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Lutheran Disaster Response

Situation Report: Kentucky Disasters

Situation:A map of the United States with Kentucky highlighted in blue.

In December 2021, western Kentucky was hit by a series of deadly and destructive tornadoes, destroying over 1,300 homes. In July 2022, record-setting floods inundated communities in eastern Kentucky. The flooding caused heavy damage to homes and local infrastructure. Recovery in both areas will takes years.

A white house with a black door and a window with black shutters on each side of the door.

A rebuilt house in eastern Kentucky.

 

Response:

Since December, Lutheran Disaster Response has been working closely with the Indiana-Kentucky Synod in developing long-term recovery plans for each disaster. In each region, the synod is collaborating with local partners to repair and rebuild homes damaged by the tornadoes and flooding. The grants from Lutheran Disaster Response are being used for construction material and labor costs.

 

 

Be part of the response:

Pray
Please pray for people who have been affected by the tornadoes and flooding in Kentucky over the past year. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Give
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 survivors of Hurricane Ian and other disasters 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.
  • Download the situation report and share as a PDF.

European fuel shortage: Refugees and hosts face a challenging winter

“Energy blackmail”

The European Union is a world leader when it comes to replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. The World Economic Forum reported early in 2022 that the EU had “passed another milestone in the race towards a zero-carbon future,” sourcing 22 percent of its energy from renewables in 2020 – ahead of the 20% target the bloc had set in 2009.

But that won’t be enough to keep Europe warm this winter, as a fuel crisis the likes of which hasn’t been seen since World War II grips the continent.

Officials have warned of potential rolling blackouts, manufacturing disruptions and economic fallout from the natural gas shortage, a direct consequence of the war in Ukraine. Prior to the war, Russia supplied around 40 percent of the natural gas used to heat European homes, businesses and houses of worship. In response to Western sanctions, Russia has severely slowed delivery of natural gas to the continent in a move some have called “energy blackmail.”

The Russian supply of natural gas to Europe has fallen nearly 90 percent since this time last year. The shortage, coupled with inflation, rising costs for electricity, and a shortage of hydroelectric power due to drought, creates something of a perfect storm as temperatures fall and demand rises. There have even been reports of people hoarding wood to burn for warmth.

 

The church prays for warmth

Pastor Lukasz Ostruszka and his family with Svetlana (left), one of the refugees from Ukraine who is staying in the Lutheran parish in Krakow.

For churches and others hosting refugees from Ukraine – some 7 million have left the country to find safety elsewhere in Europe – the impact will be compounded. In Krakow, Poland, for example, a Lutheran congregation has had a dozen families living in its parish hall for more than six months. Their utilities costs had already increased significantly due to the additional use of water, electricity and natural gas. Pastor Lukasz Ostruszka says he’s praying for a warm winter.

“Our government says everything will be okay, we will have gas, we have a plan,” he says. He laughs a bit. “They don’t have gas. They don’t have a plan. Warm winter, that’s the only hope.” Pr. Lukasz says he tries not to worry about it, though, since he has so many other things to worry about. “I hope God will help us,” he says.

“It will be a big problem,” says the Rev. Marta Bolba, pastor of Mandak House, a Lutheran congregation in Budapest, Hungary. “They’re saying the bills for heating will be seven times higher than normal. It’s not a poor people’s problem, it’s really the whole society; how can we pay our own bills?”

 

A sustainable future

Wind turbines in a field

Wind turbines in Slovakia.

European leaders met in early October to begin discussing possible mitigation strategies and will meet again later this month.

The crisis, says the United Nations, “underscores the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels.”

“As long as energy security is tied to oil and gas, it will remain susceptible to market volatility and price shocks,” says a recent report from UN Women. “And the role of fossil fuels in agricultural production and distribution—for example, natural gas’s role in the production of nitrogen-based fertilizers—means that oil price shocks also drive increased volatility in food prices.” This means it’s not just the Europeans trying to stay warm through the winter months who are suffering the consequences of the shortage. Its effects are being felt around the world, most acutely in the poorest nations.

While this church would welcome an increased sense of urgency globally to break our collective reliance on fossil fuels, we also recognize that such a change won’t come quickly. As we pray for, and work toward, a more sustainable future, we walk alongside our partners in Europe as they face a difficult winter.

 

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: Pakistan Flooding

Situation:A map of Asia with Pakistan highlighted in blue.

Since June 2022, Pakistan has experienced historic monsoon weather, with rainfall leading to torrential flooding. The flooding is causing a widespread humanitarian crisis, with people losing homes, crops and livestock. Millions of people are displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance, such as food, temporary shelter, health services and other supplies.

 

 

 

A makeshift shelter made of wooden poles and tarps.

A makeshift shelter in Pakistan. Photo: Community World Service Asia

 

 

 

Response:

Lutheran Disaster Response is contributing to an appeal from ACT Alliance to address the monsoon flooding in Pakistan. The implementing partner, Community World Service Asia (CWSA) will provide cash assistance so impacted families can buy food and other needs. CWSA is also setting up mobile health clinics to address health needs and will help communities build the capacity to construct flood-resilient homes. The homes are being built by local laborers involved as part of a cash for work program.


Be part of the response:

Pray
Please pray for people who have been affected by the flooding in Pakistan. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Give
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 (Lutheran Disaster Response-International) will be used to assist survivors of the flooding and other disasters 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.
  • Download the situation report and share as a PDF.

Eastern Europe Partner Spotlight: L’Arche

As Russian forces advanced on his town in Ukraine’s heavily contested Donbass region, a group of friends helped to save Igor Gusev’s life.

Born with cerebral palsy, Igor has lived independently with some limited support and the companionship of a beloved black cat. His community shunned him, but for the efforts of his few friends.

A photo of Igor Gusez in his wheelchair in a garden.

Igor Gusev fled Ukraine after the invasion by Russia and is now living in Poland.

As bombing and violence approached his home, Igor’s friends packed him and just a bit of luggage into a car and headed west.

While Igor sadly had to leave his pet behind, he found new friends – and support – in the L’Arche community in Poznan, Poland. The Polish L’Arche communities have rapidly transformed themselves into a network of emergency care for people living with disabilities and their caregivers.

Igor’s disability is physical, but he appreciates the care he receives for the soul, too. “In L’Arche I met sincere love, peace…and respect,” Igor said.

For most of his life, he has moved independently by crawling on his four limbs. His fully functioning left hand allows him to dress himself or hold a cup of coffee. Escaping a war, however, proved far more difficult to achieve independently. L’Arche’s nearly six decades of experience indicate that people like Igor have a greater challenge fleeing disasters like war, and finding access to services.

A volunteer organization in Poland came across Igor and, once understanding his needs, asked if L’Arche could help. L’Arche was able to find a place for Igor even as L’Arche Poland’s communities filled with refugees. He likes to live as independently as possible, but he reluctantly asked his new L’Arche friends for help moving around a house not fully adapted for someone in a wheelchair. L’Arche is making sure Igor and many others get needed care.

L’Arche’s two communities in Ukraine have also been helping people fleeing war have a safe space to land and, in many cases, to continue to nearby countries hosting refugees. In Lithuania and Poland, the communities have also opened their doors, with even staff and volunteers hosting guests from Ukraine in their homes.

L’Arche communities in Poland have joined other local organizations to craft a tapestry of services aimed at supporting people with disabilities and their caregivers.

“In [the] Wroclaw community we have created a day-care place where every mother who needs at least a few hours of respite will be able to safely leave her child and take care of other urgent matters for her own and their good,” L’Arche Poland National Leader Agnieszka Karolak said.

You can find out more about the work of L’Arche around the world on their website.


Your gifts to Eastern Europe Crisis Response are supporting partners like L’Arche in eight countries, including Ukraine. Thank you!

A History of Welcome

When war came to Ukraine and desperate people began streaming across the international borders in the frigid days of late winter and early spring, the Rev. Miroslav Mató knew he and the members of his parish would be called upon to help. 

Located in Gerlachov, a small village in Slovakia about 200 miles from the Ukrainian border, Rev. Mató and his wife, Rev. Jana Matóva, prepared to offer refuge.

Rev. Miroslav Mató with some of the refugees from Ukraine that his congregation in Slovakia is hosting.

“Our congregation has three buildings that were used for summer camps for youth,” he explained. “We decided to provide these as houses for refugees … We had almost 100 refugees traveling through our congregation in a few days, and 41 of them are staying for a longer term, saying they are wanting to stay here until the war is over.”

The outpouring of generosity from parishioners has been nothing short of miraculous, Rev. Mató said, with people helping refugees from Ukraine find jobs, enroll children in school and access medical care. 

“In these two months, I could see more miracles than in all my life,” he said. “People were helping, they opened their hearts to help, and I could see more and more love than I ever have before.” 

The chance to offer refuge to neighbors in need, he told his parishioners, was an opportunity to put their faith into practice. 

“I can see a lot of God’s love in this situation,” he said.  “As I preached in my sermon [at the beginning of the war], we can now in practice show what we have studied and learned theoretically, we have an opportunity to show it in real life. God is helping us and when we are at the end of our strength, He has always answered our prayers.”

Another Lutheran pastor in Slovakia, the Rev. Michal Belanji, recalls immigrating from Serbia with his parents as a teen, to escape the war that tore apart his home country in the 1990s. The church was there for his family in their time of need, he said. Today, his church in Janoskov is hosting 38 refugees from Ukraine. 

“We help because we were helped,” he said. “It’s the reason why we are here.” 

All over the region, Lutherans have opened their hearts, homes, churches and communities to people fleeing the war in Ukraine. According to data from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), as of June 21, approximately 2.8 million of the 8 million people who fled at the start of the war are still in neighboring countries. Others have either moved on to other countries or returned home to Ukraine. Poland is currently hosting 1.2 million of those refugees; Slovakia 79,000 and Hungary 25,000. 

 

A Lutheran Legacy

The Lutheran legacy of welcome goes back a long way.  

“When the Lutheran World Federation was established 75 years ago, in the whole of Europe there was a refugee crisis after World War II,” explained the Rev. Tamás Fabiny, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary (ELCH). “People had to leave their country and go to a different place. So that is already part of our identity … to be a Lutheran is to welcome refugees.”

Rev. Tamás Fabiny (far right), ELCH Bishop, with a volunteer teacher at a school for Ukrainian children in the basement of the ELCH offices in Budapest.

Lutherans in the U.S. established a ministry of welcome in the era of World War II, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), founded in 1939. LIRS resettled more than 30,000 refugees from Germany and elsewhere in Europe in the aftermath of the war, and has since assisted more than 500,000 refugees from all over the world to rebuild their lives in the U.S.

While the current situation in Ukraine is creating the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, other conflicts over the years have also led people to seek refuge and provided opportunities for the church to live out its ministry of welcome. An attempted Hungarian uprising against communism in 1956 led nearly 300,000 people to leave the country, Fabiny said, and many of those people built new lives in Austria, Germany, and even the United States thanks to the welcome of Lutherans. 

“I had the opportunity to visit several of these Lutheran communities,” he said, and “people told me how wonderful it was that they were received by families who gave them shelter, helped them find a job, or the church was opened for them. So we know what it is to be a displaced person because hundreds of thousands of people left Hungary in ‘56.”

The end of the Cold War and the Romanian revolution in 1989 also brought refugees to Hungary, he said, as did the Balkan war in the early 1990s, and the civil war in Syria in 2015. When he put out a video statement in support of welcoming refugees, as part of a 2017 UNHCR campaign, however, he received a great deal of backlash for his message. The political climate in Hungary had become more hostile toward refugees, he said, and his message of welcome was not well received by the general public. 

But part of his role as a church leader, he says, is to speak out against injustice, following in the footsteps of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is important for the church not only to act in service to our neighbors, he says, but also to pray and reflect on our calling as Christians to work for peace and serve our neighbors. 

“We have to reflect theologically on war and peace,” he says. “We had to learn from the Nazi time when many churches were supporting Hitler theologically. There were just a few, like Bonhoeffer, who criticized [Hitler]. I think it is very important for us as a church to have prayers, of course, and also theological reflection. Action should come after that.”

 

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: Mass Shootings in the U.S.

Buffalo, NY

Situation:

On May 14, a mass shooting occurred in a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, NY. 10 people were killed and three others were injured in the racially-motivated attack.

Response:

The Upstate New York Synod, with support from Lutheran Disaster Response, is partnering with VOICE Buffalo, an organization addressing peace, reconciliation, and trauma counseling. The synod will hire a coordinator to work on a new-start mission with VOICE Buffalo, called “Community of Good Neighbors.”

From the ELCA’s statement on the mass shooting: “Our hearts grieve for those who have been killed and our souls cry out against more lives lost to the hatred birthed by racism. As we mourn those lives lost as a result of the racially motivated killings in Buffalo, we ask God to ease the continued suffering and trauma of our Black siblings throughout the nation and in our church. We are one body in Christ, so when one part suffers, we all suffer.”

Uvalde, TX

Situation:

On May 24, a mass shooting occurred at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX. 19 students and two adults lost their lives. This is the deadliest school shooting in the United States since Sandy Hook in 2012.

Response:

Lutheran Disaster Response is accompanying the Southwest Texas Synod, in which Uvalde is located. The synod can use the solidarity grant to provide emotional and spiritual care to the Uvalde community through ELCA chaplains and other clergy, offer financial support for funeral services and participate in prayer and healing activities.

From the ELCA’s statement on the school shooting: “We reaffirm our commitment in calling for greater gun safety, including preventing easy access to assault-style weapons and strengthening our federal system of background checks for all gun sales. As people of faith, we hold on to our belief in caring for our neighbors and striving for justice and peace in all the earth.”

Be a part of the response:

Pray

Please pray for people who have been affected by the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Advocate

These shootings call our attention, yet again, to the urgent need to pass legislation that would strengthen background checks for those purchasing deadly weapons in our nation. Action is possible, but our voices are needed now. Call your senator today at 202-224-3121, ask for your senator and urge them to pass bipartisan legislation to expand and require background checks for all gun purchases in our country.

 

Give

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 (LDR-US) will be used to assist the impacted communities.

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.