tornado that hit Oklahoma on May 20, as well as the string of tornadoes that struck Texas, Kansas, Illinois and Iowa the last few days, have changed many lives in significant ways. Let us keep all those who have been impacted as well as those providing rescue and relief services to survivors in prayer, trusting God’s hope and strengths will be with them.

Since yesterday afternoon, we have been working very closely with many within in our network to prepare for a multiyear response to this disaster. We want to salute all who are involved in the emergency, rescue and relief work immediately following this terrible disaster. At Lutheran Disaster Response, we are committed to assisting the most vulnerable ones to recover and to find hope and healing over the long haul. We will be among the last to leave the areas, long after the limelight of media have faded. We ask you to join us in our mission.

In days and months ahead, we will use this forum to share with you information and stories relevant to this event. For now, we want to share with you the following links:

Worship Resources: http://www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Worship.aspx

Lutheran Disaster Response webpage: http://www.elca.org/Our-Faith-In-Action/Responding-to-the-World/Lutheran-Disaster-Response.aspx

Donation Webpage: https://community.elca.org/page.aspx?pid=840

E-Alert: http://www.elca.org/Our-Faith-In-Action/Responding-to-the-World/Lutheran-Disaster-Response/eAlert.aspx

 ELCA News Release: http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx#&&a=5296

Japan: One Year Anniversary

Posted on March 11, 2012 by Matthew Ley

Today marks one year since a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan strewing devastation across the northeastern seashore. Though the time which has past has been filled with much pain and sadness, it has also seen an outpouring of support, with neighbor serving neighbor, at home and from abroad. It has seen resilience and patience in the midst of destruction and chaos. In the language of faith, it has seen Christ borne and revealed in suffering.

As we remember our brothers and sisters in Japan, those who lost lives, those who grieve and those who serve, let us pray that Christ continue to hold them in his grace-filled embrace. We also pray that we be granted strength and patience as we continue to walk with the churches of Japan in prayer and service.

Also, as we pause in the moment of commemoration, I recommend to you the One Year Anniversary piece put together by our international partner, Church World Service. Take a moment to read Japan Tsunami Anniversary Dispatch and see how the ELCA continues to engage in God’s Work with our hands.

Field Report: California and Minot North Dakota

Posted on September 26, 2011 by kevinmassey

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

My name is Kevin Massey, I am the Program Director of Lutheran Disaster Response.  I’ve just had a great experience meeting wonderful volunteers helping clean up in Minot North Dakota.  I’ll describe my latest travels and the great work Lutherans are doing preparing for and responding to disasters.

I first traveled last week to Los Angeles California  to meet with a group of Lutherans who are volunteers with a special team called the Inter-Lutheran Emergency Response Team (I-LERT).  This team is made up of Lutherans from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod who all are committed to helping the Lutheran community in Southern California prepare for and respond from any disaster that may happen there. I-LERT includes Lutherans  from ELCA synods and LCMS districts, Lutheran Social Ministry Organizations, congregations, schools, and other Lutheran institutions.

I shared with the I-LERT team some special training on emotional and spiritual care in disaster.  I believe that the most important thing that the church does in times of disaster is simply to be the church and care for the emotional and spiritual needs of people.

I met Sheila Wenzel, who is the Vice President of the ELCA Pacifica Synod at the I-LERT meeting.  Sheila grew up in Minot North Dakota and had many questions about our response there.  I shared with Sheila that I would be traveling directly to Minot from this meeting, and would share updates on how response is unfolding there. 

The next day I traveled from Los Angeles to Minot North Dakota.  You may remember from previous LDR field reports that Minot was hard hit by flooding this summer.  We asked Lutheran volunteers to head to Minot to help in the clean-up and rebuilding that must happen there.  I will share info at the end of this report how you can help in these efforts. 

Bonnie Turner and Becky Wynia

Readers of LDR field reports met Bonnie Turner, who heads up LDR in North Dakota, last March when the Red River was threatening Fargo.  I met with Bonnie and members of her staff at our office trailer in Minot.  Bonnie shared that there is a good number of volunteers coming at this time, and we want to keep that interest going as long as we can.   I met Becky Wynia, our volunteer coordinator.  Becky is a graduate of Minot State University and was busy helping volunteers get arranged with their work sites.  I asked Becky what drew her to this work.  Becky shared, “It is meeting real needs for people in Minot.  And it is fun to see all the volunteers come from all over!”  Already, in addition to scores of volunteers from North Dakota, volunteers from places like Michigan and North Carolina and Oklahoma and Minnesota have visited. 

Minot was full of volunteers this weekend!  A group of Lutheran volunteers from Trinity Lutheran in Carrington North Dakota was working last Saturday in Minot.  I was excited to learn that the group was headed by Pastor Bruce Vold, who served near where I did my first parish call in Eastern North Dakota.  Pastor Vold had been dean of the conference at that time and was a great role model to me in my early years of parish ministry.  Pastor Vold and his family and a group from his congregation were working to gut out a home in a hard hit area of Minot.  Some volunteers come from many states away, and some volunteers can come from a couple hours away, and all are needed to help Minot in these difficult times.

Pastor Bruce Vold (third from left) with members of his family and congregation.

 

Driving back from visiting Pastor Vold I saw something that puzzled me for a moment.  I saw an apple tree in the front lawn of a flooded house.  The tree had a few ripe apples in its branches, but scores of spoiled apples were strewn around the ground at the foot of the tree.  It sunk in to me that no one had been home to pick the fruit.

 My main goal in visiting Minot this weekend was to accompany the congregations in worship.  I attended Saturday evening worship at First Lutheran of Minot.  I visited Bread of Life and Augustana Lutheran congregations worshipping at Bread of Life Sunday morning.  I greeted Christ Lutheran Church worshipping at Bethany, then spoke at an adult forum downstairs with Bethany.  Finally I worshipped with Bethany Lutheran later Sunday morning.  I felt nourished in many ways among these faithful people at worship, prayer, and service.  I was even nourished Saturday afternoon with a lutefisk dinner at Zion Lutheran of Minot!  These congregations are all doing wonderful ministry during these difficult times.  To help them with this work, consider giving a gift to the ELCA Western North Dakota Synod Flood of Love  initiative to restore the damaged churches and revitalize mission and ministry in Minot.

A wonderful group of volunteers turned out in Minot this weekend organized by Lutheran Campus Ministries and Student Government from Minot State University and the University of North Dakota.  Max Buchholz of Minot State and Carter Hill from UND challenged each other in a friendly rivalry to organize as many students as they could to come and work.  About a hundred students converged on flooded homes from these schools.  Many people worked to make this effort a success. 

Pictured left to right: Pastor Kari Williamson, Max Buchholz, and Carter Lee.

Pastor Kari Williamson, the Lutheran Campus Ministry Pastor at Minot State coordinated many details with Lutheran Disaster Response for this effort.  Sherie Heine, the Western North Dakota Synod Vice President organized lunches for the student volunteers, with First Lutheran Church of Harvey ND, First Lutheran Church of Rugby ND, First Lutheran Church of Bottineau ND and Metigoshe Lutheran Church of Bottineau ND all joining in with the lunch making efforts.  To read an article in the Minot Daily News about these volunteers click here.

 

I was particularly excited to visit Lutheran volunteers from St. Philip’s Lutheran Church Disaster Relief from Fridley Minnesota, who are volunteering this week in Minot.  The team from St. Philip’s travels the country responding to disasters of every kind.  They give a great example of the finest efforts of Lutherans loving and serving their neighbors affected by disaster. Team Co-Coordinators Mike Anderson and Renee Johnson showed me a site they were working on.  They are staying this week at First Lutheran Church of Minot, which even still recovering from flood damage in the lower level of the church is pitching in to host recovery efforts.  St.Philip’s Disaster Relief organizes periodic trips of disaster response from the Twin Cities.  If you are interested in learning more about St. Philip’s Disaster Relief, click here.  

St. Philip's Disaster Relief Co-Coordinators Mike Anderson and Renee Johnson.

Volunteers are still urgently needed in Minot.  We will be coordinating volunteers for muck out work for the flood as long as weather permits.  We will be ramping up for the rebuild phase during the winter and spring.  To learn about volunteering in Minot, please visit  Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota or call 1-800-366-9841.

Above all, please pray for people all around the country affected by disasters this year.  People throughout the Southeast have been affected by tornadoes and storms.  People throughout the Midwest and Plains have been affected by flooding. People in Texas are affected by drought and wildfire.  People along the East Coast were affected by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.  Many other people have been affected by tragedies that didn’t make the news.  Pray that help and hope come to those in need.