After Ike: Needs, fear of being forgotten continue

By Kim Plummer Krull

While the economic crisis and presidential candidates’ campaigns dominate headlines, little news is heard about Texans who still struggle to clean uphurricane-new.gif their homes and try to get their lives back on track more than one month after Hurricane Ike.

Their stories long ago faded from nightly broadcasts, but tough challenges remain in hard-hit areas for many LCMS members and congregations, including:

  • Rev. Alan Taylor, pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, Galveston, who has yet to learn if his home is salvageable and is dealing with major repairs to reopen the flooded church where at least 75 percent of the members suffered major property damage.

  • Rev. Timothy Dinger, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Port Arthur, who is living in a rental home with his wife and four children after they lost nearly everything. The family has no insurance to cover their loss because they don’t live in a flood zone.

  • Three staff members of the popular children’s center at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Beaumont, whose homes were seriously damaged. All continue to serve in their ministry, including the director who remains in her home but worries about how growing mold is affecting her daughter, who has asthma and severe allergies.Dire, urgent, and “afraid of being forgotten” is how Rev. Glenn Merritt, director of Disaster Response for LCMS World Relief and Human Care, summed up needs when he visited LCMS congregations in Southeast Texas Oct. 8-10.
  • “Galveston is in shambles. Port Arthur and Bridge City are in shambles. Yet we’re not hearing anything about hurricane-related needs,” said Merritt, who met with pastors to get the ball rolling on emergency grants from the Synod’s mercy arm to help impacted LCMS members and professional church workers.

    “A little over a month out, you don’t see much [about Ike-related challenges], even on the news here,” said Dr. Lou Jander, the LCMS Texas District mission and ministry facilitator who serves as the district’s disaster response coordinator. “Certainly, there are fewer people suffering today than a week after [Ike], and nearly all power has been restored. But needs definitely remain, and some of the greatest are those of our church workers.”

    Among Jander’s top concerns are for between 200 and 300 pastors, teachers, and other church workers with financial challenges. Many are grappling with unexpected cleanup and repair costs. Others missed paychecks when Ike forced schools to temporarily close and congregations to cancel services, losing a week or two of offerings.

    “When you’re a second- or third-year teacher, for example, and not making a lot of money to begin with and your insurance deductible hasn’t even kicked in, having to pay $1,900 to cover repairs or even $300 to replace the food you had to throw out of your refrigerator and freezer is a lot,” Jander said.

    But while the mainstream media may have forgotten those lives turned upside down by the Category 2 September hurricane, impacted pastors say they appreciate the concern and assistance offered by fellow LCMS members — including LCMS President Gerald B. Kieschnick.

    “His visit and his support were a real blessing,” said Dinger, referring to Kieschnick, who met with the Dinger and Taylor families, other LCMS members, and cleanup volunteers Sept. 25.

    Along with prayers and encouragement, Dinger says the LCMS president also offered health care advice: “He [Kieschnick] made me promise to get a tetanus shot so I would be safe.” 

    Support also came from a group all too familiar with post-hurricane anguish: St. Paul’s Lutheran School faculty in New Orleans, who spearheaded a collection for Wal-Mart gift cards.

    “I had the opportunity to deliver those gift cards to three of our schools, and they were truly touched by the care shown by people who are still struggling after Hurricane Katrina,” Jander said. 

    Speaking of Katrina, many Texans (including Pastor Dinger) were still recovering from Hurricane Rita (which followed on Katrina’s heels in 2005) when Ike dealt another blow.   

    But LCMS members are responding to needs in Texas with offers of both financial and volunteer assistance. To date, LCMS World Relief and Human Care has awarded $187,000 in Ike-related grants. These include funds for LCMS congregations to help members and church workers with emergency needs and for assistance delivered immediately after Ike to the Texas District and Orphan Grain Train to provide generators, non-perishable food, and for financial help for churches to cover church worker salaries.

    “We are well aware of the fact that we are in challenging economic times,” said Rev. Matthew Harrison, executive director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care. “But that is all the more reason to thank God for the generosity of the folks of the Missouri Synod.”

    LCMS WR-HC is working cooperatively with the Texas District, which also is coordinating fundraising assistance and volunteer opportunities. Immediate assistance is most needed from volunteers who live within a one- or two-hour drive of Galveston or the Golden Triangle (the Port Arthur, Bridge City, and Beaumont area), Jander said, and who can spend several hours or a day helping with cleanup efforts.

    Such short-term volunteers eliminate the need to provide housing and food, Jander said. “On down the road, we’ll have a better idea of what rebuilding we’ll need help with and how we can use more skilled labor and volunteers for longer periods,” he said. 

    To offer immediate volunteer assistance, Jander suggests contacting either Pastor Taylor at 409-795-0608 or Pastor Dinger at 409-983-1130 directly or the Texas District office at 800-938-5777.  (For more opportunities to volunteer for other disaster cleanup and recovery efforts, click here.) 

    Ike damaged about 20 LCMS churches. Today, Jander said, all are holding services in their regular worship sites except for St. John in Galveston.

    Pastor Taylor led that congregation’s first post-Ike service Oct. 5 on the church parking lot, sharing a personal message of hope and promise. “It was very tough,” said Taylor, St. John’s pastor for 15 years. “I’ve been in these people’s homes, and I know what they lost. Some have lost everything.”

    As LCMS WR-HC’s Rev. Glenn Merritt traveled in Southeast Texas, he saw cemeteries where flooding had washed bodies from resting places and scattered dead animals among the debris from ruined homes and businesses. Merritt said he was struck by h

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