By Linda C. Hoops
“We’re still in the middle of the storm,” said Southern District President Kurtis Schultz in referring to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that is affecting all four states the district serves — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
“This is very dissimilar to a hurricane that hits in one day and we can assess the damage the next,” he told Reporter. “This isn’t over and we won’t be able to know for sure what the results of this disaster will be until probably August.”
LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC) staff members have contacted the district to determine if a response is needed at this stage of the oil spill. Already, potentially more than 100 million gallons of crude has been expelled into the Gulf, destroying marshlands, washing up on beaches, killing wildlife, and eliminating a large portion of the coast’s fishing industry.
The spill stems from a sea floor oil gusher that resulted from the April 20 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion. That explosion killed 11 platform workers and injured 17 others.
Schultz said that pastors of congregations with members in the fishing industry have told him that these members are working long hours, either helping with the cleanup or fishing when permitted.
“BP is keeping the fishermen employed for now,” he said, “but we just don’t know what’s going to happen later. Even more so than their livelihood, we know this disaster is going to affect the spiritual and mental health of people. This is taking the very heart out of the people; it’s striking at their identities. Everyone’s anxious about the future.”
Some members of Rev. Richard Rudnik’s congregation, Grace Lutheran Church in Houma, La., are anxious, too, but for another reason. They work on the offshore oil rigs in the Gulf which is about 30 miles south of the town, and with the government’s six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling operations, their jobs are drying up as the rigs may start relocating to other countries.
“People here have a love/hate relationship with the oil companies,” Rudnik said. “We hate them for what the spill is doing to the whole Gulf Coast, but yet they are providing our bread and butter.”
In every prayer he says, other than in worship services, he asks God to “please take away our oil slick.”
“If we can get this thing stopped,” he continued, “we can heal. We’re good at healing down here. We go through hurricanes!”
“In the weeks and months to come, unmet needs will no doubt arise where we can work in partnership with the Southern District and the Florida-Georgia District to meet those needs through local congregations and LCMS Recognized Service Organizations,” said Rev. Glenn F. Merritt, director of Disaster Response with WR-HC. “LCMS World Relief and Human Care and The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod are poised to help all along the Gulf Coast region as needed.”
Although the Synod has received inquiries from its members across the country asking to volunteer in some capacity along the Gulf Coast, at this time only people who are specifically trained and equipped are being allowed to work directly in the cleanup process, due to the health and safety risks of handling the crude oil.
“What would help us most now is prayer,” Schultz said. “And don’t hesitate to come to the Gulf Coast for vacation or to volunteer. We’re looking forward to everyone who’ll be coming to New Orleans to participate and serve at the National Youth Gathering in July and through Camp Restore year-round.”
Recovery Assistance Inc. Ministries (RAI Ministries), a Recognized Service Organization of the Synod, is developing multiple strategies and projects in response the oil spill, with an initial focus on human care for affected Gulf Coast families and communities. Volunteer groups are encouraged to book now at Camp Restore in New Orleans for summer and fall. Find out more at www.raiministries.org.
In addition, each state in the affected area is gathering names of volunteers who wish to help in the future. To register, visit one of the following websites:
- Louisiana: www.volunteerlouisiana.gov;
- Mississippi: www.volunteermississippi.org;
- Florida: www.volunteerfloridadisaster.org; or
- Alabama: www.servealabama.gov.
Linda C. Hoops is a freelance writer and a member of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Sunset Hills, Mo.
Posted June 16, 2010