By Sarah Schafer
North Dakota and Minnesota residents are no strangers to spring flooding, but record-high waters this year due to snow melt and rainfall are beginning to wear on LCMS pastors and members — particularly in small towns and rural areas.
“For one month we have watched high water,” said Rev. Tom Puffe, pastor of dual parishes, Trinity Lutheran Church in Adrian, N.D., and Trinity Lutheran Church, Lamoure, N.D.
“This is troubling to people’s hearts,” Puffe said. People are thinking, ‘When is life not going to be immediately affected by the river.’ “
Water levels of the Red River and others in North Dakota and Minnesota are lowering, yet Puffe’s congregation knows the threat is not over.
“The water is coming down,” he said, “but upstream are fairly large reservoirs expected to be releasing water. Everybody is used to floods, but not to flooding like this. We’re looking at three flood crests and that’s not normal.”
Those living in rural areas outside Grand Forks and Fargo have been at great risk of flooding where Bill Sharpe of the North Dakota District office said “it’s up to neighbors to help in most part.”
Two families in Puffe’s congregations have lost their homes. They have not been able to assess damages, but know the damage is substantial. Many others have at least six inches of water in their basements.
Through this disaster, Puffe said he has seen the communities where he serves come together in impromptu service to help each other with sandbagging. One member also was influential in making hot meals and snacks available to National Guardsmen patrolling dikes.
“In times like this you see the love and compassion that the Lord puts in our hearts,” said Puffe.
On April 23, the Red River was just one block from Trinity Lutheran Church in Drayton, N.D., where Rev. Bernie Seter serves. Seter also serves Zion English Lutheran Church in Grafton, N.D., where although water sources are at a distance, some members have water in their basements from overland flooding.
Understanding the toll such long-term disasters can take on people, LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC) staff members Rev. John Fale, associate executive director; Rev. Glenn Merritt, director of LCMS Disaster Response; and Rev. Carlos Hernandez, director of LCMS Districts and Congregations, plan to return to the flood-affected areas June 1-3 to provide follow-up care. They also may provide aftercare seminars in rural areas most ravaged by flooding and in the Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn,. areas, focusing on recovery and providing Christian care.
In response to immediate needs of members and communities, WR-HC awarded $23,540 in emergency grants to the North Dakota and Minnesota North Districts and congregations.
Grant funds awarded to Zion English Lutheran Church helped purchase six generators and a pump, and blankets and pillows for evacuees from Friendship, a center in Fargo for adults with disabilities. The church also has opened its doors during the day to evacuees from a veterans home in Harvey, N.D., as a place to socialize and get a cup of coffee.
Glenn and Cathi Heuchert of Grafton are one family to receive a pump with WR-HC funds. Despite their permanent dike, snow melt in the yard and seepage through the dike threatened to flood their home. The Heucherts pumped 200,000 gallons of water away from their home in just a day and a half.
“What I love about serving a smaller congregation is a lot of things are done like a big family,” said Puffe. With support from the LCMS at-large, Puffe added that it feels like the extended family coming in to help. “For me that’s a wonderful picture and feel of the church,” he said.
To learn more about WR-HC’s response to flooding in North Dakota and Minnesota, visit www.lcms.org/worldrelief and click on “Disaster News.” To support relief efforts, send gifts to LCMS World Relief and Human Care, “North Dakota Flood Relief,” P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-4438.
Sarah Schafer is a writer for LCMS World Relief and Human Care.
Posted April 29, 2009