By Linda C. Hoops
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the United States in 2009 had 52 declared disasters — from landslides in the West, tornadoes through the Midwest, and severe flooding and snows along the Eastern seaboard. Scientists at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution say the number of natural disasters has doubled in the past 20 years, mainly due to climate changes.
While there may not be much we can do to prevent disasters like these, LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC) has created a new disaster-preparedness program that can change how the church responds to them.
“Preparing to Meet the Challenge” is a faith-based training program that’s designed to provide the guidance and tools necessary for LCMS districts, congregations, and individuals to respond to disasters in their communities with emphasis on Christian care. To date, 220 congregations and 18 districts have participated in the program.
“Most other disaster-preparedness programs make no reference to faith or Christ for that matter,” said Rev. Glenn Merritt, director of disaster response for WR-HC. “This is precisely why LCMS World Relief and Human Care developed special preparedness materials for our LCMS congregations that provide guidance and encouragement in living by faith.”
According to the 136-page downloadable training manual, “In disaster, first and foremost, Christian care seeks to meet the basic needs of those affected — providing food, water, clothing, and shelter. This first line of care reflects [Luther’s Explanation of] the First Article of the [Apostles’] Creed, where God is the giver of ‘clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home,’ family, property and ‘all that I have.'”
Accompanied by a newly developed DVD, the manual is divided into three sections that explain:
- the importance of congregations and districts working together to provide a coordinated response to disasters that places LCMS WR-HC in a supportive and facilitative role.
- a congregation preparedness program titled “Be Aware, Be Prepared, and Live by Faith.”
- the training of Lutheran volunteer teams to respond to disasters at local, district, regional, and national levels.
Referenced in the program are resources from FEMA’s www.ready.gov Web site, the American Red Cross, Community Emergency Response Teams, and Lutheran Disaster Response.
“These are all great materials which we acknowledge and promote in our manual and DVD,” said Merritt. “However, they fall short of addressing the call of the church to prepare for and respond appropriately to disasters.”
The congregational-preparedness plan covers components such as:
- assigning a member of the congregation to serve as “disaster response coordinator.”
- securing a safe place for church records.
- locating an alternate site where worship services could be held if the church facilities were damaged.
- communicating when there might not be phone or Internet service.
There is no charge for the three-hour congregational training, other than what the host church may charge for lunch and other expenses. Participants receive the manual, plus a personal checklist for emergency supplies.
About 35 people took part in such training in October at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Sunset Hills, Mo.
“The program was very helpful, especially for the people who did not know what disaster response was all about,” said Rev. Chad Trunkhill, pastor of mission and outreach.
After the training, the congregation created a disaster response program titled “Hands in Service.” With a grant from Lutheran Foundation of St. Louis, it purchased a disaster response trailer that is stocked with tools for repairing and rebuilding, as well as shovels, rakes, and chain saws for clean-up.
A “constant contact” e-mail service also was formed to recruit volunteers and supplies if a disaster occurs. “We’re ready to leave at a moment’s notice,” said Trunkhill.
“It does not take a master carpenter to show love to someone in need,” he added. “Anyone can serve and make a difference. It is a way for many people to volunteer and share the love of Jesus Christ with a broken and hurting world. They can be the hands and feet of Jesus right here, right now, with the gifts that God has given to them. It is an awesome experience.”
The third section of the manual covers the volunteer training program that is part of a synodwide disaster response initiative facilitated by a network of district disaster response coordinators under the direction of LCMS WR-HC.
Titled the “Lutheran Early Response Team” (LERT) ministry, its goal is to train LCMS volunteers across the country to respond quickly to disasters.
While not “first responders,” LERT members work in cooperation with local, state, and federal emergency management agencies, as well as other non-governmental and faith-based organizations, under the direction of their district’s disaster response coordinator.
Volunteers, who receive an initial six-to-eight hours of training, may be assigned to work in a variety of disaster outreach ministries, including food and water distribution, providing shelter, cleaning up, basic repair, and property protection.
The names of LERT volunteers, who are required to complete annual refresher courses, are maintained in a WR-HC database, which currently has about 1,000 names of credentialed volunteers.
This credential verifies that they have completed specific training in the areas of volunteer safety, chain saw safety, cleanup/debris removal, tarping and patching roofs, flood/storm surge clean up, and volunteer liability issues.
Cost for the training, which is led by district disaster response coordinators, depends on the sponsoring church or district, but is generally less than $25 per person, which includes the manual and a survival kit.
For more information, including current training opportunities, contact Merritt’s office at 800-248-1930, ext. 1381. Training sessions also will be posted online in early 2010 at www.lcms.org/ca/worldrelief/ (click on “Disaster Response” in left-hand menu).
Linda C. Hoops is a freelance writer and a member of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Sunset Hills, Mo.
Posted Dec. 30, 2009