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Accompaniment After Harvey

– Jessica Noonan

This past August as the summer was winding down and a new year of school was beginning, life along the Gulf Coast came to a standstill.  It was like time froze. Everything was a blur.  No one knew what day it was or what the next day would bring. When you come to Houston this summer, you will learn quickly that everyone has their “Harvey story.”  Living through it and seeing the devastation that followed Hurricane Harvey it still seems unimaginable—the rain that kept coming, rising waters, tornadoes… and the waiting.  My neighborhood had no physical damage.  It was pure luck that our house was just a little higher in elevation than the neighborhood one mile way with lots of flooding, or the neighborhood four miles away that was completely obliterated. There is a lot of guilt when your home is fine and your neighbor down the road has no home. Everyone has a story.

You might be wondering how has the hurricane changed our approach to how we walk alongside our Service Learning partners in Houston?  It hasn’t.  One of our values has always been accompaniment.  We are in relationship with our partners.  We listen to their needs. We still want to focus on the needs of our partners whatever they might be come June 2018.

Jessica Silverio is part of the Service Learning Team; she is helping to secure service learning projects for the Gathering.  She said, “Many people are still out of their schools or homes and some lost it all. Getting to see 30,000 youth come out to the streets and help in whatever way they can will be a great sight to see. It’s important to give people a chance to talk about their lives and how its changed since Harvey.”

We are a people of story—Jesus teaches us through story, the Bible is filled with the stories of our faith—we are a people of story.

When Gathering participants go to project sites our hope is that the partner shares the story of their organization, mission, and why this work matters.  We hope that Gathering participants share their story with partners.

We hope that participants go home and create new stories in their communities.


Jessica Noonan is the Service Learning Team Leader for the 2018 Gathering.


Hurricanes Threaten Lives and Livelihoods in Caribbean: Update and Call for Prayers


NOTE: This post was originally published on the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.

This has been a devastating season of hurricanes for our neighbors throughout the Caribbean and the U.S. South. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have already left a path of destruction, and at the time of this writing, Hurricane Maria has made landfall in Puerto Rico. As response efforts begin and continue, Rev. Albert Starr, Jr., director of Ethnic Specific and Multicultural Ministries and program director for African Descent Ministries for the ELCA, offers this update and call for our prayers for all our neighbors affected by the storms, including those on smaller islands often given too little attention in U.S. national news.


Please continue to hold our sisters and brothers throughout the Caribbean in prayer.

As efforts are being made to respond to the devastating impact of hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, plans are being made in anticipation of yet another hurricane, Maria, which made landfall in Puerto Rico September 20, 2017. Residents of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were urged to take shelter in the available emergency centers as many private homes have already been damaged and structurally compromised by previous storms and hurricane Irma. The island of Dominica and the U.S. Virgin Islands have already been devastated by Maria, a powerful storm right on the heels of Hurricane Irma.

Communications with the islands of St. Thomas, St. John in particular, have been sporadic at best over the past week. St. Croix and Puerto Rico experienced the least impact of hurricane Irma. We have limited reporting out from the ELCA churchwide offices so as not to inadvertently add to the level of anxiety with unverified or false information.

Our Lutheran Disaster Response team here at our churchwide office in Chicago has been in direct communication with Lutheran Social Services of the Virgin Islands, with offices on the island of St. Croix and with Lutheran Social Services of Puerto Rico. For more information on the efforts of Lutheran Disaster Response, please visit the Lutheran Disaster Response blog or follow Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been on the ground but may withdraw staff and return after Hurricane Maria has passed.

Ms. Junia Stryker, director for Lutheran Social Services of the Virgin Islands has brought on an additional staff person whose work will be dedicated completely to hurricane response in the Virgin Islands. Their staff has not yet been able to make an on-the-ground assessment. Travel between the islands by both sea plane and ferry has been curtailed by continued unfavorable weather. The airport on St. Thomas was restricted to emergency and military air traffic only.  St. John does not have a commercial airport.

As of this past week here are some of the effects from Hurricane Irma:

St. Thomas and St. John

  • Frederick Church sustained damages and is worshiping in the parish hall building.
  • Nazareth Church on St. John island received some damage but is standing. The parsonage was destroyed. St. John is without power and running water. We have heard from Pastor Carlyle Sampson indirectly that he is well but without means of connecting and communicating with all the members across the island. This is true of the ministries and pastors on St. Thomas as well.
  • The hospital on St. Thomas has been destroyed. Patients have been evacuated to St. Croix, Puerto Rico and mainland U.S.
  • The main power plant on St. Thomas was destroyed. Power outages continue. Cell phone access is sporadic. When possible, texting seems to be the best opportunity for connecting.
  • FEMA has set up food and water distribution centers across the island.
  • An island-wide 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew is being enforced.

Please continue to hold our neighbors in prayer this season. If you would like to support the efforts of Lutheran Disaster Response, please visit their “Hurricane Relief” giving page to make a gift. 100% of gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response will be mobilized to support response and recovery efforts related to the hurricanes.

Additional Ways to Give

Checks or money orders can be sent to:
Lutheran Disaster Response
P.O. Box 1809
Merrifield, VA 22116-8009

Write “Hurricane Response” on your check memo line.
Give by phone at 800-638-3522


Hurricane Harvey: How You Can Help

The number one question heard after a major event like Hurricane Harvey: “How can I help?”

As followers of Jesus, we are called love our neighbor and to serve those in need.

First, thank you. On the Gulf Coast, your love and support are appreciated during this time.

Second, as people of faith, please pray. Pray for first responders, for those who had to evacuate flooded homes, for people worried about family, and for those who are trying to pick up the pieces.

Third, financial gifts are more helpful than gifts of goods right now. Financial resources are portable and used for many different purposes. Consider donating to Lutheran Disaster Response (for case management).

Finally, wait and listen. The disaster isn’t over. It is still raining. During the first stage following a disaster, search and rescue (typically first 72 hours), there is not much that can be done. Some areas may not even be accessible yet. With a hurricane or flooding, flood waters may still be rising in some areas while receding in others.

Once the water subsides, communities will begin the process of assessing their needs. Once needs are determined, the synods will work with local congregations to help care for their communities.

For the most current updates, please connect with Gulf Coast Synod on social media: