LCMS prepares response to Oklahoma tornado; prayers, gifts requested

By Melanie Ave

After Monday’s monstrous tornado devastated parts of Moore, Okla., killing at least 24 people — many of them children — LCMS Disaster Response staff are requesting prayers and gifts to help with the Synod’s ongoing relief effort.

Workers look for victims under debris from the May 20 tornado that roared through the Oklahoma city suburbs, flattening entire neighborhoods. As of May 21, LCMS Disaster Response staff were assessing how the Synod can support the town's ongoing relief needs. (AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Paul Hellstern)

Workers look for victims under debris from the May 20 tornado that roared through the Oklahoma city suburbs, flattening entire neighborhoods. As of May 21, LCMS Disaster Response staff were assessing how the Synod can support the town’s ongoing relief needs. (AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Paul Hellstern)

The tornado swept dozens of homes and buildings off their foundations, shredded cars and trucks, littered streets with debris and power lines, and injured more than 200 people in the Oklahoma City suburb. The tornado struck two schools and a hospital.

Emergency crews continued their frantic search for survivors Tuesday (May 21) morning in the area, which was declared a federal disaster by President Obama.

The Rev. John Fale, associate executive director of the LCMS Mercy Operations Group, and LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison have been in touch with LCMS Oklahoma District President Rev. Barrie E. Henke. LCMS Disaster Response staff plan to visit the area as soon as it is feasible.

On Monday evening, the Rev. Mark Bersche of St. John Lutheran Church in Moore reported that he had been unable to assess the damage since, according to district administration, “he is virtually trapped in his home because of debris-filled streets.” It was unclear Tuesday morning whether any members of St. John were injured or suffered damages.

Lutheran Church Charities’ K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs were scheduled to visit with the public May 22 at St. John’s, Moore, and Messiah Lutheran Church in Oklahoma City, Okla. Both churches and Trinity Lutheran Church in Norman, Okla., also were planning May 22 prayer services.

Aaron Uphoff, a vicar from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., is serving at Trinity, Norman, Okla. He spent Monday evening in Moore, praying with and comforting those who survived the devastation.

“I prayed with as many people as I could,” Uphoff said. “I asked Christ for comfort and for the peace that surpasses all understanding, which is ours by virtue of Good Friday and Easter.”

Fale said the LCMS response in Moore will be similar to the LCMS reaction to the deadly tornado that decimated parts of Joplin, Mo., in 2011. That EF5 twister killed 160 people and destroyed or damaged about 8,000 homes.

More than a third of the Synod’s 6,000 congregations, and many Lutheran partners, helped with the multi-pronged LCMS relief effort in Joplin. Working in partnership with Lutheran Church Charities of Addison, Ill., more than 3,000 volunteers worked on 800-plus projects and properties.

Monday’s tornado touched down at 2:56 p.m., 16 minutes after the first warning, and stayed on the ground for about 40 minutes, according to the National Weather Service. It hit the town of Newcastle before heading to Moore, about 10 miles away.

On May 3, 1999, 44 people were killed by a tornado with recorded winds of 302 mph that devastated Moore and the south Oklahoma City area. Monday’s tornado followed a spate of tornadoes in Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa.

Fale requested prayers for the tornado victims and the emergency workers, and LCMS Oklahoma District officials asked that LCMS members “wait patiently until there is an assessment of the damage and the need.”

In the meantime, LCMS congregations can best support the relief effort by contributing to LCMS Disaster Response instead of sending material goods or traveling to Moore, Fale said.

Those who want to give are encouraged to designate the Synod’s general disaster fund.

“In the short span of one year, thousands of LCMS members have stepped forward in faith to support our Lord’s hands of mercy through the work of the Synod’s Disaster Response,” said Mark Hofman, director of LCMS Mission Advancement. “From Superstorm Sandy, the Sandy Hook Elementary attack and the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, God’s people in the LCMS have boldly lived out our Savior’s encouragement to ‘love one another, as I have loved you,’ ” Hofman said, quoting Scripture. “I have no doubt our Synod’s congregations and members are preparing to do so again to aid those affected by these storms.”

Hofman said the LCMS is increasingly advocating gifts to the Synod’s general disaster response fund because it supports the most robust response possible when a need arises, while enhancing the agility of any response effort.

“The capability to combine the generosity of many, regardless of when they make their gift, has a greater impact than the effect of any one gift or any tightly designated fund,” Hofman said. “Working together this way deploys more resources to the field that show our Lord’s mercy in tangible ways and in proximity to Word and Sacrament ministry.”

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).

Melanie Ave is senior writer and social media coordinator with LCMS Communications.

Updated May 22, 2013

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8 Responses to LCMS prepares response to Oklahoma tornado; prayers, gifts requested

  1. Helen & Richard Runge May 22, 2013 at 2:23 am #

    Do you have individual members of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Moore who need help? Our family lost their home in Katrina so we know how much help is needed. We would like to help. We live in California and have room in our home. Our daughter and children spent nearly a year here after the storm because it took that long to make their home liveable.

  2. Steven Maske May 22, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

    Is the synod generating a flyer to receive contributions from churches?

    • LCMS Church Information Center May 22, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

      Yes! A email with a link is being sent to pastors later this afternoon and it will also be posted on the website. Blessings!

      • Bailey May 22, 2013 at 8:39 pm #

        Where do I find this flyer? Is there an announcement or bulletin insert?

        • LCMS Church Information Center May 22, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

          Bailey, thank you for posting on our blog. An email has gone out to all pastors with a link to bulletin inserts. I’ll be sending you a separate copy shortly. Thank you for the work you do. Blessings!

  3. Rev Daub May 23, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    I tried calling the donor line several times during the hours it advertised in the article, and the voicemail said it was closed. When asked to leave a message, I was then disconnected. I am the Chaplain for the Police and Fire Department for our local city. The Fire Department has recently changed over bed spreads in one of their stations and would like to donate the in good shape older ones to the people of OK. They want to know if there is a need for them, and how to go about doing this. Is there anything through the LC-MS that would facilitate a reception of this donation, or where could I be driected to make this donation? Any thoughts or advice would be appreciated. Please email me if you can at st.paul.pastor@eastnc.twcbc.com. Thank You.

    • LCMS Church Information Center May 23, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

      Dear Rev. Daub,

      Thank you for writing and for your willingness to help tornado victims. We’ve alerted our staff about the problem. Thank you for your patience as we get it worked out.

      We are still in the process of assessing the need in Oklahoma. Our contacts on the ground in Oklahoma have asked that we not send any material goods or travel to Oklahoma until we know how we can best respond. Making a financial donation is the fastest way to get help to the people in need.

      How you can best help:
      • Monetary gifts are the most helpful, as they allow local congregations to purchase items to meet the specific needs of their community.
      • Gift cards to national chains are also needed to help people replace food, clothing, and medications lost in the storm.
      • Consider holding a garage sale, bake sale or other fund raiser and donating the proceeds to allow the needed items to be purchased locally — your donation will go directly where it is needed most.

      Checks should be made payable to “The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod” with a memo line or note designating ‘Disaster Response’ and mail it to:

      The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
      P.O. Box 66861
      St. Louis MO 63166-6861

      I encourage you to keep checking our website at http://www.lcms.org/disaster for the latest information. Thank you again for writing. May God richly bless your day and your ministry.

  4. Mark Hofman May 24, 2013 at 1:46 am #

    Rev. Daub:

    I was out of the building yesterday and today, and will look into the problem with the Donor Care line as soon as I get in tomorrow morning. I do know that, because of planned leave periods, a number of the staff who man that line are out and we were working a plan that involved some volunteers.

    In-kind donations of materials, such as that you are describing, will almost certainly be needed. That said, we are taking our cues from the pastors and district staff, in concert with out disaster response team led by Rev. John Fale. My suspicion is that the infrastructure for accepting, storing and disbursing in-kind donations is being set up, but is not yet in place. I also know that Synod, Inc. does not have the infrastructure to receive and transport in-kind donations (trucks, storage space, etc.).

    So, I would ask that you hold those donated items until the system for receiving and distributing them to affected families is in place. That may take several more days.

    For other readers, the encouragement to provide financial donations now is important. Donations made this early in a response effort will go to helping families via gift cards, where they can purchase items needed at local stores (such as Wal-Mart or other discount department outlets.) This provides them with basic needs such as underwear, socks, personal hygiene products and the like. And each family can determine what it needs most, so the gift cards provide a measure of control that packages of items do not. As resources allow, larger grants targeting relief work can be made. Eventually, as in the case with Superstorm Sandy, congregations and districts can apply for targeted recovery assistance grants made possible by donations made either through the LCMS or through the affected district.

    The LCMS will be in this relief and recovery effort from the long haul, in partnership with local congregations and the district offices in affected areas. Our disaster response teams (national office, district staff and local parish leaders) are exceptionally well-qualified to effectively and efficiently manage this process through a sequence of steps which get the right kind of aid to the right people at the right time.

    As one Superstorm Sandy victim told President Harrison, “You Lutherans are the real deal.” Let’s work together and show the love of Christ – again!

    Mark Hofman, CFRE, MBA
    Executive Director, Mission Advancement
    The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod