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Lutheran Disaster Response

2017 Hurricanes: Two Years Later

In 2017, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria swept through the United States and the Caribbean, causing widespread damage and interrupting the lives of millions. Two years later, Lutheran Disaster Response is still present, working in partnership with congregations, synods, social service organizations and other partners to bringing God’s hope, healing and renewal to affected communities.


Last year, Dennis, a 72-year-old retired Marine living in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, met an employee of Lutheran Social Services of the Virgin Islands — the local Lutheran Disaster Response affiliate. He told them about the damage to his home, and soon after they came for a visit. “I was hoping to get help from FEMA. I wasn’t expecting the Lutherans,” Dennis said. Last year at the anniversary of the Hurricane, through the LDR supported volunteer rebuild/repair program, Dennis began to rebuild his home and his life. “The house isn’t done, but how it looks now is beyond my wildest expectations,” Dennis said then. Now, two years after the storm, his house is complete. “It [the house] is bringing me joy… “I’m thankful to Lutheran Services for helping me out,” Dennis said.


Lutheran Disaster response, in our commitment to the long-term recovery of Puerto Rico and other hurricane-impacted states/territories, has committed significant funding and other forms of support to help survivors and continue building the capacity of our partners and affiliates on the ground. Thanks to you, survivors like Dennis,  have been connected with needed support — from emergency relief supplies to emotional and spiritual care, as well as the repairing and rebuilding of their homes.

To read our full report – 2017 Hurricanes – Two Year Later, click here.


Be a part of the response:


Join us in prayer and partnership, and to help spread the word in your congregation. You can find additional resources for worship here.


We invite you to stand by all the communities impacted by the recent hurricanes. Your gifts to Hurricane Relief ensure that our church will be able to provide help and hope for those affected by this disaster for years to come.


To learn more and Stay connected to the latest events and our response to this and other disasters:

  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  • Visit our website at
  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Click here for information on volunteer opportunities.

Remembering 9/11, 15 Years Later

The Reverend Gil Furst was the Director of Lutheran Disaster Response on 9/11. We are very grateful for his enormous contributions to our collective response to this unprecedented disaster on behalf of the church in collaboration with many partners in the years following the attack. Here is his recollection of how we witnessed God’s hope and light in the midst of destruction and darkness in the aftermath of this seminal event.

Dear friends in Christ,

Fifteen years ago, on September 11, 2001, our lives were radically changed. The World Trade Center destruction in New York and the Pentagon attack near Arlington, Virginia, are among the most significant events in our lives. The needs of those directly affected (e.g., those who lost loved ones, traumatized children, people who lost income, persons harmed or terrified), as well as those who felt the ripple effects of the tragedy, were incalculable.

The scope of the needs was unprecedented. Death totals exceeded many town populations in which our congregations are located. Over 3,000 children lost at least one parent, and tens of thousands of children lost a family member. The Lutheran Counseling Center in New York received 100 calls per day for emotional and spiritual help. Seven ELCA Synods and five LCMS Districts were directly impacted. Nine separate Lutheran social ministry organizations were part of the response. A new agency, Lutheran Disaster Response of New York, was established to focus on coordinating the New York response. As in every disaster, new needs continually arose as the recovery progressed.

The response of the Church was extraordinary. By the end of 2001 nearly $8 million came in directly to the ELCA and LCMS. The insurance fraternals, Aid Association for Lutherans and Lutheran Brotherhood, provided an estimated $10.7 million towards a coordinated Lutheran response, with each fraternal contributing $1 million of corporate funds. But the costs were equally extraordinary.

By the end of 2001 $2.7 million was granted by LDR for specific ministries in New York, New Jersey, and Washington D.C. By the end of 2002, LDR granted to the three responding areas a total of $6.8 million. By the end of 2003, LDR granted to the three areas a total of $9.5 million.

The responses in New Jersey and Washington D.C. concluded at the end of 2003. LDR-New York continued to provide services and coordinate multiple organizations to provide assistance for unmet needs until September 2008.

At the height of the New York response, over 137 separate programs were in operation. Working with the addition of interfaith funding, private organizations, even international donations, the total income for our Lutheran response neared $27 million. Long after other agencies and denominations closed their offices, LDR continued its ministries. As is usually true, the Lutherans were among the first to respond and the last to leave.

The initial components of the response included:

• counseling directly-impacted children, adults, and families
• providing for emergency needs of individuals and families
• supporting the 21,000 students in Lutheran schools (47 students lost primary care-givers in the destruction), including counseling and tuition assistance for children whose families lost their livelihood
• direct care for “Ground Zero” rescue workers
• providing case management for unmet needs of the bereaved and unemployed
• individual emergency assistance
• respite care for clergy, rostered Church leaders, and school staff
• long-term training of clergy for trauma response
• preparing “Camp New Ground” day-camp materials for children traumatized by the attacks
• preparing and distributing recovery materials
• supporting interfaith initiatives in New York, New Jersey, and Washington D.C.
• supporting Church World Service multi-denominational programs.
• advocacy for immigrant and undocumented persons

As the response continued into its second year, new components were added:
• Lutherans led in coordinating dozens of organizations to provide assistance to unmet needs
• “Project LIFE”, a case-management program, was developed to help people access available assistance
• “New Ground” day camps were offered to community children through Lutheran congregations and schools, thirty-eight camps held in New York and New Jersey in the summer of 2002
• Individual and group counseling was expanded
• caregivers were trained for their ministries and provided with respite care
• congregational “ministry teams” were trained to provide care in their communities
• case management was provided to distribute non-profit grants to the economically impacted
• care was given to clergy and school teachers providing “on the ground” ministry
• support was given directly the families of victim’s
• counseling was provided for people traumatized by the disaster
• working with undocumented workers and others who lost employment due to the disaster

740 New Jersey commuters died when the World Trade Center towers were attacked and collapsed. Support was provided for leaders and individuals, unmet needs (in partnership with 128 individuals and agencies), post-traumatic stress counseling network of 15 behavioral healthcare agencies), 15 congregations provided bereavement support groups, grief support, economic assistance, disaster preparedness, and immigration support.

The 9/11 Pentagon attack created a loss of life, a loss of neighbors and colleagues, a loss of jobs and income. Children in Lutheran schools were also affected. One school of 200 children is located near the Pentagon. Children on the playground heard the impact of the plane, saw the fire, heard the sirens. LDR offered extensive long-term trauma counseling to them. LDR also ministered to entry-level workers, immigrants, and new citizens affected by economic issues

Special thanks must be given:
• to our national Church leaders who offered Gospel hope by their presence: the Rev. H. George Anderson (ELCA Presiding Bishop), the Rev. Gerald Kieschnick (President of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod), and the Rev. Mark S. Hanson (ELCA Presiding Bishop)

• to the three synod bishops and district presidents who provided incredible leadership for their affected judicatories: President David Benke (Atlantic District) and Bishop Steve Bouman (Metropolitan New York Synod); President William Klettke (New Jersey District) and Bishop E. Roy Riley (New Jersey Synod); Bishop Ted Schneider (Metropolitan Washington D.C. Synod) and President Arthur Scherer (Southeastern District)

• to the three LDR coordinators who provided creativity and passion to the Church’s efforts: the Rev. John DiMatteo (Lutheran Social Ministies of NJ), the Rev. David Pearcy (LSS of the National Capitol Area), and John Scibilia (LDR New York).
• to Elaine Richter Bryant and the Rev. Jerry Rux, who served as associate directors of LDR

September 11, 2001, raises images of dust-covered firefighters climbing stairs to rescue people from the World Trade Center towers, and exhausted emergency workers climbing huge piles of rubble searching for survivors. But there are also images of pastors and chaplains offering words of hope or consolation to stunned and shocked survivors. There are teachers calming upset students. There are congregations gathering for worship, and neighbors praying with neighbors. There are piles of letters, offers of help, and generous donations.

Where was God in all this? God was in the ashes and the dust, in the destruction and the blood, reaching out in sorrow and compassion as our hands were reaching out to help. We who are in Christ are people of hope, changed by a resurrected Lord who is always present with God’s people. Where was God? God was there – and God is still there.

From the moment the first plane struck, the Church responded as the Church. And the Church continued to respond for the long haul. We do not come empty-handed to real life situations, even to situations as terrible and global as 9/11. We, the Church, were blessed to be called to serve at such a challenging time. Through your donations, through your prayers, you were there too, along with the firefighters, the recovery workers, the chaplains, the pastors, the counselors, the families of victims.

As in all disasters, those who suffer are supported by God’s healing grace. Those who respond are God’s enfolding arms and healing hands, providing comfort and renewal by word and deed.

Gilbert B. Furst
Retired Director
Lutheran Disaster Response

ELCA members offer support for those impacted by California wildfires

ELCA News Service

CHICAGO (ELCA) – Some members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) affected by wildfires in Northern California said that their faith, family and friends sustained them during a difficult time.

“God and my faith and my family and friends got me through,” said Craig Waters, a member of Galilee Lutheran Church in Kelseyville, Calif., who lost his home in Anderson Springs, a community near Middletown. He said about 180 of the 200 homes in his neighborhood were destroyed. “The neighborhood is wiped out but the spirit is still there. There is definitely a resurrection feeling. All of our stuff is gone, everything is wiped out, but it hasn’t killed the spirit,” said Waters, whose family has been in the community for several generations.

Devastations caused by the Valley Fire

Two fires, which started days apart in September, burned more than 200 square miles and are estimated to have caused almost $2 billion in damage. Six people died and thousands of people evacuated from their homes. The Valley fire, located about 90 miles north of San Francisco, destroyed almost 2,000 structures including nearly 1,300 homes. In addition to Waters, two other families from Galilee Lutheran lost their homes in the fire.

Robert Hamilton, a lay leader from Galilee, said the congregation is helping out in the community by collecting money, donating their time at shelters and at workshops focused on surviving trauma. “It’s about us going out into the community and helping wherever we can,” he said. Hamilton said much of what is needed in the first few weeks is helping people regain stability in their lives. “A lot of kids are going to school in places that are not their home school, but they’re going somewhere. The bus routes are all disrupted. People are scattered everywhere. So just trying to get the kids stable and feeling like everything is OK again. It’s tough,” he said. Hamilton said an effort is underway to help provide students with backpacks, school supplies and athletic equipment – “things the students are used to having but now all that stuff is gone.”

On Oct. 11, the congregation celebrated its 50th anniversary. Plans for a celebration had been in the works for over a year and Hamilton said the gathering was “an opportunity to see that life goes on” and also a reminder of what means most to the community during this time. “The care of the spirit is something we hope we don’t lose once the tragic aspect of (the fire) goes away. People have really come together to help each other out,” he said.

Destructions caused by the Valley Fire in Lake County, CA

The Rev. Mark Holmerud, bishop of the ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod, attended the congregation’s celebration and also toured the fire-damaged area. “Growing up in Southern California, I thought I had seen fire damage before,” wrote Holmerud in a Facebook post describing his visit. “But the Valley fire grew more than 50,000 acres in twenty-four hours, or 25 acres per minute. It was clear from the damage we saw today that there was no way to ‘stand your ground’ to protect your home, no way to drive to safety if you waited too long to evacuate.”

Mountain Ranch Lutheran in Mountain Ranch and Faith Lutheran in Murphys are two ELCA congregations located in the area of the Butte fire, which destroyed about 71,000 acres in Amador and Calaveras counties. Five families from Mountain Ranch lost their homes, including William Jungemann, who evacuated his home on Sept. 10. When he returned to the area one week later, he found that his home had been destroyed by the fire. “In the long run I got out of there with my life and we got all our animals out of there and everything else is a plus. We have something to go on with,” said Jungemann.

The Butte Fire burns everything to the ground near Mountain Ranch, CA

Rob Westerhoff, president of Faith Lutheran, said his congregation is assessing the situation and is ready to help wherever needed. One of the members is a real estate agent and is helping to find temporary housing for families in the community who lost their homes. On Oct. 15, Westerhoff and Holmerud traveled through the areas affected by the Butte fire. “Much as I saw on my tour of the damage caused by the Valley fire in Lake County, the damage from the Butte fire was almost too much to take in. We saw many burned out homes, cars, and other structures. The devastation this fire has caused to thousands of people was all around us,” wrote Holmerud in a Facebook post. “It will take 12 to 18 months – if everything goes as well as possible – for these families to rebuild their homes. Counselors and therapists are on hand at schools and community centers to help with the sense of loss, grief, depression and post-traumatic-stress syndrome counseling.”

Assistance is available from various levels of government for immediate relief but is often insufficient to address the needs of the most vulnerable ones in the long term recovery phase of a disaster

Lutheran Disaster Response is working with Lutheran Social Services of Northern California to provide care and comfort to those whose lives have been impacted by the fires, focusing on long-term need. “This process is about being the church and doing what we do best – being faithful and walking with people in need,” said Nancy Nielsen, deputy director of Lutheran Social Services of Northern California. “We need to be present, to listen and to respond thoughtfully. “We are in the process of transitioning from the response and relief stage to the recovery stage,” said Nielsen. “The recovery will be a very long process. It’s a marathon and not a sprint. It will take years, requiring a lot of patience and perseverance.”

Holmerud ended his Oct. 11 Facebook post asking for prayers. “Prayers for all whose lives have been forever changed by the Valley and Butte fires. Prayers for the firefighters and first responders who risked their lives to save many more homes than the number which were destroyed.” “I’m feeling the prayers,” said Waters. “I don’t know how people get through things like this without faith. I guess they do, but I don’t know how.”

Please consider supporting the response in Northern California by visiting the Lutheran Disaster Response giving page.

Follow Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook.

Helping Our Neighbors in Denny Terrace

Martin Luther Quick, TEEM Candidate and Mission Developer of Impact, Northeast Columbia

This is an article reprinted from the South Carolina Synod website.

Over 5.6 trillion gallons of water fell on South Carolina. They called it the 1000 year storm. My family was blessed because our home was unscathed. Our family members were safe but I yearned to help my fellow neighbors.

We went to check on a church in Denny Terrace and were hit by detour after detour because of washed away roads and breached dams. On our journey down the back roads of North Columbia, we saw remnants of the storm everywhere. Trees strewn all over the roads, debris in the yards and abandoned cars with large orange X’s were all along our path. We saw community members helping each other remove memories from their waterlogged homes. Then, we spotted the man along Crane Creek Road lying in a ditch. He explained that since there was no bus and he had no car, he had to walk, he had fallen into the ditch and may have remained there if we had not passed by. What are the chances that 3 Ministers would be in the car? God was certainly in the midst.

The further we drove, the more we realized the tremendous need in the area. We loaded up the truck and starteddelivering water throughout the community. Who knew that the same water that we drank so freely the week before would be such a commodity. We delivered more than 200 cases of water. While in the community, the one on one conversations revealed the tremendous need that still exist. Houses had been completely covered in water and businesses completely destroyed.


We opened the doors of Christ Mission, a synodically authorized worshiping community, and began accepting donations and distributing the items to the community. While helping the residents with the FEMA applications, we began hearing the stories of the residents who had to be rescued from their attic, picked up by boat, and swam to safety. We helped an elderly man who owned his home and 2 mobile homes, when that was complete he brought his tenant who was deaf and could not speak. 2 hours later, we had his application completed but realized that there were so many services that were needed in the community that were not being provided.

As a mission developer, my favorite scripture is Acts 2:44-47 “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” As long as there is a need in the community, the church will be present in the community re-presenting Christ.

Find out more about how you can help here.

There are many more heartwarming stories of how members of the South Carolina Synod accompany survivors of the South Carolina flooding through their congregations and the synod, go to the South Carolina Synod website.

Also visit the Lutheran Disaster Response website and Facebook page for more information.

Nepal Earthquake: More than $1.9 million given for response

Megan Brandsrud

​Thanks to your generosity, Lutheran Disaster Response has collected more than $1.9 million to respond directly to the Nepal Area Earthquakes. Together, we were able to provide $527,700 to respond to the immediate needs of the people and communities affected, and we will continue to walk with our brothers and sisters in Nepal to rebuild lives and livelihoods as long-term response projects get underway.

We continue to work with our trusted partners, The Lutheran World Federation, Lutheran World Relief and United Mission to Nepal, to respond and provide assistance in the affected areas. Immediate response efforts have been in action since the day after the earthquake and many emergency distributions have been completed.

The Lutheran World Federation

Working with The Lutheran World Federation, we have distributed shelter repair materials, ready-to-eat food, blankets and hygiene kits to more than 21,000 households in 27 towns and villages in Nepal. Next phases of response are being rolled out, which includes distributing corrugated iron sheets in addition to tarps for families to use for shelter repair against the heavy monsoon rains.

While recovery of physical property is important for the safety of families who were affected by the earthquakes, care for the all-around well-being of those impacted is something that cannot be overlooked. With The Lutheran World Federation, we will provide community-based psychosocial support that will reach approximately 14,000 people. Working with community leaders, community-based psychosocial support will help people build their strength and build resilience in their villages, which will help improve their coping mechanisms.  These community-led groups will be able to serve as sustainable structures that will continue to help improve life for people who face hard times as recovery from the disaster moves into the future.


Lutheran World Federation (LWF) delivers relief supplies in Bhirkot Dolakha area, Nepal


Volunteer distributes relief materials to earthquake victim at Jhaukhel in Bhaktapur. Photo: Dipesh Shrestha/LWF

Volunteer distributes relief materials to earthquake victim at Jhaukhel in Bhaktapur.
Photo: Dipesh Shrestha/LWF

Lutheran World Federation (LWF) workers distribute relief materials in Bhirkot Dolakha area, Nepal

Lutheran World Relief

Together with Lutheran World Relief, we have provided temporary shelter and emergency food assistance to nearly 30,700 individuals. Nearly 10,000 quilts, 1,000 personal care kits and 100 water filtration units have also been distributed. As we move into the next phase of recovery, soybean seeds are being distributed to families who rely on agricultural livelihoods to help support the livelihood recovery and food security after the monsoon season passes. In addition, a cash-for-work program focusing on repairing roads throughout the rural areas is being implemented. The program will not only provide families with much needed cash but will also help improve road conditions in the region.

United Mission to Nepal

Working with United Mission to Nepal, all planned distributions of emergency food, kitchen utensils, tarps and blankets in Dahding district of Nepal have been completed. Community-based health trainings have also taken place in three Village Development Committees in Dhading.

Moving to long-term response, we are working with United Mission to Nepal to support 90 families that are members of a savings and credit cooperative that started in 1999. The ELCA has supported this co-op over a number of years. As part of the earthquake response, we will work to assist families in the co-op by:

  • Distributing hygiene kits
  • Distributing kitchenware and utensils lost in the quake
  • Providing for psycho-social counselling
  • Helping create income-generating activities
  • Providing financial support for home rebuilding and repair

We will also work with United Mission to Nepal to help with repairs and rebuilding projects for Elim Kids Academy, a Christian school that the ELCA helps support by providing for scholarships and teacher training programs.

As we transition from immediate relief to long-term response, we will continue to keep you updated as we work with our partners in the regions to assist those who were affected by the earthquakes to recover and rebuild. Please continue to hold the people of Nepal in your prayers as they continue on this journey of disaster recovery.

Please support the Nepal Earthquake Response by visiting the Lutheran Disaster Response giving page.

Ohio: Responding to spring and summer flooding

Megan Brandsrud

​Ohio experienced 20 consecutive days of rain and 3 major storms that produced flash flooding during those 20 days this spring and early summer. On May 29, heavy rainstorms hit Ohio that caused flooding in 6 counties. On June 14, another series of storms swept across Ohio, causing flood damage in 3 different counties. 17 homes were left totally inaccessible due to damage of private bridges. In total, 365 homes were destroyed or suffered major damage, and 1,598 homes experienced minor damage.

Local long-term recovery groups have been meeting to make plans for recovery efforts, and our affiliate in the area, Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio, has been a part of these meetings. Working with our affiliate, Lutheran Disaster Response is providing for three case managers to help families who were affected by the severe weather navigate their way through the recovery process. There are many components to managing one’s recovery from disaster, and processes can be overwhelming and confusing. Case managers help people with some of these processes, such as filing insurance claims and helping arrange for unmet needs.


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Ohio’s Lutheran Disaster Response volunteers rebuild a survivor’s house with their Thrivent Action Dollars

The three case managers that will be working with our affiliate will provide assistance to approximately 365-400 families over the course of 6-12 months.

When disasters occur in the U.S., Lutheran Disaster Response works with a network of social ministry organization affiliates that are located around the country. Because Lutheran Disaster Response believes that every disaster is local and every response should be rooted in the community, our affiliates help Lutheran Disaster Response to respond on a local level as they are based in communities around the U.S. where our disaster responses occur.

We will continue to work with our trusted affiliate in the area and will keep you updated on new response developments. Please hold the people in Ohio who were affected by the severe weather in your prayers as they navigate their way through recovery to post-disaster renewal.

Please support the disaster response work in Ohio by visiting the Lutheran Disaster Response giving page.