By Kim Plummer Krull
“People are anxious to help.”
Although the Rev. Larry Courson, pastor of Peace Lutheran Church, Ann Arbor, Mich., was talking about response to the March 15 tornado that damaged more than 200 homes in the suburb of Dexter, his words also could describe the many LCMS helping hands in the wake of a string of storms and earthquakes, including the devastating April 3 tornado outbreak in Texas that ripped through the Dallas-Forth Worth area.
Since tornado season roared off to an early start with deadly “Leap Day” twisters on Feb. 29, congregations have been busy organizing volunteers for cleanups while LCMS Disaster Response monitored needs, got the ball rolling on relief grants and visited two hard-hit Indiana communities.
Less than a week after a magnitude-7.4 earthquake rocked Mexico on March 20, the Rev. Glenn F. Merritt, director of LCMS Disaster Response, announced that the LCMS sent a $2,500 grant to the Lutheran Synod of Mexico to assist families left homeless and struggling with critical needs for food, water and medical care.
A 7.1-magnitude quake also hit Chile five days later. The following day, March 28, Merritt and LCMS ministry leaders departed on a previously scheduled trip to follow up on mission and mercy projects begun by the Confessional Lutheran Church of Chile (ILECHI) in partnership with the LCMS after a quake and tsunami devastated the country in 2010.
The following is a brief recap of LCMS mercy work after recent disasters, beginning with the most recent ones.
Checking on damage in Lone Star State
As circuit counselors in the LCMS Texas District continue to assess damages, LCMS Disaster Response leaders are giving thanks that, so far, there have been no reports of deaths or serious injuries to member families after a series of tornadoes shredded homes and hurled tractor-trailer trucks into the air on April 3.
“[It’s] nothing short of miraculous, given the fact there was a total of 12 large-sized tornadoes that were on the ground for a prolonged period of time in a metroplex region,” said the Rev. Dr. Edward O. Grimenstein, manager of LCMS Disaster Response.
LCMS Disaster Response is working with the Rev. Steven Misch, Texas District disaster response coordinator, as Misch gathers assessments from congregations and circuits. Although no deaths have been reported, an estimated 650 homes were destroyed in hard-hit areas that include Forney, Lancaster and Arlington, according to news stories.
In McAllen, members of El Buen Pastor Lutheran Church are dealing with damages after a March 29 storm that also took a toll on the church, school and parsonage. At least 12 members need help to make major repairs, according to Grimenstein, who has been in contact with the Rev. Ruben Dominguez, the church’s pastor. The church and school roofs will need to be replaced.
Grant for Michigan families
One week after the EF3 tornado hit southeastern Michigan, some 40 volunteers from Peace Lutheran and Concordia University, Ann Arbor, worked at three different sites to help homeowners clear debris and clean up. The damaged homes included at least six belonging to Peace member families and two homes of member families from St. Paul Lutheran Church, also in Ann Arbor.
The LCMS lent a hand, too, providing a $5,000 grant to Peace to assist families with gift certificates and funds for temporary living expenses and other needs. The grant, made possible by donors to the LCMS, also helped provide food and cleanup supplies for volunteers.
“We certainly plan to continue providing help and support to the families in our area, many of whom will be displaced for up to six months or more while their houses are being repaired or rebuilt,” Courson said.
At St. Paul, that weekend’s worship bulletin included a message from the Rev. Donald Neuendorf, urging members to be “the eyes and ears of the body of Christ” so the congregation can continue to care for people in need long after emergency responders are gone.
Assessing devastation in Indiana
“I’m standing in a parking lot here in Marysville and in every direction I look, there’s not a single house or building that hasn’t been damaged somehow,” LCMS Indiana District President Rev. Dr. Daniel P. May said while visiting the tornado-torn Indiana town that, according to news reports, was 90 percent destroyed.
Marysville and Henryville suffered major damages in the March 2 storm system that produced dozens of tornadoes across 10 states, killing at least 39 people and causing miles of destruction. Although 16 LCMS churches are located within about 25 miles of Henryville, all escaped damage and only a few homes of LCMS members had minor damage, according to LCMS ministry leaders.
“God has given us a place to be servants,” May said.
Merritt and Grimenstein joined May onsite to assess needs. LCMS volunteers from Our Savior Lutheran Church, Louisville, Ky.; Grace Lutheran Church, New Albany, and Immanuel Lutheran Church, Seymour, both in Indiana, had teams of volunteers ready to help.
In Ohio, 17 members from St. Paul Lutheran Church, Cincinnati, traveled after worship March 4 to help homeowners in Clermont County clear debris left by another March 2 tornado that killed three people and damaged some 250 buildings.
(To see video interviews in Marysville and Henryville, visit http://video.lcms.org/archives; to see pictures, visit www.photo.lcms.org.)
‘Leap Day’ storms in Midwest
LCMS churches and members in Illinois, Kansas and southern Missouri reportedly escaped major damages in the deadly Feb. 29 storms that killed at least 12 people and injured more than 100 others.
Merritt reported that Harrisburg, Ill., and Branson, Mo., were among the hard-hit cities as his office contacted congregations, pastors and districts in those and other affected areas.
“While there are no reports of LCMS members being injured or losing homes, there is a great need for mercy to be shown to their communities and surrounding regions,” Merritt said. “As local congregations determine an appropriate response, assistance in the form of grants and onsite visits has been offered by the Synod in Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.”
The Rev. David Otten of Faith Lutheran Church, Eldorado, Ill., said his congregation was ready to assist nearby residents of Harrisburg, where at least six people were killed by tornadoes.
In Branson, a twister caused three dozen injures and significant damage to tourist-area hotels and theaters. In a March 1 interview on the Synod-owned radio station KFUO-AM, the Rev. Darwin Karsten, interim pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, Branson, said a few member families reported storm damage to their businesses.
When the storm hit, Faith members were scheduled to volunteer in Joplin, Mo., to help with rebuilding efforts ongoing since a deadly tornado devastated that city in 2011.
“One of the first calls we got at [Faith Lutheran] church was from the Lutheran pastor in Joplin — to see if they could do anything for us,” Karsten told KFUO.
Meeting needs in Mexico
Families are homeless and living on the street since the quake in southwestern Mexico damaged at least 800 homes in Mexico City and destroyed more than 500 in the states of Oaxaca and Guerroero, according to a grant request to the LCMS from the Lutheran Synod of Mexico.
Merritt and the Rev. Carlos Hernandez, director of Strategic Development (including Hispanic ministries) for the LCMS Office of National Mission, have stayed in close touch with President Alvaro Lopez of the Lutheran Synod of Mexico since the quake triggered landslides and knocked down walls, with repeated aftershocks terrifying families.
On March 26, Lopez told Hernandez that Mexican Lutheran pastors made announcements at worship the previous day about relief efforts and that families were beginning to come forward with their needs.
Plans were in the works for Lopez to meet with the Lutheran Synod of Mexico council to discuss the church’s earthquake response in Mexico City, Acapulco and especially Oaxaca, the city closest to the quake epicenter. Lopez said he planned to travel to Oaxaca to assess damages and meet with a small Lutheran group not yet connected to the Lutheran Synod of Mexico.
The grant, made possible by donors to the LCMS, will provide small individual grants while needs assessments continue, according to Merritt. The Lutheran Synod of Mexico is the LCMS partner church in that country.
Lopez asked LCMS Disaster Response to thank the LCMS “for their prayers and expressions of concern,” Hernandez said.
In Chile: sharing mercy
The March 25 quake caught the attention of worshipers north of Santiago, Chile, IELCHI President Rev. Cristian Rautenberg reported in a Skype conversation the next day with Merritt.
“In Talca and Constitucion, the people were very upset because this reminded them of the great earthquake and tsunami of two years ago,” Merritt said after he spoke with Rautenberg. “Many people are having flashbacks and old fears are surrounding them; however, there were only a few injuries and one death reported this morning.”
The Rev. Omar Kinas, the missionary serving new IELCHI congregations in Talca and Constitucion, and his family are safe. Kinas is calling on members “to reassure them that God is in control,” Merritt said.
The 2010 disaster killed some 700 people and left some 2 million homeless. In the aftermath, Merritt and Hernandez traveled to Chile to assist pastors with the small IELCHI church body in reaching out to families with both spiritual and physical needs.
Since then, the LCMS has provided $326,000 in grants to the IELCHI, including for earthquake relief efforts, for Kinas to serve the new congregations and to purchase property for a new Lutheran mission center.
Chile’s March earthquake added importance to a return trek, Merritt said. “Carlos [Hernandez] and I will join our colleagues in Chile in the field sharing mercy and peace, just as we did after the earthquake/tsunami of 2010,” he said. “What a privilege.”
Help is needed
Because of an unprecedented number of tornadoes in 2011 followed by this year’s early storm season, Merritt said disaster-response resources are limited. He asks fellow Lutherans to “please consider supporting the Synod’s disaster-response program so that we can provide assistance to local LCMS congregations and districts as they respond to the needs of those affected by this severe weather.”
“Your contribution today will enable us to respond in Christ’s name when and where there is a need following damaging storms and other disasters,” Merritt said.
- 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 4, 2012/Updated April 10, 2012