By Adriane Dorr
Heavy rain in the Midwest and above-average snowmelt out West have caused flooding in Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and now also Missouri. As rivers continue to rise, Lutheran families and LCMS churches in the affected areas are beginning to realize the impact.
While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers monitors the Missouri River, residents of Dakota Dunes, S.D, have already evacuated, transporting their belongings in semis and moving vans. Members of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Dakota Dunes, “evacuated everything at church,” said Janet Martin, church properties chair. “The company from Beatrice, Nebraska, who installed our pews even came at midnight to uninstall them for us.”
Rev. Kevin Vogts, pastor of Holy Cross, noted, “About 70 percent of our members’ homes are located in the potential flood zones in Dakota Dunes and surrounding communities. Most affected members have moved everything from their homes and are living somewhere else temporarily.”
The U.S. Border Patrol prohibits people from entering the Dakota Dunes area and stands watch over the recent construction of a second, 40-foot-wide levee, designed to hold back the water if the first levee is breached. On June 16, engineers located a hole beneath the first levee, the result of the river’s increasingly intense currents, but were able to repair it before any further damage occurred.
“We’ve had a lot of church members that have been displaced,” said Martin. “But we’re so blessed that we’ve gotten everything out and that we had time to do it. Everybody’s pitched in, and our LCMS churches have really banded together.”
“Because there was only about 48 hours’ notice to pack and move everything and so many of our members were affected,” said Vogts, “the pastors and members of several other LCMS congregations in the area took the initiative to pack and move everything out of our church: altar, pulpit, tables, chairs, desks, doors and cabinets. It was very emotional to see our new sanctuary, just erected in 2007, completely emptied.”
Across the border in Iowa, Iowa District West President Dr. Paul Sieveking has noticed similar acts of mercy in his own district, which also is suffering from the effects of floodwater.
“I am so pleased with the response of our congregations as they are serving their communities, making known the love of Christ by word and deed,” he said.
One such congregation is Concordia Lutheran Church in Sioux City, Iowa, which has “opened their facilities for Holy Cross, Dakota Dunes, to worship with them and use office space for as long as needed,” said Sieveking.
But there are other areas in the district that may soon be in need of help themselves. Downstream in Missouri Valley, “Farmland will be flooded, and farmers are anticipating the loss of this year’s crop and perhaps next year’s as well,” said Sieveking. In Council Bluffs, people wait to see if the levees hold. If they don’t, “Two of our congregations’ facilities will also likely be underwater.”
‘Danger … very real’
The danger of flooding became very real on June 13, when a levee in the southwestern Iowa town of Hamburg was breached, and water flooded thousands of acres of farmland and closed Interstate 29.
In northwest Missouri, both St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Craig and St. John’s Lutheran Church in Corning are under roughly five feet of water. “The churches are in a historic flood plain,” said Missouri District President Dr. Ray Mirly, “and these are seasoned farmers that have gone through many floods and know how to handle it. Veteran farmers know, perhaps better than anyone, that in these cases you rely only on complete faith and trust in God.”
In North Dakota, the wet spring has had an enormous impact also, says Rev. Timothy L. Stout, pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Devil’s Lake and Grace Lutheran Church in Lakota. Stout, who is a captain and a chaplain in the North Dakota National Guard, has been “deployed for four weeks now to minister to soldiers and airmen who have been fighting floods across the state for almost two months, with no relief in immediate sight.”
Stout said the flooding in North Dakota began along both the Sheyanne and Red Rivers. “Just as that issue began to be resolved, the heavy rains in Montana sent an abundance of water into Lake Sakakawea (on the Missouri River). At the same time, heavy rains in Canada caused the Souris [Mouse] River to begin flooding the city of Minot, which has now had two major evacuations.”
North Dakota District President Dr. James Baneck noted that “St. Mark’s in Minot is … under threat” since water is “going over the dikes … in that area.”
Because main roads are under water, Bethlehem and St. John’s in Upham, Faith in Towner and Zion in Kramer are using an airplane to “fly the pastor from one church to the next,” said Baneck.
More evacuations likely
Stout added that parts of Bismarck and Mandan, cities on either side of the Missouri River below Lake Sakakawea, will likely be evacuated at one time or another during the summer. North Dakota National Guard units and residents “will continue to fight floods through the end of August,” Stout said, noting that the Missouri, “the river that is causing flooding in South Dakota and Montana, runs through Williston, Bismarck and Mandan, N.D.”
In Nebraska, the property of LCMS members has been affected also, reports Rev. Russ Sommerfeld, president of the Nebraska District. At press time, no church property had been affected, “but our LCMS folks in Omaha and elsewhere along the Missouri have been helping with sandbagging and evacuations.”
In Montana, “Flooding was expected to continue through June. With two to three times as much snow in the mountains as the 30-year average, the potential for flooding is great,” said Montana District President Rev. Terry Forke.
In Forsyth, Mont., the members of Concordia Lutheran Church have “torn down the Sheetrock and boards in the church basement” due to a flooded basement and are now waiting to rebuild “until the expected rainy summer passes,” said Rev. Marcus Baikie, Concordia’s pastor. “Because of the possibility of mold, we’ve had to cancel VBS and move our Bible classes.”
In Billings, archives in the district office’s basement were destroyed due to groundwater flooding.
But those affected by the flooding “seem to be taking this in stride,” said Forke. “So we are waiting and praying that God will demonstrate His mercy by bringing about a cool, dry summer.”
LCMS World Relief and Human Care has been monitoring the flooding in the Missouri River basin and has dispatched staff to the area to assess needs and offer help. To make a gift to help WR-HC assist families suffering from historic floods:
* Mail checks (noting “Spring Floods 2011” 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.
* Donate online for LCMS flood relief efforts at www.lcms.org/disaster/flood.
Adriane Dorr is managing editor of The Lutheran Witness.
Posted June 23, 2011