When I visited areas decimated by the May tornadoes near Oklahoma City with the Lutheran Disaster Response team last week, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the destruction, particularly in the city of Moore.

A familiar scene on the streets of Moore, OK.

A familiar scene on the streets of Moore, OK.

Tributes paid to tornaodes victims at the site of Plaza Towers Elementary School, one of the two elementary schools destroyed on May 20.

Tributes paid to tornaodes victims at Plaza Towers Elementary School, which was destroyed on May 20.

Yet destruction does not have the last word; stories of courage, resilience and signs of human kindness are everywhere.

St. John Lutheran Church is located in Shawnee, about 30 miles east of Oklahoma City. The destructive path of the tornadoes came through Shawnee on Sunday, May 19, killing two residents and destroying nearly 100 homes. Fortunately, neither the congregation nor its members were affected. But when we visited Pastor Karen Fowler-Lindemulder and some leaders of St. John, they spoke passionately about the losses and sufferings of their neighbors and how they were “forgotten” by the media because the destruction in Shawnee was relatively “smaller scale.” Immediately after the event, members of the congregation rose up and volunteered at a local congregation that has set up a disaster relief operation. Working alongside other community volunteers, they delivered relief supplies to numerous survivors and were often amazed by their sense of self-reliance and resilience. 

Located just a few miles from the EF5 tornado’s path, Trinity Lutheran Church of Oklahoma City escaped damage but five member families lost their homes. Another seven families with close ties to the church also had severe damage to their homes. But when we visited with Pastor Roger Bruns, he did not dwell on the losses but spoke of the faith and courage of the survivors. One of the survivors was a teacher at Briarwood Elementary schools, which was destroyed by the twisters. She was injured while trying to protect her students, was taken by ambulance to the hospital, treated and released. She and her young children with special needs are now staying in temporary housing. Another member whose house was demolished by the storms managed to stay on top of her young children to protect them when the storm passed. These two families are now sharing the same temporary housing. 

Pastor Michael Stadie (left) Program Director of Lutheran Disaster Response, Pastor Roger Bruns of Trinity Lutheran Church at the table that serves meals to volunteers who come to Oklahoma City to help with clean up.

Pastor Michael Stadie (left) Program Director of Lutheran Disaster Response and Pastor Roger Bruns of Trinity Lutheran Church at table that serves meals to volunteers.

While Trinity Lutheran Church is not a large congregation, its members have a deep sense of service to the changing communities around them and have strong partnership with other congregations and community organizations in the area. Immediately after the May 20 event, the congregation partnered with the adjacent May Ave Wesleyan Church and other small not-for-profit organizations to provide assistance and relief to those whose lives have been turned upside down. In addition, they are actively working together to host volunteers pouring into the area to help with the clean up. We are grateful for the ministries of these congregations. 

Between June 24 and June 28, Camp Noah will conduct a summer camp for children impacted at University Lutheran Church in Norman. On June 28, Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson will visit people and congregations in the Oklahoma City areas affected by the tornadoes.

Lutheran Disaster Response, working closely with the Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod and the Lutheran Social Services of the South are actively assessing needs in the areas.  In collaboration with our partners and government agencies, we will determine the best ways to help those impacted over the long haul.  But we are already in action.  Please continue to keep those impacted by the storms  in your prayers and join us in sharing God’s hope and renewal.

For more information about Lutheran Disaster Response, please look to our webpage: www.elca.org/disaster

To donate, please click: https://community.elca.org/page.aspx?pid=840