Preparedness, training aid in recovery in aftermath of Texas tornadoes

By Roger Drinnon

As the 2015 holiday season brought a cluster of fierce tornadoes to North Texas, LCMS-trained district and local disaster responders are proving to be vital in recovery efforts.

Disaster response volunteers from the LCMS Texas District and Synod congregations pick up debris from the Dec. 26 tornadoes. “People are sacrificing personal time in a desire to relieve the pain and confusion that results from such overwhelming devastation — all in the name of Christ,” said the Rev. Steven Misch, the district's disaster response coordinator. (David Ricks)

Disaster response volunteers from LCMS Texas District congregations help residents sort through their property from the Dec. 26 tornadoes. “People are sacrificing personal time in a desire to relieve the pain and confusion that results from such overwhelming devastation — all in the name of Christ.” said the Rev. Steven Misch, the district’s disaster response coordinator. (David Ricks)

Disaster response volunteers from LCMS Texas District congregations are helping residents sort through their property from the Dec. 26 tornadoes. “People are sacrificing personal time in a desire to relieve the pain and confusion that results from such overwhelming devastation — all in the name of Christ.” said Rev. Steven Misch, the district’s disaster response coordinator.

“The response, across the board, has been a beautiful reflection of the love of Christ and servant leadership — especially in the context of a holiday,” said Misch. “People are sacrificing personal time in a desire to relieve the pain and confusion that results from such overwhelming devastation — all in the name of Christ.”

As many as 10 tornadoes ripped through the Dallas-Fort Worth area the day after Christmas with at least one tornado in Garland reportedly rated as an EF-4 with wind speeds of 166 to 200 miles per hour. EF-5 is the highest tornado rating used by the National Weather Service when a tornado’s wind speed exceeds 200 mph.

Misch said Texas District responders immediately partnered with local LCMS congregations to organize recovery efforts.

“Circuit Visitor of Circuit 12, Rev. Paul Ferguson, was very quick to respond to the recovery process in the area. He contacted pastors to inquire about their safety, members’ safety and property damage,” said Misch. “That is where the response began. Rev. Clint Thorson, pastor at Tree of Life [Lutheran Church], Garland, began to consider how to interact with the community. Mr. David Ricks and Rev. Brian Cummins and the disaster relief ministry at Beautiful Savior [Lutheran Church], Arlington, also began to discover volunteer opportunities in the area.”

Misch said the Texas District initially partnered with Tree of Life to provide about 80 gift cards, each valued at $50, to provide basic necessities for affected people. He said Beautiful Savior, in its own disaster relief initiative, also has distributed gift cards.

“Our current relief efforts in the Dallas area include delivering 80 quilts made by our Beautiful Savior quilters and 60 bath towels to the Garland Relief Center, and delivering $1,000 in gift cards to the Midlothian, Ovilla and Red Oak Tornado Recovery Center and working through [a local] volunteer center to help families salvage, pack and move personal belongings into storage,” said Ricks, a member of the congregation who serves as chairman of its Disaster Care Ministry.

Ricks said Beautiful Savior’s ministry began after some tornadoes in 2000, and since then, the church has responded to various disasters as they occur.

“We [previously] responded to tornadoes and hurricanes in Texas and surrounding states. In 2008, we decided to be more proactive in responding to disasters,” he said. “We established our Disaster Care Ministry, we established our ‘Bucket Brigade,’ where we assemble disaster [response] buckets and store them so we can quickly respond to disasters. We have delivered our buckets [to various places ranging] from Brooklyn, N.Y., after Superstorm Sandy to the Texas border to be used for flooding in southern Mexico.”

Ricks said support from the Texas District and LCMS Disaster Response helped enable and equip his congregation’s disaster response ministry.

“The Texas District has been very supportive of our Disaster Care Ministry. We work closely with Steve Misch, the district disaster coordinator,” said Ricks. “The Synod [previously provided] a $7,000 grant for our ‘Bucket Brigade,’ trained me as a [Lutheran Early Response Team (LERT)] trainer, provided LERT training materials, helped pay for LERT chainsaw training and provided an annual National Disaster Conference.”

“Working through LCMS districts and congregations who are the leaders in responding to local crises, LCMS Disaster Response builds capacity of the church’s partners to respond to needs with Christian care,” said the Rev. Ross Johnson, director of LCMS Disaster Response. “The ministry reaches out to Missouri Synod congregations and their communities with services that include on-site assessment, emergency relief and development grants, and pastoral care for church workers and members.”

Johnson said LERT training and “Mercy in Action” preparedness training for congregations are essential to help them be ready for and effectively respond to disasters like the Texas tornadoes while providing body-and-soul care for those affected.

“LERT training certification is very helpful in that the character of initial and long-term response to disasters is outlined, providing a sound framework for the most helpful activities leading to recovery,” said Misch.

“LERT training is an integral part of what we do,” echoed Ricks. “Through LERT training, we have formed a relationship with a number of churches in the region. We are able to mobilize volunteers quickly and make an impact. Our LERT training helps us focus on disaster response as a ministry. The focus of sharing God’s mercy sets our ministry apart from other organizations.”

For more information on LCMS Disaster Response, visit lcms.org/disaster.

Roger Drinnon (roger.drinnon@lcms.org) is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications.

Posted Dec. 31, 2015

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