By Kim Plummer Krull
Members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and School in Cullman, Ala., are among the masses dealing with major damages after powerful storms cut a wide swath through the South on April 27, killing more than 250 people in six states in what news reports call the deadliest twister outbreak in nearly 40 years.
“It’s pretty bad . . . it’s quite something,” said Rev. Warren J. Ruland, St. Paul’s pastor, as he drove to Birmingham the next morning to purchase automobile gasoline so he could assist with the start of massive clean-up efforts.
Ruland was one of many in shattered Southern communities taking stock of destruction from twisters that reportedly flattened towns and prompted municipal officials to ask for prayers. The pastor told of walking Cullman’s debris-strewn streets and seeing devastated homes, huge uprooted trees and “dirt and glass everywhere.”
“With no power or gas, hopefully all this won’t start wearing on people’s nerves,” Ruland said.
The twister extensively damaged St. Paul’s Lutheran School, collapsing the second story into the first floor. “There’s no way we can have school there,” Ruland said. Strong winds blew out windows at the church, but the pastor said he was hopeful that the building sustained no structural damage and could hold services on Sunday.
St. Paul’s is one of many congregations throughout the South that LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC) contacted on April 28, although communication proved difficult because of widespread power outages.
Early reports include no news of LCMS member fatalities, according to officials of the Southern and Mid-South districts, which include the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida’s western tip (Southern District) and Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky’s southern counties (Mid-South District).
Early reports also indicate congregation members in the Southern District sustained major home damage, according to district leaders, but no additional details were yet available.
“It is difficult to fully comprehend the death and destruction that has occurred over the past 36 hours across much of the South,” said Rev. Glenn F. Merritt, director of Disaster Response with WR-HC. “Our brothers and sisters are reeling from tornadoes, floods, fires, wind and hail damage. Hundreds of lives have been lost, thousands of homes and businesses have been damaged or destroyed, countless lives have been interrupted or altered, yet the Church is there to bring encouragement and help.”
As pastors throughout the South continue to check on members and neighbors in hard-hit communities, LCMS World Relief and Human Care made available initially up to $50,000 to assist with response efforts. The funds, made possible by caring WR-HC donors, will enable congregations to reach out to members of both their churches and their communities and help with emergency needs.
“Our hearts go out to the thousands of families who are suffering, among whom are LCMS folks,” said Synod President Rev. Matthew C. Harrison. “God help us — and He does — demonstrate compassion in Jesus’ name.”
Plans also are in the works for Merritt and WR-HC’s Rev. Carlos Hernandez to travel to Alabama as soon as possible to assist with needs assessments and offer pastoral care.
Earlier in the week, WR-HC also awarded a $3,500 to Zion Lutheran Church, Maryland Heights, Mo., to assist families recovering from April 22 Good Friday storms in the St. Louis area. The congregation has turned its fellowship hall into an emergency supplies distribution center that is open to the public.
The LCMS mercy ministry also issued an $8,250 grant to the Iowa West District to help members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Mapleton, which was hit by an April 9 storm.
On April 27, the Southern District’s Gene Menzel was on the road, traveling in conjunction with LCMS-related work from Huntsville, Ala., to his home in New Orleans, La. He said that traveling along some of the same path as the horrific storm reminded him of the suffering that followed Hurricane Katrina and the importance of the Church helping people in need.
“It’s important that in the afterglow of Easter and as we battle the things of this life that we are there to extend the Word of hope and encouragement,” said Menzel, executive assistant for Parish Services. “It’s important that our congregations and our members can reach out and be God’s hand of love during this time.”
Likewise, Merritt called on LCMS members to give generously in an urgent time of need.
“Even as we wait for final word on the toll of death and destruction, the Church is on the scene, standing by Her members and professional church workers as they reach out to one another and their communities. Assistance is being offered at every level, skilled disaster responders and counselors are being deployed and mercy is shining through the darkness of despair as the LCMS responds,” he said. “Your help is needed now so that together we can continue to reach out to those in need through our districts and congregations.”
Because LCMS World Relief and Human Care’s tornado relief fund was depleted by last year’s tornado relief efforts, gifts are urgently needed to respond to this spring’s wrath of twisters and recent storms in the Midwest and the South.
To contribute to the Synod’s tornado disaster response:
* Mail checks (noting “Tornado Disaster Relief” 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.
* To make an online donation for LCMS “Tornado Disaster Relief” efforts, click here.
Any funds not needed for this relief effort will be used for other disaster 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.
This story was produced by LCMS World Relief and Human Care.
Posted April 28, 2011