Nebraska church ‘gone’ after dual tornadoes

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.

Brian Reeg of Winside, Neb., talks on his phone as he stands on the sidewalk leading to where St. John Lutheran Church stood before being destroyed by a tornado in Pilger, Neb., on June 16, 2014. Reeg has attended the church all his life, and was baptized and married there. A storm packing rare dual tornadoes tore through the tiny farming town in northeast Nebraska, killing a 5-year-old girl, leaving grain bins crumpled like discarded soda cans and flattening dozens of homes. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly)

Brian Reeg of Winside, Neb., talks on his phone as he stands on the sidewalk leading to where St. John Lutheran Church stood before being destroyed by a tornado in Pilger, Neb., on June 16, 2014. Reeg has attended the church all his life, and was baptized and married there. A storm packing rare dual tornadoes tore through the tiny farming town in northeast Nebraska, killing a 5-year-old girl, leaving grain bins crumpled like discarded soda cans and flattening dozens of homes. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly)

“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.

Two tornadoes approach Pilger, Neb., on June 16, 2014. The National Weather Service said at least two twisters touched down within roughly a mile of each other. (AP Photo/Eric Anderson)

Two tornadoes approach Pilger, Neb., on June 16, 2014. According to the National Weather Service, at least two twisters touched down within roughly a mile of each other. (AP Photo/Eric Anderson)

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:

  • 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

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9 Responses to Nebraska church ‘gone’ after dual tornadoes

  1. Deb Hammen June 17, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

    Are parish nurses needed there ?

    • LCMS Church Information Center June 18, 2014 at 6:46 am #

      Thank you for your blog post. Please contact the Nebraska District (www.ndlcms.org) to see if parish nurses are needed.

      LCMS Church Information Center
      888-843-5267

    • Jenny Lenchner June 18, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

      We can give donations of goods and supplies. Can we send items to area from Holy Cross Lutheran North Miami? Also, are re-builders and workers needed?

      • LCMS Church Information Center June 18, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

        Jenny, at this early stage, our LCMS Disaster Response team is there getting the initial assessment of needs being done by the local congregations in conjunction with their district disaster response coordinator. Right now the best way to help those affected by the storms is to provide funds so the materials they need can be purchased right away.

        You may give your gift online at https://www.lcms.org/givenow/disaster or by calling 888-930-4438 and pressing #1. By doing so, your donation will go directly to the LCMS Disaster Relief Fund so we can issue grants to help districts, congregations and individuals who have been impacted by the storms. One hundred percent of donations received will go toward LCMS relief efforts, as fundraising and administrative costs are being covered by a special grant.

        Keep watching the LCMS website for updates. God bless you for your generosity and your willingness to help those affected by the storms.

        LCMS Church Information Center
        888-843-5267
        DG

  2. Mike June 18, 2014 at 9:32 am #

    Glad to see the quick response of the church to those in need. Sounds like the leadership on the ground is helping people. My family will be praying for those affected.

  3. Kelly June 21, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    “mostly all of Pilger’s 350 residents evacuated their homes in advance of the storm.”

    I can understand people evacuating businesses or the church. Did people really leave their homes? Do they have basements and storm shelters? Where did they go? In Minnesota, we just go downstairs to the protected corner and hang out until the all clear.

    We were in the church once when a tornado was pending. I considered seeing how many teenagers one could stuff in a janitor’s closet. Will they build a shelter into the new church?

  4. Suzi B June 22, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    How do I know donations will go to Pilger?

    • LCMS Church Information Center June 23, 2014 at 7:02 am #

      Thank you for your blog post. Please be assured that 100 percent of donations the LCMS receives will go toward LCMS relief efforts. Fundraising and administrative costs are being covered by a special grant. If you would like to make a gift to our relief efforts or have further questions, please call 888-930-4438.

    • Mark Hofman June 23, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

      Suzi, any donation restricted by a donor for ‘Pilger relief” will go to that effort. When we draw funds for Pilger, we look first to see if any donations restricted by donors only for Pilger are available. Beyond that, if funds are needed, we would turn to the tornado relief fund. Donations restricted for ‘tornado relief’ may, under generally accepted accounting principles and Synod policy, be used for any tornado-related relief work such as that in Pilger and the surrounding areas in Nebraska or up in South Dakota where others have been hit hard by tornadoes.

      If additional funds beyond Pilger-only or “tornado relief” are required, we draw from the general disaster fund.

      We do not take disaster gifts (or any other type of restricted donations) and re-purpose them for something other than that which the donor intended, unless the need for those funds no longer exists and we speak first with the donors who gave them to identify a mutually-acceptable use. And we will refund gifts if a mutually-agreeable use cannot be determined. This practice and approach is documented in our fundraising policies.

      Synod annually undergoes an external, independent audit of our books. That process will make sure all gifts have been used precisely in accordance with the intent of the donors who made them. If you have additional questions, please call my office and we can go through them one-on-one. Thank you for your concern and desire to help our brothers and sisters who are shifting to a new reality.

      Mark Hofman, CFRE, MBA
      Executive Director, Mission Advancement

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