By Kim Plummer Krull
More than three months after an EF-4 tornado devastated Henryville, volunteers equipped with Lutheran Early Response Team (LERT) training are among those still helping the southern Indiana community pick up the pieces.
“Initially, we saw a lot of people respond, but now it’s down to some dedicated, mainly faith-based organizations,” Tricia Major of the LCMS Indiana District Disaster Response Coordination Team said about the March 2 twister — part of a wave of storms that killed some 37 people in Indiana and Kentucky. “The news media and most other organizations have forgotten [Henryville]. Almost all the volunteers now are coming from the churches.”
The twister affected about half of the town of 2,000, Major said, killing four people, destroying 200 homes and the local elementary and junior/senior high schools.
Grace Lutheran Church in neighboring New Albany is helping lead the recovery in Henryville, which has no Lutheran church. Grace is helping house volunteers who have come from 59 congregations so far to clear debris, serve meals at a local food ministry and repair houses. Twelve homes are in the process of being rebuilt.
More volunteers are needed. “Please sign up,” said the Rev. Matthew Woods, Grace Lutheran Church’s pastor. (Learn more and register at the Lutheran Church Charities website, www.lutheranchurchcharities.org, or call 866-455-6466.)
Volunteers also will serve at Camp Noah, the nationally-known day camp created by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota to give children a chance to play and heal after a disaster. About 50 youngsters, including one who lost a sister and grandparents in the storm, are expected to attend the June 25-29 camp.
The children “will learn some new skills to put in their coping tool boxes,” Major said in an email update to volunteers and partners about Camp Noah. “They will play and do crafts, sing and praise God. Perhaps a child who does not know God will be introduced to Him for the first time. No matter what, there will be tons of fun, love and laughter.”
After the tornado, Woods invited the Rev. Glenn F. Merritt and the Rev. Edward O. Grimenstein, director and manager, respectively, of LCMS Disaster Response, to lead LERT training to strengthen the congregation’s efforts in helping the battered community recover. Fifty people took part in the training and are now working as part of a faith-based, multi-denominational effort.
“The training helped tremendously for people to learn that how [the LCMS] goes about disaster response is different than other organizations,” Major said. “When we go out, we’re serving as the hands and feet of Christ.”
LCMS Disaster Response also provided a $2,000 grant to help Grace install showers for volunteers housed at the church. Previously, they had to go elsewhere to clean up.
Mercy in Action
Grace is one of more than 200 LCMS congregations that have participated in training events over the past five years. LERT is one part of the Synod’s overall congregational disaster preparedness and response training program, formerly known as “Preparing to Meet the Challenge,” that has been revamped and renamed “Mercy in Action.”
” ‘Mercy in Action’ seeks to strike a balance between a theological understanding of what it means for LCMS congregations to respond to a disaster while at the same time offering congregations practical ways to respond,” said Grimenstein, who recently returned from leading LERT training at Peace Lutheran Church, Beaver Dam, Wis.
Unlike Grace Lutheran Church, Peace Lutheran Church is dealing with no recent Wisconsin disaster. Members requested the training to be prepared, Grimenstein said. (For more information about LERT training, contact Grimenstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or 314-996-1638.)
“Mercy in Action” will be highlighted at the fifth LCMS National Disaster Response Conference, Oct. 8-10 at the LCMS International Center in St. Louis. The conference is designed to help district disaster-response coordinators and human-care leaders prepare congregations and volunteers to share Christ’s love when lives turn upside down. (More conference and registration information will be posted at www.lcms.org.)
Along with providing training for volunteers, LCMS Disaster Response continues to support the ongoing efforts of LCMS congregations leading recoveries from last year’s tornado in Joplin, Mo., and flooding in Minot, N.D.
“The church is still there, after other organizations are long gone,” Merritt said.
Major, an R.N. and member of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Louisville, Ky., says that’s true in Henryville. She calls the town a mission field. In addition to meeting physical needs, LCMS volunteers distribute Bibles and pray for and with hurting families.
Those volunteers are easily identified by their yellow vests emblazoned with the LCMS cross. Major said people are always asking who they are and why they continue to lend a hand.
“That’s when we have the opportunity to tell them, ‘We come back because of Jesus’ love,'” she said.
To help LCMS Disaster Response share Christ’s mercy:
- 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 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 July 5, 2012