By Kim Plummer Krull
A few days after they were rescued by boat from their flooded home, Jan and Greg Wilsey say they are “overwhelmed.” But, surprisingly, the members of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Delmar, N.Y., aren’t referring to their escape with emergency officials or the flash flood that dumped six feet of water in their basement.
Instead of their material losses, the Wilseys are overwhelmed by the much needed support of fellow Lutherans since Hurricane Irene turned their lives upside down.
Greg Wilsey calls the people who provided emergency shelter for the couple and helped clean out their soggy basement “a fabulous witness to the love our church has for each other. Every time somebody else shows up, I just start crying again.”
The Wilseys are among the many families in hard-hit upstate New York where LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC) is working with pastors and ministry leaders to help meet urgent needs that may surprise many beyond the battered East Coast.
(See video interviews with the Wilseys and other LCMS members affected by Irene and pictures of storm damage at www.youtube.com/mercytubewrhc and the LCMS World Relief and Human Care Facebook page at www.facebook.com/lcmswrhc.)
Even as Irene fades from the national headlines, pockets of communities along the Eastern Seaboard continue to suffer from the Aug. 27 weekend storm now blamed for at least 46 deaths in 13 states, according to news reports. The cost of the devastation in some areas is being likened to that caused by Hurricane Katrina, said the Rev. Glenn F. Merritt, director of Disaster Response with WR-HC.
“People are feeling overwhelmed,” said Merritt, as he trekked Sept. 2 between two heavily stricken areas, from greater Albany, N.Y., to Terryville, Conn. While the hurricane-turned-tropical-storm packed a different punch than expected, “it was still a critical event that has impacted thousands of people across upstate New York and in many other places,” he said.
That morning, Merritt and Al Dowbnia, of LCMS Communications, met at Bethlehem Lutheran with the Rev. Mark Mueller, the church pastor; Joyce Nortarcola, compassionate care coordinator for Resurrection Lutheran Church, Cairo; and the Rev. Derek Lecakes, disaster response coordinator for the LCMS Atlantic District, to discuss how WR-HC can work with local congregations to assist people in need.
Many of the families most impacted by Irene lack the personal resources to recover from a disaster that has left some 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,” Merritt said.
Irene’s torrential rains turned creeks into rivers that “completely obliterated” some small communities in upstate New York, the Rev. Dr. David Benke, president of the LCMS Atlantic District, said in a Sept. 2 interview with KFUO Radio. People “are really hurting right now,” said Benke, whose district covers eastern New York.
The devastation is also an opportunity, Benke said, to share “Witness, Mercy, Life Together,” referring to the Synod’s emphasis for the church. When Lutherans extend “that arm of mercy,” we can show people “in a real-world way” what the love of Christ is all about, he said.
Because Hurricane Irene is the latest disaster WR-HC is responding to during a six-month string of tornadoes and floods across the United States, Merritt stressed “an urgent need” for donor support. “WR-HC needs your gifts in order to continue supporting these vital ministries of our local congregations up and down the East Coast,” he said.
The Synod’s mercy arm also continues to address unmet needs in North Dakota; Alabama; and Joplin, Mo., among other areas, said the Rev. John Fale, interim director of WR-HC.
“There’s a tendency to forget about past disasters when a new one hits, but we’re still monitoring needs and working with districts and congregations in all those areas,” he said.
“We understand and appreciate that donors already have been so generous and giving,” Fale continued. “But the reality is that in order for us to sustain our work and continue to help congregations and communities in the months to come, we ask that you prayerfully consider making yet another gift. We need your help to continue helping others.”
To learn more about how Irene is impacting LCMS congregation and communities along the East Coast — including video and audio interviews — visit www.lcms.org/irenerelief.
To make a gift to help WR-HC assist families suffering from Hurricane Irene:
* Mail checks (noting “Hurricane Irene 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, click here. To designate your gift, please include “Hurricane Irene” in the comments box of the giving form.
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.
Posted Sept. 2, 2011