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Lutheran Disaster Response

Healing Amidst Turmoil


Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.” 
Psalm 30:2 

Caring for the Caretakers

For decades, the Middle East has been a region of tumult. Civil wars, political instability, and an increased number of refugees and displaced peoples have impacted millionsIn countries like Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, the majority of the population has been affected by some kind of strife. The collective trauma of the region was a sign to the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), an ecumenical partner of the ELCA, that there was a need for help.  

Leaders in the MECC saw how the turmoil in the Middle East negatively affected the emotional wellbeing of people across the region. In 2018, the Theological and Ecumenical Department of the MECC began a Trauma Healing and Spiritual Counseling program to address the mental health issues in communities throughout multiple countries. A few months after the program began, Lutheran Disaster Response began supporting its development. 

However, healing as a community begins with individualsAs one of the participants statedWe need to be healed at a personal level. Without the [program] I would have run away from the problem.”To address personal emotional and spiritual health, the program had three main objectives: provide psychological, moral, and spiritual healing to participants, provide training to identify strategies and coping mechanisms to respond to trauma, and build a network among ministers and laypeople from different contexts to share their experiences with each otherBecause clergy are often in the position of counseling and supporting those who have experienced trauma yet have no one to turn to in dealing with their own mental health, developing techniques to manage their personal trauma was an important first step in helping entire faith communities heal. 

Addressing Trauma

Since 2018, the ongoing Trauma Healing and Spiritual Counseling program has held multiple workshops throughout the Middle East, originally targeting ordained ministers and later expanding to include laypeopleAs faith leaders, they were able to develop their mindsets to better serve their communities. When asked about the workshop, faith leader said it was new experience, as if I was in a spiritual exercise. I felt that it was important to build myself for the sake of my internal peace. I learned how to transfer the information to the others and how to make decisions without hesitation.  

Workshops last five to six days and have group sessions that include an Introduction to Stress Symptoms and Traumas, Emotional Maturity, Emotional Support, Spiritual Accompaniment, Art and Music Therapy, and Physical Activity. Later iterations included one-on-one sessions to work through personal anxieties. 

The array of sessions took varied approaches to address different aspects of trauma, how to work through them and how to build resilience. “I started to better hear what is going on inside me, to think of others, especially my children. I started to feel my ability to confront. I learned to absorb anger,” said one participant. “The sessions – the personal and group sessions – helped to empty myself and to listen well. 

During post-workshop evaluations, many participants voiced similar reactions. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive as faith leaders expressed a new understanding of the trauma they experienced and how to navigate it: “I learned not to exert too much on oneself and to elevate my self-esteem. I learned to take the initiative towards others, but with continuous self-care,” expressed another participant.

Not only does this counseling program support faith leaders that have experienced trauma, but it also gives them the skills they need to go back and assist their communitiesParticipants were invited to follow-up Training of Trainers workshops to help them engage with those who might come to them for guidanceAccording to Father Gaby Hachem, director of the Theological and Ecumenical Department, many groups are still in contact with one another and have participated in follow-up virtual programs.  

Adapting to New Challenges

With each new workshop, the program evolved. Participants expanded beyond rostered ministers to nuns and laypeople. The first workshops were in Iraq and later ones were in Syria and Egypt. Then, COVID-19 hit, and travel and in-person gatherings were out of the question. While new workshops were postponed, the team continued online follow-up with past participants. The previously planned sessions will continue once travel is viable again, says Hachem. 

In the midst of the pandemic, tragedy struck again in LebanonOn August 4th, a set of explosions in the port of Beirut damaged the city for miles and killed 190 people. It shook the city to the core. “The Trauma Healing and Spiritual Counseling team could not but think of all these people and what could be done to help them,” Hachem said after the explosion. “Many MECC contacts who know about the program are calling for the demand to help in this aspect.” 

A new program is being developed by the team, targeting youth in Beirut. The goals of these workshops are to help participants understand the disaster and accepting the resulting trauma and the impacts of losing loved ones and property. A group of psychotherapists, pastors, and nuns have already been recruited to guide and support participants. Additionally, the youth will receive training on how to accompany their peers on their healing journeys.  

“Our participation was meant by God”

As turbulence continues in the Middle East, the transformative value of the Trauma Healing and Spiritual Counseling program is clear. As one participant stated, “Before the workshop, I was nervous; I used to shout without listening. The workshop gave me a balance within myself. The emptiness and the worries inside me were removed. After the workshop I discovered that I could help [others].” 

As participants face their trauma and start to understand their emotions, they can begin a journey of resilienceThe experience allowed participants to reframe how they thought about daily problems and approach them from a different angle. I gained the audacity, courage and self-trust to speak about what we went through with our friends and people,” expressed a participantOur participation was meant by God.” With continuous self-care, faith leaders will be in a healthier mindset to continue their pastoral roles in helping their communities heal. By taking mental health seriously and building a network of support throughout the Middle East, the MECC is bringing God’s hope and renewal to communities throughout the region.  


2020 Hurricane Anniversary Reports


In the midst of a record-setting hurricane season, we are reminded of past events of devastation. In 2017, Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma impacted the Caribbean and the Gulf Coast of the United States. Hurricanes Florence and Michael hit the southeast U.S. in 2018, and last year, Hurricane Dorian struck the Caribbean.  Click on the anniversary reports below to read more about Lutheran Disaster Response’s work following the major hurricanes from the past three years.


Hurricane Sandy: Volunteer Stories from Eastern PA

In the US, Lutheran Disaster Response carries out our recovery work through a network of 39 affiliates located across the country. These affiliates are really the major strength of our program, allowing us to respond locally from a local perspective. One of these affiliates in Pennsylvania is Liberty Lutheran, whose disaster ministry Lutheran Disaster Response – Eastern Pennsylvania, has been helping coordinate volunteers in response to Hurricane Sandy and flooding from last year’s Hurricane Irene/Tropical Storm Lee.

To help share about this work they recently sent out a great print piece highlighting some of their volunteers and why they dedicate the time. It’s a quick read that really gets at the heart of why we’re engaged in this vital and active ministry. Check it out below and follow the links to learn more about the individual stories.

Since the devastating impacts of Hurricane Sandy, many generous volunteers and donors have come forward to help Lutheran Disaster Response, Eastern Pa., (LDR-EPA) make a vital difference in the lives of our neighbors who were affected.

Here are just a few examples of people who are working hard to assist those in need:

Scot - LDR-EPA For Scot Guldin, volunteering with LDR-EPA has brought his family closer. “We often take time out after volunteering to do some scripture reading and reflect on the day. My daughters are very good, sharing people, and I think it’s because of experiences like this” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Click here to read more about Scot

Ken - LDR-EPAAfter Hurricane Sandy, Ken Nygard wanted to help, so he joined LDR-EPA volunteers for a full day of cleaning up homes in Bucks and Montgomery County. “I enjoyed connecting with other people who wanted to do good. It was a very rewarding experience. I felt like I was a part of a solution.” Ken said.

Click here to read more about Ken

Stan - LDR-EPA Stan Wilhelmson volunteers locally with LDR-EPA, and has traveled places such as Mississippi and Tennessee. “These disasters are acts of nature. We become the acts of God,” he said.

Click here to read more about Stan


Learn more: Lutheran Disaster Response – Eastern Pennsylvania

New Resource: Hurricane Sandy Situation Report #3

A new situation report giving an update on the situation in the northeastern United States and Caribbean as well as the ELCA’s response is now available. Some of the highlights are the joint Lutheran World Federation-ELCA delegation which visited New York and New Jersey in late November/early December as well as the strong outpouring of support from ELCA members, with donations topping $2.4 million. Please help us spread the word of how the ELCA is engaged in the response and what people can do to help.

Here is a link for your convenience: Hurricane Sandy Situation Report #3 (January 11, 2013)

Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond domestically and internationally in times of need. Donate now.

Hurricane Sandy: The Art of Giving & Receiving Thanks

On the way to work this morning I heard a really great report on NPR about the ways people are supporting the response on the East Coast to Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy. It was discussing how in-kind, material gifts are handled and how they affect the process. The overall point of the report was that even though in-kind, material donations are a great sign of the amazing giving nature of people in this country they may effect relief efforts in unintended ways.

One of the main reasons for this is that without knowing the specific needs of those affected by disaster in-kind gifts like water, food and clothing may not end up being needed but will still have to be sorted, processed and stored. Running the risk of taking away energies from other relief efforts. Also, many of the organizations who are carrying out the relief and eventual recovery efforts are also able to acquire better deals for needed items because of bulk purchasing and special agreements with vendors. In the end the article lifts up that financial contributions, though seemingly less tangible, actually are the most useful type of support.

The report also had a short piece at the end about a woman who was looking for a way to say thank you to the National Guardsmen who had helped her after she found out her home was destroyed. When she asked what she could do to thank them, they said nothing, that they were happy to help. So she decided to share the gift of homemade baked goods as a way of expressing thanks. This highlighted for me an important point for those who choose to give of their time by volunteering after a disaster.

As we help those affected by disaster, part of responding to the whole person is giving them the space and ways to give thanks. This is not to say we are to demand, nor even to expect, expressions of thanks, but that by giving someone the space to give thanks when they request it is actually allowing them a way to feel a part of their own recovery. For many the gift of being able to give proper thanks will mean as much to them in their recovery process as the fixed roof over their head, new clothing and/or restored power. I think it is one of the deepest and most difficult ways we are called by Christ to be neighbor.

Please take time to read/listen to the report and to think about how we can all best support the efforts on the East Coast and following future disasters. Want To Help Sandy Victims? Send Cash, Not Clothes (NPR, November 16, 2012)

Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond domestically and internationally in times of need. Donate now.

Minot, ND: Field Report

This is Pastor Michael Stadie, Program Director for Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR).

Last week I returned from a week-long visit to the Minot, North Dakota area. As you know, the area was profoundly impacted by flooding in June of 2011. (Please see the previous blog post from Matthew Ley about the One-Year Anniversary events.)

While there, I had the opportunity to see the work going on at Hope Village, the volunteer and construction site for the rebuilding efforts by our affiliate, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSSND), and other partners. Shirley Dykshoorn is the LDR coordinator for LSSND. While the actual volunteer housing portion of Hope Village is going on hiatus, the work will continue through the winter months with volunteers staying at “satellite” sites—area congregations. Shirley and her staff are doing a great job working at making sure the volunteers and materials are coming together to efficiently help with the rebuilding process.

While progress is being made, there is still a great need for rebuilding; something that will continue for several more years. There is a special need for skilled construction workers, especially electricians and plumbers. And what is true in Minot is also true for most of the other reconstruction sites—more skilled laborers would help more families move back into their homes.

During my time there, I also made these observations:

  • This flood is unique in that it impacted every quadrant of the city.
  • The way the river flows through the city means the flood impacted many neighborhoods that are isolated from one another. For many reasons, this slows the long term recovery process.
  • Because of the above reasons, as well as some others, the long term recovery process will take longer than most flooding events.
  • Lutheran Disaster Response will need to encourage volunteer teams to work in the Minot area for a longer time than normal.

Despite the challenges, there is hope shining through, literally. The New York Says Thank You Foundation work includes asking children to make “Stars of Hope.” Children from the Minot have made stars which been put on stakes and “planted” all around the area as a symbol of hope and encouragement. These multicolored stars not only brighten up the streets, they put a smile on the face of those driving through the areas still under construction as a reminder there is indeed hope, something that the people of Minot and the surrounding area live each day.