By Kim Plummer Krull
More than 220 LCMS families lost their homes due to historic flooding in Minot, N.D. — a disaster that has largely disappeared from national headlines but that the Rev. Glenn F. Merritt calls an example of how the Synod’s mercy arm “continues to work with its districts and congregations even after other agencies are long gone from the scene.”
“A lot of people are surprised by such a large number of flooded [LCMS] families, and that doesn’t even include some 60 staff members from the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch who also lost homes,” said Merritt, director of Disaster Response with LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC).
As he prepared to make his second trip to Minot since the swollen Souris River peaked in late June, Merritt called the floods a tragedy that has left people homeless or living in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers with winter fast approaching.
The floods also are another chapter in a string of earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and fires that the disaster-response veteran says make for “one of the most intense periods I’ve ever seen.”
“The last 20 months have been extremely challenging” said Merritt, referring to the disastrous stretch that began with the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that shattered Haiti in January 2010 and continued with wildfires in central Texas that destroyed at least 24 LCMS families’ homes in September.
“While our donors have been generous, our LCMS resources are stretched thin as we continue to address so many unmet and ongoing needs,” Merritt said. “Additional financial gifts are needed as the Synod at-large joins hands to reach out with mercy and love to so many in so many places.”
But amid the misery, Merritt spotlighted a positive note: the Synod’s collaborative disaster response plan. “We have a coordinated effort, with districts checking with their local congregations and Recognized Service Organizations [RSOs] and reporting to the Synod [when a disaster happens],” he said. “It’s working.”
The following includes Merritt’s updates of recent U.S. disasters impacting LCMS congregations and communities. To see pictures and video interviews, visit www.Facebook.com/LCMSWRHC and www.youtube.com/MercyTubeWRHC.
North Dakota flooding
The home of Peggy Trondson, administrative secretary at Our Savior Lutheran Church, Minot, filled with 7 feet of water in the garage and more than 5 feet covering the main-floor level. Now living in a FEMA trailer, all of her spare time is spent on trying to “muck out” the house.
Trondson is only one of many whose lives turned upside down with record floodwaters in a town where most lack flood insurance.
“Most of the people had no flood insurance to cover their loss because they were told that the dikes and barriers built would prevent the town from ever flooding again,” reported the Rev. Darrell Howanitz, who assisted Merritt on a previous trek to Minot to meet with pastors of three congregations:
- Our Savior Lutheran Church, where 87 families lost homes;
- St. Mark Lutheran Church, where more than 80 families lost homes; and
- St. Paul Lutheran Church, where 47 families lost homes.
In addition, floodwaters destroyed two Minot area buildings of the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, an LCMS RSO.
Merritt returned to Minot Sept. 21-23 with the Rev. John Fale, interim executive director of WR-HC, and Al Dowbnia of LCMS Communications to meet with district and congregation leaders and implement an action plan to coordinate volunteers and help homeless families.
To date, WR-HC has awarded a total of $74,200 in grants to LCMS congregations, the North Dakota District and the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch to meet needs in flooded communities. Still, Merritt stressed, that amount “won’t even touch the surface,” and additional financial support is urgently needed.
Also needed are volunteers. Learn more and sign up to volunteer at Our Savior’s website, www.oslcnow.com.
While the wildfires that blazed through central Texas are “being contained, the realization of the work ahead of us is just beginning to hit,” said the Rev. Steven Misch, mission and ministry facilitator and disaster response coordinator for the LCMS Texas District.
At least 24 LCMS families are among those who lost homes in fires that scorched some 34,000 acres. They include the Rev. Albert Loeschman, a retired pastor and member of Grace Lutheran Church, Elgin, who lives in the hard-hit Bastrop area.
The fires have impacted at least 11 LCMS congregations, with the members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Bastrop “the hardest hit,” Misch said. One bright spot: Although Prince of Peace members Dr. Lou and Martha Jander feared their home was destroyed, the evacuees discovered they lost their garage but the house survived.
The severe drought that helped fuel the fires also has taken a toll on ranchers and farmers throughout Texas and neighboring states.
Recovery, Misch says, will take years. But he calls the church’s response to the wildfires “inspiring.” Area congregations, including Grace Lutheran Church, Smithville, have helped meet emergency needs and offers of assistance have come from beyond Lone Star State borders.
In September, WR-HC announced a grant of up to $25,000 to support the work of Lutheran Social Services of the South in response to the wildfires while offering additional assistance to the Texas District. In addition, Merritt and Misch are planning future disaster response preparedness and volunteer training sessions in that district.
To learn more about needs and volunteer and giving opportunities, visit the Texas District disaster response website at www.texasmmf.org/relief.
East Coast storms, quake
In late August, Hurricane Irene hit pockets in 13 states on the Eastern Seaboard, causing at least 55 deaths, according to news reports. Merritt and Dowbnia traveled to the LCMS Atlantic District to meet with the Rev. Derek Lecakes, that district’s disaster response coordinator, and congregation leaders. They checked on needs in congregations and communities between two heavily stricken areas — from greater Albany, N.Y., to Terryville, Conn.
Jan and Greg Wilsey, members of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Delmar, N.Y., were among the suffering when Irene dumped 6 feet of water in their basement and the couple was rescued by boat.
Many of Irene’s victims lack the personal resources to recover from a disaster that left hundreds of homes filled with several feet of mud. “A large number of these people don’t have flood insurance because it was not required in this area,” said Merritt, who planned to return to the East Coast in late September to follow up on continuing hurricane-related needs.
Merritt will coordinate with Deaconess Sally Hiller, executive director for Congregational Outreach and District Operations with the LCMS Southeastern District, to complete assessments across the region, including at Lutheran Mission Society (LMS) facilities.
In Cambridge, Md., Irene tore the roof from the RSO’s Compassion Center, ruining 200 boxes of clothing intended for needy families. Tropical Storm Lee compounded problems, causing damages at two LMS facilities.
To date, WR-HC has provided a total of $11,300 in grants for needs following those storms, including to LMS, the Southeastern District and to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Howell, N.J., as part of the congregation’s support for a family who lost much of their home in Irene.
In a prelude to Irene and Lee, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake rattled the East Coast on Aug. 23, causing damages at historic Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Washington, D.C. The quake crumbled chimneys, left “some tremendous cracks” and buckled walls at the 150-year-old LCMS church and parish house located less than a mile from the White House, reports the congregation’s pastor, the Rev. John Johnson.
Tornado recovery in Joplin
Leaders of Immanuel Lutheran Church and Martin Luther School in Joplin, Mo., tackled how to assist their tornado-battered community’s vast rebuilding needs when they met Aug. 25 with LCMS ministry leaders, including those from WR-HC, Lutheran Housing Support and the LCMS Missouri District.
“We’re not at the end of this relief effort — we’re at the beginning,” said the Rev. Gregory Mech, Immanuel’s pastor, referring to ongoing needs from the May 22 tornado that ultimately claimed at least 159 lives and destroyed some 8,000 homes.
Forty percent of impacted homeowners were uninsured or underinsured, leaving many without sufficient resources to rebuild, according to information provided at the meeting. In addition to helping those people with housing needs, ministry leaders agreed that other priorities for long-term recovery assistance should include providing counseling services and finding effective ways to use volunteers.
Immediately after the EF5 twister, Immanuel transformed the school gym into a community relief center, providing 40,000 meals plus emergency supplies and medical care.
To date, WR-HC donors have made possible a total of $120,967 in grants for disaster recovery in Joplin. To learn more about needs and volunteer opportunities in Joplin, visit Immanuel’s website at www.immanueljoplin.com.
Cleanup in Alabama
Nearly five months after powerful tornadoes ripped through Alabama on April 27, the Rev. Ed Brashier, director of Shepherd’s Heart Ministries, continues to facilitate volunteers and tackle cleanup from “thousands and thousands of toppled trees,” Merritt said.
While the misery of twisters that killed more than 230 people may be fading from memory beyond Alabama, “there are still plenty of needs and hundreds of homeowners waiting for help with cleanup and debris removal,” Merritt said. To volunteer, visit http://lutheranchurchcharities.org and click on “Alabama Tornado Relief.”
In late September, Howanitz returned to Alabama to assess continuing storm-related needs and to collaborate with Shepherd’s Heart, the disaster response ministry of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Gardendale, and the LCMS Southern District.
A $61,000 grant from WR-HC to the Southern District is the most recent in the total $136,128 in funds provided by WR-HC for ongoing tornado recovery in Alabama.
More than 70 disaster response and ministry leaders from throughout the Synod and around the world are expected to take part in the first International Disaster Response Conference for Lutherans, Oct. 18-20 at the LCMS International Center in St. Louis. Representatives include those from Haiti, Japan, Australia, Chile, India and Kenya — “each with a unique story to tell,” said Merritt, conference coordinator and one of many speakers.
The conference theme is “Sharing Moments of Mercy, Touching Lives Forever.” Presenters include Mech and Brashier, who will speak, respectively, about needs and mercy ministries after the deadly tornadoes in Joplin, Mo., and Alabama.
Registration is at capacity, but watch for conference coverage on Reporter Online and the WR-HC website, www.lcms.org/worldrelief.
As disaster recovery continues, so does the need for financial support. To help WR-HC share mercy with people in need:
- Make a gift online at http://givenowlcms.org.
- Mail checks (noting “General Disaster Relief Fund” in the memo line) to LCMS World Relief and Human Care, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
- Call toll-free 888-930-4438.
Any funds not needed for this relief effort will be used for other disaster response purposes as determined by LCMS World Relief and Human Care. Your gift is tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo. Information for this article also comes from Reporter Online stories by Linda C. Hoops, Sarah Schafer and Elizabeth M. Truong.
Posted Sept. 28, 2011