Pastor Kathy Redpath standing next to the previous site of Peace Lutheran Church.

This is Pastor Michael Stadie, Program Director for Lutheran Disaster Response with another field report.

Last week, I spent two days in Joplin, Missouri. Duane Moudy and Jim Eckrich from Lutheran Family and Children’s Services (LFCS) of Missouri were my hosts. While there are not many Lutherans in the Joplin area, Duane’s work in the community has raised the visibility of Lutheran Disaster Response a great deal; Duane is a key player in the Joplin Recovery efforts. Jim, a long time LDR Coordinator manages the Disaster Case Management Contract for LFCS. LFCS has subcontracted with several other agencies to provide these services.

Driving through the areas impacted by the May 2011 tornado, one can easily see Joplin is in full rebuilding mode. Many homes and businesses have been rebuilt; and there is a lot of construction work going on all over the impacted area. But interspersed among the completed homes are many empty lots and even whole blocks that have weeds growing up on them. Duane shared that most of these lots were rental homes where the landlord decided not to rebuild.

To address the need for affordable housing, the focus of the rebuilding efforts by most organizations is on helping low income families become homeowners. It is exciting to see the partnerships that have developed and how they positively impact the lives of so many people for generations to come by helping them to own their own home.

In this phase of the recovery and rebuilding process, the reconstruction groups are experiencing a common problem shared by other communities in their recovery: the need for skilled construction workers. While unskilled and semiskilled volunteers are still needed, plumbers, electricians, and other licensed workers are especially needed to assist in the rebuilding.

I also spent some time with Pastor Kathy Redpath, who is serving Peace Lutheran Church, a congregation whose building was completely destroyed by the tornado. Pastor Kathy and the people of Peace Lutheran have come to understand that a church is not a building, but the people. Just prior to my visit, the congregation learned that for a variety of reasons, they will not be able to rebuild on their current site. This means some difficult decisions will need to be made in the days ahead around the location of their new building.

As Pastor Kathy spoke of the hope the congregation has in the future, I was reminded of the story of the people of Israel who spent 40 years in the wilderness waiting to enter the Promised Land. Israel knew they could not return to Egypt, yet they were not exactly sure where they were going or when they would get there. Likewise, Peace Lutheran cannot return to their previous site and they are not sure where they will rebuild nor when construction will start. But they know God is with them in their journey and at work guiding them into the future. Please keep the people of Peace Lutheran in your prayers as they go through this “wilderness” time.