In late October, a small delegation from the ELCA traveled to Puerto Rico, St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John. They walked together in prayerful solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the Caribbean Synod and the Lutheran Social Services of Virgin Islands. Here, Johanna Olson, Manager for Relationships for the Europe, Middle East and Northern Africa in the ELCA Global Mission Unit, shares a reflection of her time as part of the delegation.

From October 16th to the 25th, I traveled in a Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) delegation to meet w/ the Caribbean Synod, its pastors in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Island and met with congregation leaders and was fortunate to worship in congregations, in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  We also met with Lutheran Social Services of the Virgin Islands and with FEMA and other voluntary organizations active in disaster. 

We were also hosted by the Caribbean Synod, in Puerto Rico and LSS of the US VI, in the Virgin Islands.  Colleagues, who were also hit by the hurricanes, found us housing, picked us up and drove us to various meetings.  They drove us through horrible traffic without traffic lights, because of downed electric poles and downed electricity.  Staff also welcomed us into their homes, dear reader, without electricity or running on expensive generators to feed us and for us to just talk and eat good food and relax.  For some of us, this was a time to re-connect with old colleagues, and for some of us, a time to meet colleagues we’ve been talking to over the phone for the last several weeks, hearing updates from the disaster and the church response.  Receiving robust hospitality, in such a challenged setting, is a humbling gift from God. 

This togetherness that we explored and lived with our island colleagues, in our conversations, meetings and car rides set in the destruction from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico and the United Virgin Islands has a name to it:  accompaniment.  In Global Mission, in ELCA synods and congregations across this country, with our companion churches throughout the world, we talk and endeavor to live this, this quality of walking together in a solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality.  

This is hard work.  How does my nine-day visit afford interdependence and mutuality with our Puerto Rican and Virgin Island brothers and sisters?  They don’t leave the disaster site.  The electricity doesn’t suddenly turn on for them, the jobs they’ve lost suddenly do not return, the friends and family they have that have moved to the continental United States suddenly don’t re-appear.  The life they once knew doesn’t immediately come back.  It won’t come back.  The things I am describing to you are mourning, this is compounded grief. 

The ministry of Lutheran Disaster Response is about the long-term recovery, commitment to serve people impacted by the disaster years after the event.  LDR is a wonderful ministry of accompaniment. 

We stay in close communication, amid cell phone communication challenges, to promote awareness of things going on and the things that change, it seems, daily, and to support them in their steps into recovery, for their parishioners, their congregations and of course, the broader community.   And we pray into new ways of being together, of listening to God direct our minds and actions.

I imagine if you’re reading this you’ve contributed funding to Lutheran Disaster Response.  If you haven’t, please consider making a gift today.  If you are interested in volunteering, the response is not set up yet to receive volunteers for rebuilding.  Please be patient.  LDR is here for the long-term, so come back to this site again for further information. 

Johanna Olson served as Lutheran Disaster Response – U.S. staff from  1998 to 2005. She currently serves as Manager for Relationships for the Europe, Middle East and Northern Africa in the ELCA Global Mission Unit.

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Lutheran Disaster Response
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Merrifield, VA 22116-8009

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