By Kim Plummer Krull
Three days after a tornado slammed into Creston, Iowa, so fast that emergency management officials had no time to sound warning sirens, the Rev. Jonathan C. Watt said people are “so grateful that God had mercy and no one was killed.”
“The whole town is overwhelmed that in the midst of all this destruction, no one died,” Watt, pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Creston, said in a telephone interview April 17. “I’ve heard dozens of stories of near-death or how people just missed dying by seconds — story after story of God’s mercy are just everywhere.”
Since this town of some 8,000 people, located about 75 miles southwest of Des Moines, was hit hard April 14 in a tornado outbreak that swept through four Midwestern states, Watt and LCMS members in Iowa and beyond have been busy helping with emergency needs.
In Creston, Trinity’s fellowship hall is serving as a Red Cross center. The congregation has distributed all $800 in the church’s Christian Care fund, mainly to displaced families, after the twister damaged or destroyed 16 apartment buildings, 60 single-family residences and three community college dormitories, Watt said.
Four Trinity member families are among those with damaged homes.
While people are thankful there were no fatalities, the pastor said Creston is just beginning to realize the magnitude of challenges in a town struggling with poverty and a shortage of affordable housing even before the tornado.
A major concern is that the local hospital — the center of local economic activity — also was destroyed.
“All of the hospital employees have been placed on indefinite unpaid leave,” Watt said in an email to the Rev. Glenn F. Merritt, director of LCMS Disaster Response. “I’m not sure how this relates to unemployment … but the economic impact to the community will be significant.”
Trinity is helping coordinate volunteers to staff a distribution center to assist with long-term needs. (To learn more, contact Watt at 641-782-5095, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the church website at www.trinitycreston.org/tornado.)
Plans are in the works for Trinity to apply for an LCMS disaster-response grant, said Ellie Menz, disaster-response coordinator with the LCMS Iowa District West. Menz was in Creston helping Watt assess needs and assist with emergency relief efforts the day after she tackled similar chores in Thurman, another Iowa community struggling to pick up the pieces after the violent weather weekend.
LERT debut in Thurman
Also lending a hand in Thurman were 25 volunteers who recently participated in a Lutheran Emergency Response Training (LERT) session sponsored by the LCMS Iowa District West. The group drove three hours from Peace Lutheran Church in Wall Lake to Thurman, a town of about 250 that has no LCMS congregation. As much as 75 percent of the community was destroyed, according to news stories, but with no reports of serious injuries.
“They were cleaning up, had the chainsaws going, wheelbarrows, rakes and shovels working,” Menz said of the LERT group, organized with the help of LERT coordinator Jackie Wallace and the Rev. Roger Carlisle, Peace Lutheran’s pastor.
The outing marked the debut of a LERT trailer equipped with tools and a grill for cooking. Menz also was working on plans to issue a second call for LERT volunteers to assist with cleanup needs in Creston.
“As a church, we have so many people who are willing to help,” said Menz, who helped organize last month’s LERT training at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Lake View, which drew some 160 people.
She praised the Synod’s disaster-response initiative that helps LCMS districts communicate with congregations in affected areas and coordinate a timely response in collaboration with Merritt and LCMS Disaster Response ministry leaders.
“With the click of a mouse, we can contact 175 churches in western Iowa and say we need this, we need your help here,” Menz said.
Fatalities rise in Woodward
By April 17, according to news reports, the death toll had risen to six in Woodward, Okla., where the storms were especially vicious. No members of Trinity Lutheran Church, Woodward, were injured, but some have storm damage to their homes, the Rev. Gregory Brown, Trinity’s pastor, said in an email to Merritt.
Echoing Menz, Merritt also tipped his hat to the district leaders, local pastors and congregations in Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas who worked with LCMS Disaster Response to check on needs and respond in the wake of a stormy weekend that included some 120 reports of funnel clouds in two days.
“The protocol was implemented with LCMS districts and LCMS district disaster-response coordinators being contacted within hours following massive and widespread storms across the midsection of the U.S.,” Merritt said in an email. “Local pastors and congregations were then contacted in conjunction with the mercy outreach of the districts. In communities throughout the affected regions, local LCMS pastors and congregations painted the face of Christ across destroyed homes and buildings, bringing relief and hope to hundreds of survivors of the storms.”
How you can help
To support the Synod’s disaster-response program:
- make an online gift at http://lcms.org/disasterfund.
- mail checks (noting “General Disaster Response Fund” in the memo line) to The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
- call toll-free 888-930-4438.
Donations received for general disaster-relief efforts will be wisely used to support LCMS disaster-response and relief efforts where the greatest need is as determined by The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Your gift is tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
Posted April 18, 2012