Fort Collins, Colo., congregation helps 1,200 evacuees

By Paula Schlueter Ross

“Through it all, God is good!” says the Rev. Tim Runtsch, senior pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, Colo., whose congregation is reaching out to help their neighbors in a big way in the wake of raging floodwaters that washed away roads, bridges, homes, businesses — even some towns.

DCE Donna Patton of Peace with Christ Lutheran Church, Aurora, Colo., helps the Rev. Tim Runtsch, senior pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Collins, Colo., unload a case of bottled water Sept. 15. Members of Peace with Christ sent a truck with nearly 17,000 pounds of supplies to Fort Collins to help people who were displaced by floodwaters. (Redeemer Lutheran Church)

DCE Donna Patton of Peace with Christ Lutheran Church, Aurora, Colo., helps the Rev. Tim Runtsch, senior pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Collins, Colo., unload a case of bottled water Sept. 15. Members of Peace with Christ sent a truck with nearly 17,000 pounds of supplies to Fort Collins to help people who were displaced by floodwaters. (Redeemer Lutheran Church)

Wearing their purple Redeemer shirts, members helped operate and staff — Sept. 12-20 — a Red Cross shelter in Fort Collins for some 1,200 people who were evacuated from their homes. The congregation is now housing — through mid-October — 200 Red Cross and FEMA workers.

The majority of those arriving at the Red Cross shelter were rescued by helicopter from their mountain homes and cabins, and many brought along their pets, including a miniature horse. “Most of them are coming, literally, with maybe a backpack filled with stuff,” said Runtsch. “If you’re pulled out of your house by [helicopter] cable, you can’t bring much.”

Only about 30-40 slept overnight at the shelter. To most, it was a love-filled refuge where they could get a home-cooked meal, take a hot shower and pick up a “go bag” of toiletries, clothing and other supplies before moving on to stay with relatives and friends. Redeemer members “[came] out in droves, probably an average of 50 to 60 volunteers a day, giving 8 or 10 hours” to the effort, according to the pastor.

During his first day assisting at the shelter, Runtsch said he heard “powerful, heart-wrenching stories.”

A group of five people, he said, were “camped out in the rain on a sandbar in the middle of a rushing river for days, hoping to be rescued.”

Another evacuee, a 60-year-old man from Philadelphia, had been visiting his son and his family at their home near Drake, Colo. — a town that “virtually no longer exists,” according to Runtsch. “They could not get out before the road washed away. He was evacuated with his son and family” on Sept. 16.

But those sad experiences have been tempered by the goodness of others, the pastor adds. For example, Peace with Christ Lutheran Church in Aurora, Colo., filled a moving truck with “much-needed supplies” — water, blankets, diapers, clothing and other items, “then brought it up our way,” about an hour’s drive north. “It’s great when the body of Christ works together,” he said. Those items — which totaled nearly 17,000 pounds — are being distributed to those who need them.

Since the weekend of Sept. 14-15, Redeemer has raised more than $20,000 — with more contributions arriving daily. The funds will be used, Runtsch said, “in the long-term recovery effort — helping our neighbors get back on their feet, get their houses cleaned out.”

Carol Kriewald, right, a member of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, Colo., accepts a local bakery's donation of bread to the Red Cross shelter in Fort Collins. The shelter provided food, showers, toiletries and other supplies for some 1,200 people who were evacuated from their homes because of flooding. (Redeemer Lutheran Church)

Carol Kriewald, right, a member of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, Colo., accepts a local bakery’s donation of bread to the Red Cross shelter in Fort Collins. The shelter provided food, showers, toiletries and other supplies for some 1,200 people who were evacuated from their homes because of flooding. (Redeemer Lutheran Church)

Runtsch said the congregation plans to “mobilize an army of purple-shirted people” to get out in the neighborhoods and “be the hands and feet of Christ.” He asked for prayers for those with flood damage, and for the Redeemer congregation as it determines “how best to help our neighbors in need.”

At least three LCMS churches — and numerous members — have reported flooding.

Hope Lutheran Church, Aurora, Colo., had minor flooding in its basement, damaging carpeting, drywall and furniture in its main conference room and kitchen. As of Thursday, Sept. 19, the basement had been cleaned.

University Lutheran Chapel, Boulder, Colo., reported “significant leaking” inside its chapel and fellowship hall, damaging carpeting, pews, hymnals and other church items.

Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, Estes Park, Colo., also had some basement flooding. Pastor Rev. Seth Clemmer told Reporter that “pretty much everybody’s basements flooded,” and for some, it’s been “pretty serious, especially now that mold has potentially worked its way into walls.”

A continuing problem for his members, he said, is that “they can’t get in and out” on the damaged roads. “Many have relocated for awhile until the roads are rebuilt,” Clemmer said. “They had to leave all their stuff behind and will be starting over, which is challenging for them.”

The pastor said he heard from the last of his 80 or so members the morning of Sept. 19, which he called “excellent news” since they all are safe.

In spite of washed-out roads, grocery and gasoline trucks had made it into Estes Park since the flooding to replenish supplies, he said, and “everyone in the community is trying to pull together.” Spirits are good among his congregation members, although some flood victims feel “overwhelmed and hopeless” at the prospect of mucking out basements and replacing household items.

“The church’s ongoing message of comfort in all of this has been that the Lord is with us in the midst of our suffering,” he said, adding that he is thankful for the “countless phone calls and emails from LCMS pastors and individuals encouraging us and offering help.”

Two LCMS congregations in Boulder, Colo.Mount Hope and Mount Zion — as well as Messiah in Longmont, Colo., and Immanuel in Loveland, Colo., saw no damage to their church buildings, but several member families have flood damage.

No injuries or deaths among LCMS congregation members have been reported.

The Rev. John Fale, associate executive director of LCMS Mercy Operations, said he expects LCMS Disaster Response staff to make a site visit to Colorado sometime during the week of Sept. 23.

“There is still too much of a mess to get around,” Fale said Sept. 17, as debris continues to block roadways, roads are washed out and some areas remained closed. “The district is still in the process of making contacts with pastors and they, in turn, with their members,” he said.

“We continue to keep the people of Colorado in prayer,” said Fale. “We also walk through this time together with them, supporting our congregations in their witness to Christ and the tangible expressions of mercy that they are providing for all in need. This will be a very long process of recovery. We humbly ask members of the LCMS to consider a financial gift that will enable our congregations to be involved in community relief and recovery for the duration.”

To support those in need:

  • Mail checks payable to “The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod” (with a memo line or note designating “LCMS Disaster Relief”) to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
  • Call toll-free 888-930-4438 (8:10 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. CST, Monday through Friday).

The Colorado chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is asking for volunteers who can offer food and shelter to flood victims, but all volunteers must be background-checked and currently affiliated with a VOAD agency. For more information, contact the LCMS Church Information Center at 888-843-5267 or infocenter@lcms.org.

For more information about the Synod’s response to disasters, visit lcms.org/disaster.

Updated Sept. 20, 2013

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