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Lutheran Disaster Response

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


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.


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


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.


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:


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.


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.



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.

A Recap of the National VOAD Conference

On May 2-5, National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, National VOAD, held its annual conference in Baltimore, MD. Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) is a National VOAD member and has been a strong player in the VOAD movement.

National VOAD 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, there are also VOADs at the state and local levels.

The National VOAD Conference consists of various plenary sessions, interactive workshops, networking opportunities, meals and vendor exhibitions. Due to the pandemic, 2022 was the first year since 2019 that the conference took place in-person and it brought together over 700 participants. On May 4, LDR hosted a dinner to create a space for LDR partners to connect. This year, 19 people representing 13 LDR network partners were present. At the VOAD National Conference Annual Award Dinner, a number of LDR network members were recognized for their work in disaster response:


Representatives from the Pathways Program accept their award.

Innovative Program of the Year – Miami Valley (Ohio) Long-Term Recovery Operations Group Tornado Survivor Pathway to Home Ownership


The Innovative Program of the Year is awarded to a local, regional, state or territory VOAD or a VOAD member organization for exceptional innovation or ingenuity through the development and implementation of a program or project that has:

  1. Provided a long‐term solution to a specific community’s problem utilizing one of the Four C’s of National VOAD (collaboration, cooperation, communication, coordination); or
  2. Created a unique project or program that filled a gap or unmet need in a community in preparing for, responding to, and/or recovering from disasters that positively impacted the lives of victims and could be replicated as a model for other communities.


This program helps families who lost their homes during the Miami Valley tornadoes in May 2019. The Pathways Program builds homes on donated property and renters are given the opportunity to learn how to prepare a mortgage and buy the new homes at market rates, benefiting both the new homeowners and the community. The proceeds are then used to fund the building of the next home. LDR is supporting this program through a grant to County Corp, one of the partners in the project.


Julia Menzo and Jean Peercy with their awards.

State/Territory VOAD of the Year – Pennsylvania VOAD

This award is presented to one of the State/Territorial VOADs that, in the past year, has:

  1. Demonstrated the promotion of optimal effectiveness of voluntary organizations in preparing for, responding to, and/or recovering from disasters;
  2. Increased the growth and strength of the VOAD Movement in their State or Territory; and
  3. Made extraordinary progress in advancing one or more of the Core Four C’s of the VOAD movement.


Pennsylvania Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (PA VOAD) received the National VOAD State/Territory VOAD of the Year Award. Julia Menzo, PA VOAD Vice President, LDR-PA Coordinator, and LDR Eastern Region Facilitator accepted the award along with a team of PA VOAD partners. Starting in 2017 the PA VOAD members worked effectively to support Americans who were forced to evacuate Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. PA VOAD has also assisted with the resettlement of Afghan evacuees and are now preparing to assist refugees from Ukraine who have been displaced due to the war. PA VOAD members are also responding to Hurricane Isaias and Hurricane Ida, along with several other low-attention, undeclared disasters.

One such response is in Eastwick, PA. A predominantly Black community. It has faced major flooding over the years, most recently from Tropical Storm Isaias, with little government support to address the underlying issues that make the area so vulnerable to flood damage. LDR-PA is currently working in the community to address unmet needs and advocate for help from the city of Philadelphia. A story about the Eastwick response can be found on p. 10 of the Fall 2021 issue of LifeLines.

Julia’s leadership and willingness to work alongside others has strengthened the PA VOAD, including LDR’s ability to reach underserved communities. Julia and the PA VOAD have walked alongside these community leaders as they recover after a disaster and become better prepared for future events.


Jean Peercy receives the Spirit Award.

Spirit Award – Jean Peercy, LDR

The Spirit Award is presented annually to an individual, typically a paid staff member, who, in the past year, exhibited outstanding commitment to service, the Four C’s and the VOAD Movement and has:


  1. Exemplified the core purpose of the VOAD Movement by promoting and practicing National VOAD’s core principles of Cooperation, Communication, Coordination, and Collaboration; and/or,
  2. Facilitated increased support of the VOAD movement by developing and maintaining partnerships between voluntary organizations; and/or,
  3. Embodied the passion, dedication, and professionalism of the VOAD Movement.


Jean Peercy is one of the longest tenured and most experienced LDR representatives in the United States and has served disaster-impacted communities in nearly every state and multiple U.S. territories. She has also served in leadership roles in various National VOAD committees, most recently multiple terms as the Chair of the Long-Term Recovery Group Committee. Jean facilitates trainings on topics ranging from muck and gut of disaster damaged dwellings to volunteer management, construction coordination and long-term recovery group development. With her spouse, Dale, “the Peercys” as they are affectionately known, have earned a reputation of being strong and willing support for communities and VOAD partners across the country.

About this award, Jean said “To receive the VOAD Spirit Award is very humbling, especially considering the individuals and agencies that I work with that are involved in the VOAD movement illustrating that spirit every day in their service to others.”


National VOAD Member of the Year – Church World Service

The National VOAD Member of the Year is awarded to one of the National Member Agencies that, in the past year:

  1. Exemplified the core purpose of the VOAD movement, which is to promote Cooperation, Communication, Coordination and Collaboration among voluntary organizations active in disasters within the United States and its territories, and practiced those values;
  2. Facilitated relationships between voluntary organizations and other public and private entities engaged in all phases of disaster planning, response, recovery and mitigation; and
  3. Demonstrated extraordinary support for the mission, goals, and activities of National VOAD.


Church World Service is a longtime partner of LDR. Currently, LDR is supporting CWS’ response in western Kentucky. As written in a CWS press release, “When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last August, CWS was one of the core agencies that helped thousands of Afghans start new lives in the United States. CWS’ VOAD partners mobilized to support and welcome these new arrivals. A few months later, CWS was one of the National VOAD members responding to the deadly tornadoes in Kentucky. The CWS response continues to assist unaccompanied migrant children who were living with families in the Mayfield area through support from local, trusted community service groups. CWS facilitated immediate support for their food, rent, utilities and home repairs and continues to provide long-term financial assistance to impacted immigrant households through the recovery stage.”


These awards demonstrate the scope and depth of disaster response work associated with LDR. Yet, this is only a fraction of where LDR is active within the United States. In 2021, LDR was present in 17 states and territories with a range of projects from preparedness and resilience to immediate relief and long-term recovery. We are grateful for the work of our partners and will continue to accompany them through all phases of disaster response.






Repentance, Reconciliation, Restoration: A Missionary Update from Slovakia

The following is a newsletter update from Rev. Kyle & Ånna Svennungsen, ELCA missionaries in Slovakia.


Greetings dear partners in ministry!

We are writing to you from Bratislava, Slovakia. At Bratislava International Church, our theme for Lent is ‘Walking with Jesus: Repentance, Reconciliation, Restoration.’ This theme was chosen before the war in Ukraine began and it has taken on a whole new meaning in these last four weeks. Not only is there need for repentance, reconciliation, and restoration with our Creator; but also with one another.

Someone once said, “Sometimes in the worst of times, you see the best in people.” Despite how the world aches each day from more news of innocent lives being destroyed in Ukraine, we also see God at work in so many ways as a result of this war. We see people from around the world opening up their homes to Ukrainian refugees. We see donation centers overflowing with goods to be shipped to Ukraine or for refugees to pick up supplies as needed. We see free transportation offered for any Ukrainian refugees from the surrounding countries as they flee in search of safety. This is just a snapshot of the many other efforts we see from so many kind people. It seems the world is certainly walking with the people of Ukraine during these dark days, just like we believe Jesus is walking with them too.

We have been blessed to be able to buy goods and deliver them to donation centers. These donation centers put out new lists daily that call for items of greatest need. Kyle has volunteered at a donation center that organizes thousands of goods from clothing, to toiletries, to non-perishables and more. Some of these goods are shipped directly to Ukraine and other goods shared with refugees in our own community. Many of our friends here have opened up their homes to refugee families, people they’ve never met but happily welcomed. Others in our congregation have paid for hotel rooms that serve as temporary housing for refugee families.

The main train station in Bratislava has an ‘Info Point’ setup for all the Ukrainian refugees arriving there. Ukrainians can travel for free on regional trains and other public transportation in all of the neighboring countries. Some refugees have attended worship with us and we have helped with putting some up in hotel rooms. Many are unsure of where they are going, or where they might want to settle, and are unsure of when and if they will be able to return to their home.

Once they claim refugee status/seek asylum in a country, they cannot leave that country. It is a big decision for refugees to make when they are already overwhelmed from fleeing their war torn country. Many are mothers with children and the elderly who have just left behind the men in their life; husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles, etc. These people are simply overwhelmed and exhausted. At the train station, they often collapse from pure exhaustion as they exit the trains. There is always a crisis team available to help with psychological and medical needs. At the Info Point, there are also people from the city office ready to offer assistance with housing, legal aid, and information about the city and the immigration process. A local cell phone company has even offered free SIM cards so refugees can use their cell phones.

There are two waiting rooms designated for the refugees; a family room and a general waiting room. In them are free microwave meals, coffee, tea, mattresses, blankets and more. The family room is mainly for mothers and children to use as they wait for their next train or need a place to spend the night. There are mattresses, travel cribs, high chairs, changing tables, toys, a TV with kids shows and movies, and couches. There are also free clothes, strollers and baby carriers for them to take if they need them. It is a helpful place of rest for these tired mothers and families.

Ånna organized a group from church to clean, disinfect, and organize these waiting rooms. They watched as families came and went, finding hope in the excited faces of children when they saw all the toys. It seemed to be for them a sense of something familiar in an unfamiliar time and place. They were even able to play with the children, and give just a moment’s break to their mothers. It is almost unbelievable for us to imagine what they are going through, but then we witness it with our own eyes. The strength and resilience we see in these mothers is truly inspiring. The bravery of the men who stay behind to defend their country, their home, leaves us in awe. We’ve heard their stories first-hand and see them walking with Jesus in bold ways. But most of all, we see Jesus in them and their experience, and our call to walk with them.

As we journey through the rest of this Lenten season, we invite you to notice with us all the ways in which the Ukrainian people walk with and embody Jesus. Be bold in your own response to walk with and embody Jesus for those in need in your community too. And most of all, we invite you to join us in unceasing prayer for peace to rise from the ashes of this war as soon as possible. Pray with us that leaders may see reason and the extreme toll this is taking on so many innocent people. Thank you for your concern and prayers. Your support carries us through each day. Know that even though we do it 5,000 miles apart, we are walking with you through this trying time and praying for you every step of the way.



Lutheran Disaster Response is responding to the humanitarian crisis in Eastern Europe in partnership with the Lutheran World Federation and other local and global partners.

Situation Report: Ukraine and Eastern Europe Crisis


On Feb. 24, armed conflict broke out between Russia and Ukraine, causing a humanitarian crisis. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 2 million people are seeking refuge in neighboring countries, including Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova. There are major humanitarian concerns for both internally displaced people and refugees.



Lutheran Disaster Response is supporting these member churches through Lutheran World Federation:

  • German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine
  • Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland
  • Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia
  • Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in Romania


The churches are distributing food, bedding and hygiene items, as well as providing pastoral care and assisting Roma communities and foreign nationals. Additional responses through partners in these countries and others in the region are expected in the coming weeks and months.



Be a part of the response:

Please pray for people who have been impacted by the crisis in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. 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 (Eastern Europe Crisis Response) will be used in full (100%) to assist those impacted by the war in Ukraine.

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.

Situation Report: Colorado Wildfires


On Dec. 30, the Marshall Fire ignited in Boulder County, Colo. Over 6,200 acres burned quickly, forcing the evacuations of 35,000 people. The fire spread throughout suburban neighborhoods, destroying nearly 1,000 homes. While December wildfires are rare, the severe drought in the western United States created hazardous conditions that allowed the Marshall Fire to spread rapidly. This unusual fire is one of the impacts of a changing climate and will become increasingly more common.


The Rocky Mountain Synod is collaborating with pastors and congregations impacted by the fires to develop a coordinated response and mobilize resources for communities. Lutheran Disaster Response, the Rocky Mountain Synod and Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains will continue to accompany impacted communities during the years of recovery ahead.




Be a part of the response:

Please pray for people who have been affected by the wildfires in Colorado. 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 (U.S. Wildfires) will be used in full (100%) to assist wildfire survivors.

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.