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Lutheran Disaster Response

“God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday Ideas

“God’s Work. Our Hands.” Sunday will be here before you know it! 2023 is the tenth year of GWOH Sunday, which is a day of service dedicated to community service. This year, it falls on September 10.


GWOH Sunday is a great opportunity to participate in disaster response and preparedness work with your congregation. Here are just a few ideas for activities:

  1. Assemble preparedness kits. Some things you may want to include are:
    1. Small flashlight
    2. First aid materials, like bandages
    3. Whistle
    4. Snacks
    5. Water bottles
    6. Hand sanitizer

More ideas for kits can be found at

You might need other things for different kinds of weather. For example, in a winter weather preparedness kit, include items like gloves, socks and hand warmers. Distribute the kits locally – in your congregation, community, local shelters, etc.

  1. Identify disasters that could impact your community. Flooding? Hurricanes? Wildfires? Figure out the biggest threats in your area and come up with a plan for both your congregations and for families that can be shared in your community. Look at what resources you can offer during and after a disaster.


  1. Volunteer (locally). If there has been a disaster of any kind in your community, find a local organization that is doing response work and actively seeking volunteers.


  1. Advocate. Ask your congregation to reach out to your local representatives and voice your support for these policies. ELCA Advocacy has two calls for action posted online:
    1. Simplify and Improve Disaster Response Policies – The Disaster Survivors Fairness Act of 2023 would make several major improvements to our public policies aimed at addressing natural disasters, including creating a simplified “universal application” for federal disaster assistance and enabling federal agencies to better coordinate with each other and authorizing FEMA to reimburse state-level disaster solutions, and require FEMA to report to Congress new post-disaster solutions for renters.
    2. Support Policy that Improves Disaster Relief and Prevention – The Reforming Disaster Recovery Act, would, among many changes, increase federal response transparency with community partners, raise commitments to long-term resiliency after reconstruction, and authorize the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) disaster relief program into formal law.


  1. Form partnerships. Many of these activities can be done in collaboration with other local organizations or emergency management. It’s essential to form these relationships before a disaster, so your congregation is prepared to mobilize if a disaster does strike.


  1. Give. As you do disaster response/preparedness activities, collect a special offering for Lutheran Disaster Response. Gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response help us respond to disasters quickly and efficiently.


If you do any of these activities, or others related to disaster response, resilience or preparedness, let us know! Send your stories and photos to

Reflections from the 2023 National VOAD Conference

A group of 10 people posing together in a ballroom.

LDR staff with members of the LDR national network.

At the beginning of May, five Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) staff members attended the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) conference in St. Louis, Missouri.  

NVOAD is a coalition of community-based, faith-based and nonprofit disaster response organizations throughout the United States. Its purpose is to serve as a forum in which organizations can coordinate responses. In addition to the more than 70 national member organizations (including LDR), there are also VOADs at the state and local levels. 

The NVOAD conference is an opportunity to network with other disaster organizations and attend various workshops, plenaries and vendor exhibitions. Pastor Matthew Zemanick, Program Director for LDR Initiatives,  was one of the presenters for a session entitled “The Power of Place, Historical Trauma, and the Lifting up of Cultural Humility in Disaster Response.” 


Reflections from LDR staff:

“This was my first time attending the National VOAD Conference, which had a record-breaking year with over 800 participants! It was amazing to see and notice how passionate the member organizations are about their work in disaster and love what they do. It helped me personally to see a bigger picture of how diverse the groups were and how important it is to have existing relationships with NVOAD members in the blue-sky times. My favorite time was connection with our LDR Community of Practice Members over meals and meeting with some of the LDR partners in person for the first time. It was a meaningful experience in many ways from networking, to making connections, to building new relationships, and being part of important discussions.”  

-Zaya Gilmer, Program Manager, LDR-US 


“The NVOAD conference was a wonderful opportunity to connect with new and long-time members of the LDR network. It was great to see people in person, to build and strengthen relationships, and deepen the bonds between LDR, our colleagues, and the institutions that provide humanitarian relief around the world.” 

-Sean Coffman, Program Director, LDR Networks and Training 


“This was my first NVOAD conference and I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to have learned alongside the wide range of partners and organizations involved in responding to disasters. I’ve come to this work from parish ministry and community chaplaincy in an environmental justice community. As someone who grew up with a single mom who was a nurse, for me, one striking parallel between both the environmental justice movement and the VOAD movement is the amount of people with working-class backgrounds in leadership. Representation matters, especially when disasters disproportionately impact working-class and impoverished households. I am humbled and honored to be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, which gives me tremendous hope in the ways the Spirit is guiding us.” 

-Pr. Matthew Zemanick, Program Director, LDR Initiatives 


Situation Report: Sudan Conflict

Situation:A map of Africa with Sudan highlighted in red and Chad and South Sudan highlighted in blue.

On April 15, violence broke out between opposing military groups in Sudan. Most of the fighting has been in the capital city of Khartoum, but some has now spread outside the city. Because of the conflict, many civilians cannot leave their homes, while others are managing to flee to other areas of the country, or into neighboring countries like Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan. Nearly 1 million people have been displaced since the beginning of the violence.



A Sudanese family under a shelter made of wood and fabric.

Sudanese refugees in South Sudan. Photo: ACT Alliance


In Chad, Lutheran Disaster Response is supporting the Lutheran World Federation-World Service. It is addressing shelter, food, and hygiene needs in refugee camps and informal settlements. Lutheran Disaster Response is also supporting the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, Upper Nile Internal Province, as it provides food and other essential supplies to refugees in South Sudan.






Be part of the response:

Please pray for all people impacted by the violence in Sudan. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Thanks to generous donations, Lutheran Disaster Response is able to respond quickly and effectively to disasters around the globe. Your gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response will be used to assist Sudanese refugees and other crises in the U.S. and around the world.

To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook, follow @ELCALDR on Twitter, and follow @ELCA_LDR on Instagram.

Roma refugees from Ukraine face racism, discrimination

Three women sit next to each other in chairs, the oldest women on the left holding a microphone.

Holocaust survivor Mariia Simian, her granddaughter Anzhelika Bielova, both from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, and Phiren Amenca staffer Anna Daroczi at a memorial for Roma victims of the Holocaust,

Mariia Simian, from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, is living through war for a second time. Just three years old when World War II tore across Europe in the 1940s, she says the memories haunt her.

“I remember everything,” she says. “I often remember. My mother hid our whole family from this horror wherever she could – in the basement, in fields behind the house – because the Nazis were looking for Roma.”

Simean, who is Roma, spoke at a recent remembrance ceremony for Roma victims of the Holocaust, hosted by ELCA partner organization Phiren Amenca in Budapest. As many as 500,000 Roma people were among those murdered by the Nazis during World War II.

Speaking in Ukrainian, with her granddaughter Anzhelika Bielova translating into English, Simeak continued, “I really want everyone to remember these horrors of war, the crimes against humanity, against Roma people…Evacuation, frightened people fleeing from death, mass graves of civilians, destroyed houses, all this is now in Ukraine after 80 years.…I want peace, only peace, and a better future for all of us and for new generations.”

Europe’s largest ethnic minority, the Roma people – descendants of tribes from northern India who migrated to Europe in the Middle Ages – experience a great deal of discrimination and racism. In one recent survey 95 percent of Roma youth said they have observed discriminatory words, behaviors, or gestures, and more than two-thirds reported having personally been the target of such discrimination, according to Marietta Herefort, managing director of Phiren Amenca, a Roma advocacy organization with offices in Budapest and Brussels.

Roma people often face discrimination accessing housing, employment, education and other services, Herefort added, and Roma refugees from Ukraine have been treated differently than their white counterparts across Europe.


A woman standing behind a microphone in front of an old train car.

Marietta Herefort, managing director of ELCA partner Phiren Amenca, speaks at a remembrance for Roma victims of the Holocaust, August 2, 2022 in Budapest.

“It’s a justice issue”

Thousands of Roma people are among the roughly 7 million who have fled Ukraine since the war began in February 2022, but many report that the reception in neighboring countries has been far from warm. In Hungary, ELCA works with Phiren Amenca and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary (ELCH) to ensure that Roma refugees are treated with the same dignity as others arriving from Ukraine.

It’s a justice issue,” says the Rev. Rachel Eskesen, ELCA area desk director for Europe. “Anti-gypsyism, discrimination against Roma communities and individuals, remains a prevalent form of racism across Europe.”

Attila Meszaros, coordinator of the ELCH refugee response, says before the war, the church might help about 300 refugees per year. That number has more than tripled as refugees poured across the border from Ukraine, he says, and about 90 percent of those served by the church are Roma people who have had difficulty accessing services elsewhere. With support from the ELCA, they have hired additional staff to manage the increased caseload, including a social worker who is herself Ukrainian and can assist when there is a language barrier. The church helps families with rent, groceries and assistance in finding employment, and each social worker is usually in touch with about 50 families per day.

One mother of three burst into tears when she received a grocery voucher, Meszaros said. The family had lived underground for a month in Ukraine subsisting on packaged food. She rushed out to buy fresh fruits and vegetables for her children.


Serving Roma People

A woman on the left of the photo, holding a piece of paper and speaking to a crowd.

Rev. Márta Bolba, pastor of Mandak House in Budapest, Hungary, speaks to a crowd gathered outside the church for donated food and clothing

Ministry to Roma people is not new for the ELCH. Mandak House, a Lutheran congregation and social ministry in Budapest led by Pastor Márta Bolba, has a longstanding program donating food, clothing and other necessities to the most vulnerable as well as a long history of advocating for equal treatment of Roma people. In fact, Bolba said, they recently relocated the donation center to another site as the ministry had outgrown the space at the church.

While Phiren Amenca did not have previous experience in refugee assistance, Herefort said they quickly found a way to respond to the growing need as neighbors from Ukraine began arriving in Hungary last spring. Working in partnership with other organizations serving the Roma population, they delivered food, toiletries, cleaning supplies and clothing to refugee centers and transit shelters along the border, organized donation drives in 30 municipalities, and assisted families with navigating the process to register for asylum in Hungary. They even housed a family for a time in their Budapest office, until the family could find a more permanent situation.

“Anti-gypsyism is very high,” she said, referring to the slur often used against the Roma people. “They are rejected because they are Roma, and for Ukrainian Roma it’s even worse because they often have big families with lots of kids,” so it’s even more difficult to find suitable accommodations.  “Even if they are earning money they often are not able to set up a normal life because they are rejected in many ways.”

“Racism—a mix of power, privilege, and prejudice—is sin, violation of God’s intention for humanity,” wrote the authors of the ELCA’s social statement on race, ethnicity and culture. “The resulting racial, ethnic, or cultural barriers deny the truth that all people are God’s creatures and, therefore, persons of dignity.”

In simpler words, the American civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer famously stated, “no one is truly free until everyone is free.” As we continue the work of dismantling embedded racism in our own culture, facing and confessing our own sins, so too we walk alongside our European colleagues and our Roma brothers and sisters who struggle for equal treatment and equal rights.



Emily Sollie is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and 4-year old son, and is a member of Lutheran Church of the Reformation. 

Situation Report: Türkiye and Syria Earthquake

Situation:Map of Türkiye and Syria

On Feb. 6 two powerful earthquakes hit Türkiye and significantly impacted neighboring Syria. The first was a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in south central Türkiye, followed hours later by a magnitude 7.5 quake in the southeastern part of the country. The two quakes have devastated Türkiye and Syria, collapsing thousands of buildings and damaging infrastructure. Over 41,000 people have been killed, with the count expected to continue rising drastically.

On the left, a crumbled building. On the right side of the building are two people picking up the rubble.

ACT Alliance member organizations are on the ground assisting earthquake survivors. Photo: GOPA-DERD




Lutheran Disaster Response is contributing to ACT Alliance to address the devastation from the earthquakes. There are several ACT Alliance members already active in the region that are providing immediate aid. These organizations are supplying blankets, mattresses, hot meals and hygiene kits to earthquake survivors. As needs are assessed, the organizations will establish further actions.


Be part of the response:

Please pray for the people in Türkiye and Syria impacted by the earthquakes. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Thanks to generous donations, Lutheran Disaster Response is able to respond quickly and effectively to disasters around the globe. Your gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response (Middle East Crisis) will be used to assist survivors of the earthquakes and other disasters in the region.

To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook, follow @ELCALDR on Twitter, and follow @ELCA_LDR on Instagram.
  • Download the situation report and share as a PDF.

Lutheran Disaster Response: 2022 in Review

2022 was a full year for Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR). The highest profile event is the ongoing war in Ukraine. Since Russia’s invasion on February 24, more than 7.8 million people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries in Eastern Europe and another 6.5 million became internally displaced. LDR is accompanying partners in eight countries, including Ukraine. As the war carries on, we will continue to extend our support to these partners

In addition to the war, LDR worked with partners to respond to a wide range of other disasters, including Hurricanes Fiona and Ian, tornadoes, flooding, wildfires and gun violence. Internationally, some examples of responses in 2022 include monsoon flooding in south Asia, migration in Central America and refugees in the Middle East. In 2022, LDR was present in 38 countries and 25 U.S. states and territories.

LDR also is increasing funding for resilience and preparedness projects that seek to address the underlying causes and consequences of climate change and social inequality.

Here are just two stories from our partners in 2022:

Drought in Africa

Stacks of food packages in the foreground and a group of people socializing behind them.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Angola distributing food to people impacted by a drought in Angola.

The Horn of Africa is currently experiencing its worst drought in recent history, impacting more than 15 million people across multiple countries. Families are displaced and have lost the crops and livestock they need for food and income. Beyond the Horn of Africa, Angola is also experiencing severe drought. LDR is working with partners in the region to provide relief for impacted people in Angola, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

One of those partners is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Angola (IELA). With a grant from LDR, the church was able to feed over 1,500 people in the southern provinces of Cunene and Huila. These provinces have lacked rain for the past four years.

IELA has a strong partnership with the Angolan government and they help each other to help people suffering from the drought. One local government official said, “Whenever we receive a phone call from IELA, we know that there is news of social assistance.”

Muteka Hipopi is a recipient of the food support from IELA. He lives in Kandeva, a community impacted by the drought. There has been very little rain for a few years, leading to famine and leaving people unable to support themselves and their families. He said that many younger residents in his community left for Namibia in search of better livelihoods. After receiving food from IELA, Muteka became hopeful and saw there are people around the world that care for him and others affected by the drought and famine.

While the region still waits for substantial rainfall, LDR and our partners will continue to walk alongside our neighbors in southern Africa and the Horn of Africa.


South Dakota tornadoes

A long hallway scattered with debris and missing the roof.

A tornado destroyed Beaver Valley Lutheran Church in Brandon, SD in May 2022.

Beaver Valley Lutheran Church, in Brandon, South Dakota, was hit by a tornado on May 30. The tornado damaged their building, with the most damage in the church offices and education areas. With a grant from Lutheran Disaster Response, through the South Dakota Synod, the Beaver Valley congregation has been able to continue serving their community despite being displaced from their building. They bought new computers and office equipment, relocated their preschool and created four produce stands to supply their community with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Within the primarily rural community of Brandon, Beaver Valley is very active and visible. Pastor Greg Johnson told the story of a conversation he had with a man near one of the produce stands. The man wasn’t a member of Beaver Valley but had witnessed the work they did for the community. The farmer donated two semi-loads of corn – likely around $10,000 worth – for their produce stands. This is just one example of the impact of the church on their community and, in return, the community’s impact on the ministry of the church during a difficult time of recovery.

The generosity throughout the community, even beyond the work of Beaver Valley, is valued and celebrated by everyone affected by the tornado. Although Beaver Valley’s building was damaged, their ministry was not. If anything, they became more active in the town, showing God’s love when the community was most in need.




Thank you!

All this crucial work is made possible by the partners of LDR, including ELCA synods, social ministry organizations, global companion churches and ecumenical partners. The staff and volunteers of our partners are touching the lives of people impacted by disaster every day, accompanying them through the journey of recovery. Finally, our generous donors follow Christ’s call to share hope with our neighbors in the United States and around the world. We are so thankful for all our partners and donors!