Sisters and brothers in Christ,
I am Kevin Massey, Program Director of Lutheran Disaster Response. My colleague Mike Nevergall and I are in Alabama this week to see the extent of the damage from the tornadoes of April 27 and to meet with local Lutherans and others in the affected communities.
When we arrived in Birmingham, I was pleased to meet Ron and Heather Turney, leaders with Lutheran Ministries of Alabama. Lutheran Ministries will play a key role in the long-term recovery projects here. It was also a pleasure to share a meal with disaster response partners from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, including my colleague and friend Rev. Carlos Hernandez, Director for Districts and Congregations.
Driving north from Birmingham to the town of Cullman, I was struck by the natural beauty of this area with its rolling hills, spring flowers, and emerald green trees. But as is the case with tornadoes, we quickly spotted areas where trees had been sheared off and stripped clean by one of the dozens of tornadoes that happened here. It reminded me of our recent trip to Wadena, Minnesota and how, even after homes are rebuilt and businesses have reopened, these stripped trees will be a visible scar of what happened here for many years to come.
When I learned that the tornadoes had destroyed an ELCA church building, I had called the pastor of that congregation, Pastor Sandy Niiler, shared with her our support and prayers, and promised to personally visit with her soon. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to do so. We were joined in Cullman by Pastor Deb Halter, who will be taking on a role with the ELCA’s Southeastern Synod of spiritual and emotional support for the pastors and others affected by these disasters.
Tiptoeing through the debris and rubble of Christ Lutheran Church, I spotted a copy of the ELCA’s “Haiti: One Year Later” update. Pastor Niiler explained that the congregation had prayed for the people of Haiti as part of their Lenten discipline. I was touched by how this congregation had been thinking about their neighbors affected by disasters, without knowing that they would soon experience one themselves.
We stood in the choir loft, virtually all that remains of the building, and looked out over the debris field and the surrounding town. Pastor Niiler pointed out where the pulpit and altar used to stand. Only a fraction of what was Christ Lutheran is still standing, but miraculously, an historic stained glass window of “Christ the Good Shepherd” was undamaged. As we celebrate Christ the Good Shepherd this coming Sunday, it comforted me to see the image of Christ gently cradling the little lamb, just as he now holds this community in his tender embrace. The congregation hopes to incorporate the window someday into a new worship space.
What can you do now? First, please pray for the people here, for their patience and strength, for their emotional and spiritual health. Second, whether by e-mail or on Facebook, share this story with a friend and encourage them to pray as well. Third, I ask you to consider giving a gift to the Lutheran Disaster Response “U.S. Severe Storms” fund, and we will make sure that it gets to those who need it most. Finally, we know that volunteers will be needed here at some point in the near future. Stay tuned for further details about what that will look like.
Thank you for your prayers and support… together, we are Lutheran Disaster Response!
Rev. Kevin Massey