By Melanie Ave
Dual tornadoes pummeled the tiny farming community of Pilger, Neb., on the afternoon of June 16, killing one person there, injuring more than two dozen, destroying 40 to 50 homes and crushing St. John Lutheran Church.
“The church is gone. The parsonage is gone, as well as most of the town is gone,” said the Rev. Rod Armon, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Doniphan, Neb., and LCMS Nebraska District Disaster Response coordinator.
The land where St. John once stood looks like a trash heap of twisted wood, metal and yard waste.
Officials said the rare, dual twisters obliterated about 75 percent of Pilger and damaged parts of the Nebraska towns of Wisner, Stanton and Pender. Another tornado-related death was reported in Cuming County.
St. John Pastor Terry Makelin and his wife were not home at the time and were uninjured.
The home of at least one member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wisner was destroyed. Armon said reports of damage to the homes and property of other LCMS members were still being tallied.
The National Weather Service said the two tornadoes touched down within a mile of each other as mostly all of Pilger’s 350 residents evacuated their homes in advance of the storm.
The Nebraska governor declared a state of emergency and placed the National Guard on standby.
As Pilger’s residents and emergency crews picked through the rubble of their lives the day after the storm, a team from LCMS Disaster Response in St. Louis made plans to visit the area on June 19.
The Synod is making an initial $100,000 available to the LCMS Nebraska District to aid in responding to the needs of St. John and the surrounding communities.
LCMS Director of Disaster Response Rev. Ross Johnson and LCMS Manager of Disaster Response Rev. Michael Meyer will meet with LCMS Nebraska District President Rev. Dr. Russell Sommerfeld, Armon, Makelin, area pastors and representatives of the LCMS Recognized Service Organization Orphan Grain Train. The group will help coordinate how best the Synod can partner with the district and area congregations in responding with Christ’s mercy in the short- and long-term. Accompanying Johnson and Meyer will be Al Dowbnia, director of Digital Media Production for LCMS Communications.
Armon asked for prayers for St. John and for Makelin as “he tries to shepherd his people through this time.”
The Rev. John Fale, associate executive director of LCMS Mercy Operations, said the Synod will focus on caring for the pastor and the needs of the congregation, and then help the district and congregation respond to the community.
“Our hearts really go out to the members of St. John’s and the pastor,” Fale said. “The church is gone but the congregation is not. This is an opportunity for us as a church body to care for each other, but it is also a chance to care for our neighbors and their neighbors within those communities.”
To learn about LCMS Disaster Response, visit lcms.org/disaster.
To make a gift to support the Synod’s relief and recovery efforts:
- Visit here.
- 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. Central Time, Monday through Friday).
Posted June 17, 2014