By Sarah Schafer
When the Rev. Alan Steinke and his wife, Marie, first saw their Long Island home of 13 years from a distance on Oct. 30 — the day after Superstorm Sandy — most of it was blown away.
“It was like a Salvador Dali painting. It was surreal. It was unbelievable,” said the Rev. Steinke, a retired LCMS pastor living in Massapequa, N.Y.
“The home was almost totally destroyed,” said Al Dowbnia, director of Digital Media with LCMS Communications — one of four Synod staff members on the East Coast this week to assist LCMS districts with assessments and developing responses. Other team members are the Rev. Glenn Merritt, director of LCMS Disaster Response; the Rev. Bart Day, director of the Office of National Mission; and the Rev. Carlos Hernandez, director of LCMS Church and Community Development.
The Steinkes are staying at a hotel a half-hour’s drive from their home.
To watch a video interview with the Rev. Alan Steinke, click here.
On Nov. 1, Merritt and Atlantic District President Rev. Dr. David Benke provided them aid and encouragement. Benke offered to be present with the couple “every step of the way.”
“God was good enough to give us this great place on the water and, God willing, we’ll be back,” said Steinke.
“While assessments are still coming, it’s apparent that LCMS families have suffered loss or damage from the storm,” said Merritt.
“We are blessed that while our churches have sustained some damage from the wind, none seem to be severely damaged, including True Light Lutheran Church, Manhattan, N.Y. There are still some we are checking on, especially on Staten Island,” wrote Atlantic District Disaster Coordinator Rev. Derek Lecakes in a Nov. 1 email.
On Nov. 1, the LCMS team visited St. Peter Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Benke serves as pastor, to discuss the congregation’s ongoing cleanup efforts. Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Arlington, Texas, is providing 350 flood cleanup buckets to the congregation.
St. Peter’s members will distribute the kits throughout the Rockaways, where media outlets reported fire destroyed and damaged some 110 homes on Breezy Point. The LCMS team also began assessing the situation in the Rockaways on Nov. 1.
The Atlantic District disaster team — comprised of Lecakes; the Rev. Paul Sauer from Our Savior Lutheran Church in the Bronx, and the Rev. Mark Mueller of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Delmar, N.Y., is developing a plan to respond to the overwhelming needs of the area. The plan will focus considerable attention on a group of about 300 people from the Rockaways who were displaced by the Superstorm and fire.
“These underprivileged individuals do not have the resources to help themselves. They are staying in a shelter that is not sponsored by any organization. The Atlantic District is helping them any way they can,” reported Merritt.
On Nov. 1, the LCMS awarded a $15,000 emergency grant to the Atlantic District for transitional housing for displaced persons in the region; to support the emergency shelter and to help affected people replace food, clothing, and other personal items destroyed in the storm. Grants also have been earmarked for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti ($10,000) and the Cuban Lutheran Fellowship ($10,500) to replace roofs and for water filtration systems.
Merritt indicated that the LCMS team would attempt to visit lower Manhattan on Nov. 2 — where the storm caused widespread flooding, extensive damage and knocked out electrical power.
On Oct. 31, the LCMS team met with LCMS New Jersey District Disaster Response Director Rev. Don Brand in Union, N.J., and others from the state who were affected by the storm.
“Many neighborhoods in and around Union City have experienced damage from the storm. There are trees through houses, downed trees and other storm damage around the area,” reported Merritt.
While talking with the Rev. Mark Stillman from Village Lutheran Church in Lanoka Harbor, N.J., on Oct. 31, the LCMS team learned one member has up to 4 inches of water in his home and is staying in another location. In Bayville, N.J., a Village Lutheran Church family has substantial damage to their home, but has not been able to reach it to see the full extent of those damages. Stillman had yet to contact many of the congregation’s elderly and shut-in members.
LCMS staff also have been in contact with leaders of the New England, Eastern, Southeast, English and SELC Districts.
“Reports from other districts indicate there is less damage and their district disaster-response coordinators (DDRCs) and district staff have things in hand,” wrote Merritt in an Oct. 31 report to Synod leaders. “Our years of training, coordinating, etc., are paying dividends.”
LCMS Disaster Response staff are assisting the Eastern, English and SELC Districts, at their request, with contacting their church workers, congregations and schools. They are keeping a database of church workers in need and will work with their respective districts to get assistance. Bill Cochran, director of School Ministry for the LCMS Office of National Mission, has been receiving regular updates from LCMS schools.
Church workers in the Sandy-affected areas who have not yet been contacted by LCMS district offices are being encouraged to try to call or email their district offices. If they are unable to reach their respective district offices, they are asked to contact Tracy Quaethem with LCMS Disaster Response at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-248-1930, Ext. 1711.
“Our response to Sandy has shown us that planning, collaboration and communication is working, and working well,” said the Rev. John Fale, Synod’s associate executive director, Mercy Operations. “District staff have been phenomenal, as have parish pastors and school principals and teachers. We thank God that for the most part, our schools and congregations are unscathed. They are poised to be ministry and staging centers in their neighborhoods and communities. Many are coming forward and asking how they can help.
“When you think about it,” Fale continued, “this is an opportunity for local LCMS congregations to serve many, many people who are not Christians with the love and mercy of God through the Gospel and disaster relief. We could not do this without blessing from our Lord, the prayers and generosity of our members and leadership across all sectors of our church body. I am in awe. Thanks be to God.”
The LCMS also offers resources for congregations that want to become involved in Superstorm response efforts. For a full list, read the article “Synod offers resources for congregations reaching out in Sandy’s wake” (click here).
Merritt said it is too early for volunteers, including chainsaw crews, to travel to the storm-affected areas and stressed that material-good donations have not yet been determined. If and when these volunteers or material goods are needed, Merritt said the LCMS would publicize the needs.
“The best thing people can do at this time is to give financial donations [that] can be used to provide immediate aid and assistance,” said Merritt.
To help those affected by the storm:
* make an online gift at https://www.lcms.org/givenow/disaster.
* mail checks payable to “The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod” (with a memo line or note designating “LCMS Disaster Relief”) to The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
* call toll-free 888-930-4438.
In addition to Reporter Online, continuing updates about the Synod’s response to Hurricane Sandy will be posted on the LCMS website at www.lcms.org, Twitter (www.twitter.com/thelcms), the LCMS Facebook page (www.facebook.com/thelcms) and the Mercy Forever blog (http://mercyforever.lcms.org).
Sarah Schafer is a freelance writer based in Fairfax, Va., and a member of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Springfield, Va.
Posted Nov. 1, 2012 / Updated Nov. 2, 2012 / Updated Nov. 3, 2012 / Updated Nov. 7, 2012 / Updated Nov. 13, 2012