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.

Hurricane Sandy: Volunteer Stories from Eastern PA

Posted on February 19, 2013 by Matthew Ley

In the US, Lutheran Disaster Response carries out our recovery work through a network of 39 affiliates located across the country. These affiliates are really the major strength of our program, allowing us to respond locally from a local perspective. One of these affiliates in Pennsylvania is Liberty Lutheran, whose disaster ministry Lutheran Disaster Response – Eastern Pennsylvania, has been helping coordinate volunteers in response to Hurricane Sandy and flooding from last year’s Hurricane Irene/Tropical Storm Lee.

To help share about this work they recently sent out a great print piece highlighting some of their volunteers and why they dedicate the time. It’s a quick read that really gets at the heart of why we’re engaged in this vital and active ministry. Check it out below and follow the links to learn more about the individual stories.

Since the devastating impacts of Hurricane Sandy, many generous volunteers and donors have come forward to help Lutheran Disaster Response, Eastern Pa., (LDR-EPA) make a vital difference in the lives of our neighbors who were affected.

Here are just a few examples of people who are working hard to assist those in need:

Scot - LDR-EPA For Scot Guldin, volunteering with LDR-EPA has brought his family closer. “We often take time out after volunteering to do some scripture reading and reflect on the day. My daughters are very good, sharing people, and I think it’s because of experiences like this” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Click here to read more about Scot

Ken - LDR-EPAAfter Hurricane Sandy, Ken Nygard wanted to help, so he joined LDR-EPA volunteers for a full day of cleaning up homes in Bucks and Montgomery County. “I enjoyed connecting with other people who wanted to do good. It was a very rewarding experience. I felt like I was a part of a solution.” Ken said.

Click here to read more about Ken

Stan - LDR-EPA Stan Wilhelmson volunteers locally with LDR-EPA, and has traveled places such as Mississippi and Tennessee. “These disasters are acts of nature. We become the acts of God,” he said.

Click here to read more about Stan


Learn more: Lutheran Disaster Response – Eastern Pennsylvania

New Resource: Hurricane Sandy Situation Report #3

Posted on January 15, 2013 by Matthew Ley

A new situation report giving an update on the situation in the northeastern United States and Caribbean as well as the ELCA’s response is now available. Some of the highlights are the joint Lutheran World Federation-ELCA delegation which visited New York and New Jersey in late November/early December as well as the strong outpouring of support from ELCA members, with donations topping $2.4 million. Please help us spread the word of how the ELCA is engaged in the response and what people can do to help.

Here is a link for your convenience: Hurricane Sandy Situation Report #3 (January 11, 2013)

Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond domestically and internationally in times of need. Donate now.

Hurricane Sandy: The Art of Giving & Receiving Thanks

Posted on November 16, 2012 by Matthew Ley

On the way to work this morning I heard a really great report on NPR about the ways people are supporting the response on the East Coast to Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy. It was discussing how in-kind, material gifts are handled and how they affect the process. The overall point of the report was that even though in-kind, material donations are a great sign of the amazing giving nature of people in this country they may effect relief efforts in unintended ways.

One of the main reasons for this is that without knowing the specific needs of those affected by disaster in-kind gifts like water, food and clothing may not end up being needed but will still have to be sorted, processed and stored. Running the risk of taking away energies from other relief efforts. Also, many of the organizations who are carrying out the relief and eventual recovery efforts are also able to acquire better deals for needed items because of bulk purchasing and special agreements with vendors. In the end the article lifts up that financial contributions, though seemingly less tangible, actually are the most useful type of support.

The report also had a short piece at the end about a woman who was looking for a way to say thank you to the National Guardsmen who had helped her after she found out her home was destroyed. When she asked what she could do to thank them, they said nothing, that they were happy to help. So she decided to share the gift of homemade baked goods as a way of expressing thanks. This highlighted for me an important point for those who choose to give of their time by volunteering after a disaster.

As we help those affected by disaster, part of responding to the whole person is giving them the space and ways to give thanks. This is not to say we are to demand, nor even to expect, expressions of thanks, but that by giving someone the space to give thanks when they request it is actually allowing them a way to feel a part of their own recovery. For many the gift of being able to give proper thanks will mean as much to them in their recovery process as the fixed roof over their head, new clothing and/or restored power. I think it is one of the deepest and most difficult ways we are called by Christ to be neighbor.

Please take time to read/listen to the report and to think about how we can all best support the efforts on the East Coast and following future disasters. Want To Help Sandy Victims? Send Cash, Not Clothes (NPR, November 16, 2012)

Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond domestically and internationally in times of need. Donate now.

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.

Welcome from New Associate Program Director for Lutheran Disaster Response

Posted on September 19, 2012 by Joseph Chu

Dear Friends,

Warm Greetings!

My name is Pastor Joseph Chu and it is with great joy and thanksgiving that I officially enter into the second week of my new position as the Associate Program Director for Lutheran Disaster Response. I want to thank Pr. Michael Stadie and all my colleagues at the Congregational and Synodical Mission Unit of the ELCA for their kindness and support as I become “oriented” to my new role of service.

Coincidentally, Hurricane Isaac landed at New Orleans around the same time I started my learning and orientation for this position three weeks ago. Since then, I have had the opportunity to be part of the conversations between our staff at the churchwide office and leaders of Social Ministry Organization affiliates and ELCA synods in the Gulf Coast states regarding our collective responses to the damages caused by Isaac. Through the process, I have found myself deeply touched and impressed by the dedication and knowledgeableness of each of the leaders in that area.

Dealing with Isaac reminds me of my experience with disaster responses over the years. In my first call as the pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in South Central Los Angeles between 1990 and 1993, we experienced one of the most disruptive civil unrests in this country in April 1992. In the aftermath of the unrest, Messiah Lutheran Church worked closely with neighboring ELCA congregations, the synod, local ELCA institutions, as well as community organizations to respond to the short-term and long-term needs of the community. It was a spirit-filled experience to work alongside members, volunteers and colleagues in providing immediate relief to those affected and implementing long-term programs designed to strengthen the community. The events of those days have helped shape me professionally and personally.

A decade later, between 2004 and 2009, I served as the program director for Asia and the Pacific for ELCA Global Mission, with a special focus on international development and relief in the region. In December 2004, a mega-earthquake and tsunami struck a number of south Asian countries, causing huge death tolls and unprecedented destruction across the region; the carnage in vulnerable communities of Indonesia and India was particularly tragic. Working collaboratively with ELCA colleagues, leaders of various faith-based institutions in the U.S. and companion church bodies and institutions across the Pacific Ocean, we provided immediate relief and implemented programs focused on sustainable, long-term recovery. The major purpose of these programs was disaster preparedness and mitigation.

Through both of these experiences I have found the stories of those who had lost their homes, processions and loved one haunting and unforgettable. But even more powerful is the sight of rebuilt villages and strengthened communities, like those that I visited towards the later stage of the recovery in India and Indonesia. Through it all, I have experienced the Spirit of God and the grace of God at work at every stage.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to serve the ELCA in this new capacity. In weeks and months ahead, I look forward to my continued education of our good work in domestic disaster response and how it fits into our common calling as followers of Christ. Thank You.

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 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.

Hurricane Katrina: 7-Year Anniversary – Lessons Learned

Posted on August 29, 2012 by Matthew Ley

Today marks the 7-year anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Gulf Coast. This landmark disaster has changed much about the way we repond to disaster, for Lutheran Disaster Response, our partners and our country’s government. Many of those lessons were hard-learned. Gaps in the system were learned and addressed in the midst of responding. Yet, from these trials there have been positive results.

As we take time today to pause and think back to the situation caused by Katrina in 2005 it seems appropriate to name some of the lessons learned. This is especially true as we are experiencing the landfall of Hurricane Isaac exactly 7 years later in this same region. (see photos at end of post)

Disaster Preparedness
One of the major lessons learned from Katrina was about what it meant to truly prepare for an incoming disaster. As we have been tracking the approach of Isaac (being on conference calls, following website postings, etc) it is clear that this region has been here before. People in charge are aware of what the situation may entail. The right organizations are talking to each other. Information is being shared in a timely and efficient manner.

And beyond this there are more tangible things like the story that Lutheran Disaster Response Director, Pastor Michael Stadie, shared with me. He was describing a news report from the French Quarter in New Orleans where the reporter was commenting on how much less debris there was blowing around and causing damage compared to Katrina. This lack of debris is in part due to better preparedness measures.

We Work Better Together
During Katrina a lot of disaster response agencies were all trying to do the same thing, meeting all of the needs they saw before them. This led to some areas getting double service while others were potentially missed. We have learned that working together through strong communications between our partners within the disaster resposne community and government agencies leads to a better, more effective, more efficient response. In the end of the day this means that more people will gain better services when they need them.

The Effects Extend Beyond the News Coverage
During Katrina the city of New Orleans captivated our attention as we saw with probably disbelief the damage nature can wreak, as well as the human-cause disasters that can arise when the response is not effective or timely. Yet we learned that both in time and geographic scope the effects of a disaster extend beyond what is covered by the media. During Katrina the areas around the Gulf Coast, from eastern Texas to Mobile, AL to Pensecola, FL felt the affects and were in need of response. Also, even seven years later there is still work that has just recently begun winding down in response to Katrina.

As we await the assessment of Isaac, we know that where we respond will be over a larger area than what is covered in the national media and will extend far beyond the time that the cameras are there. This is also a place where Lutheran Disaster Resposne has found a niche as we work to coordinate volunteers many months and years after a disaster. We also work through our affiliate network to help communities setup and manage their Long Term Recovery Committees that help address unmet needs as they arise.

As we look into the future and the disaster it will inevitably bring, let us pause to give rememberance to Hurricane Katrina, the damage it caused and the hard lessons it taught us. May God grant us wisdom to learn from them and the patience and strength needed to put them into practice.

Katrina - August 29, 2005

Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. Click for larger image.

Issac - August 29, 2012

Hurricane Issac on August 29, 2012. Click for larger image.

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

Clay, AL: Field Report

Posted on July 26, 2012 by Pastor Michael Stadie

Property still covered in debris. Credit: LDR

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

My name is Pastor Michael Stadie and I am the Program Director for Lutheran Disaster Response. The second week of July, I had the privilege to spend some time with Ron Turney and Heather Turney from Lutheran Ministries of Alabama (LMA). LMA is working with those impacted by tornadoes in April 2011 as well as January 2012.

The city of Clay and LMA have developed a great working relationship in helping the people in that community recover from the January storm. LMA has a disaster case manager that is able to spend one day a week in a space provided by the city. This location will help those impacted by the storms to have easier access to case management services, which in turn, will help speed their recovery.

After touring the area, it is clear that many people in Clay are just now beginning their road to recovery. As the pictures in this post indicate, some homeowners, primarily due to issues with their insurance companies, have not been able to clean up their property. Sadly, some families have had to abandon their homes. These situations reflect the scope and importance of the work being done here by LMA.

Tornado-damaged home still in need of repairs. Credit: LDR

During my time there I had the opportunity to visit with Pastor Larry Richardson from Faith Lutheran in Clay, which has agreed to host volunteers working in the community. In coordination with LMA, the congregation has made a strong commitment to provide hospitality for those helping to clean up and rebuild Clay.

I was able to visit with Pastor Sandy Niiler, interim pastor at Christ Lutheran in Cullman, a congregation that was destroyed in the April 2011 tornado. Pastor Sandy gave me an update on the rebuilding process; groundbreaking was held about a week before I was there. As the congregation is rebuilding, they are also rethinking their role in the community and planning ways to become more active participants in their shared future. This is one of the amazing ways in the wake of tragedy that God brings hope, as a congregation severely impacted by a disaster finds a new sense of mission to its community.

Home still in need of repairs. Credit: LDR

My trip also involved visiting the Camp Noah at Pratt City area of Birmingham. Camp Noah is a program of Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota which works with children affected by disaster Volunteers from the local community and Maryland were having a great time working with 75 children attending the camp. Although the weather was very hot, you could feel the enthusiasm and excitement of the children as soon as you walked in the door of the community center. Little did they know that just a day or so later, First Lady Michelle Obama would be visiting; something that raised the excitement level through the roof. While I was not able to present for Mrs. Obama’s visit, I was so very happy that both LMA and Camp Noah were able to be in the national spotlight for the great work they have been doing helping the people of Alabama recover. (Please see a previous post about Mrs. Obama’s visit to the Camp Noah.)

After my time in Alabama, I attended the National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. Thank you to all who stopped to visit and sign up for the T-shirt raffle. It was great to hear that so many people from around the country know of the work of Lutheran Disaster Response.

As I continue my visits to other parts of the country that have been impacted by disasters, I will post additional updates.

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.

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.

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.