On Dec. 13, 2019, at the LCMS International Center (IC) in St. Louis, the Rev. Robert Wurst Jr. was installed as volunteer manager for the LCMS Disaster Response program known as LERT, or Lutheran Early Response Team. LERT volunteers are organized at the district level and trained in many aspects of disaster response so that they can be rapidly deployed when disasters strike.
“The Synod has now trained about 20,000 LERT volunteers, with a goal of adding 2,000 more each year,” said the Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, Disaster Response director. “Rev. Wurst, as our new LERT volunteer manager, will focus on helping us better utilize and coordinate our volunteers so that they may serve most effectively in the aftermath of a disaster.”
Wurst began work at the IC on Dec. 2. “In almost every way,” he said, “this is a new beginning. I’ve been a parish pastor for 24 years. The first few weeks here have been filled with the usual stuff of new beginnings: uncertainty, a little fear, ‘where’s the coffee pot?’ My colleagues in Disaster Response … [and] everyone I have met at the IC have been very friendly, professional and oriented with helping our churches across the Synod.”
Wurst earned his Master of Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, in 1995. In addition to his parish experience, he has worked as a volunteer firefighter, EMT and executive assistant to a fire department chief. He has taught Bible classes in American Sign Language and summer seminars for the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church and is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He and his wife, Cheryl, have three grown children.
Also installed on Dec. 13 was the Rev. Michael Meyer. Meyer, who formerly served as manager of LCMS Disaster Response, will now serve as director of disaster training. Meyer’s and Wurst’s new positions reflect a new staff structure for LCMS Disaster Response.
“As our LERT program grows,” said Johnson, “and the need for timely disaster response continues, it was important to adjust how we meet both of these conditions. There is great overlap among our positions, but in general, I will focus on disaster response, Rev. Meyer will focus on training, and Rev. Wurst will focus on volunteer management.”
A significant aspect of both Wurst and Meyer’s work will be to develop and deliver training for LERT volunteers, to help track the training status of volunteers and to urge them, through the district disaster response coordinators, to engage in works of mercy in their communities. Other areas of emphasis are expanding LERTs to include high-school age youth and to assist church workers engaged in disaster relief to manage the stress that unavoidably comes.
“We hope to give tools for stress management and relief along with Christian encouragement to help workers stay strong and rested so they can continue to serve those in their care and in their communities with the love of Christ,” Wurst said, adding that LERT “isn’t a ‘big Synod program.’ It is thousands of LCMS laypeople and church workers who sign up to learn how to extend the mercy and joy that they receive from Jesus.”
Wurst continued: “The LERT program is focused in our congregations so that we can help each other and our neighbors in close conjunction with Word and Sacrament ministry. It is Disaster Response’s task to come alongside, give guidance and encouragement, and offer training and resources so that this can be done efficiently.
“LERT members perform a wide variety of service to their fellow members and communities. They offer a patient ear, a helping hand, a strong back, and words of Christian encouragement to those who know the pain of loss, destruction and confusion that results from a disaster. Our Lord Christ makes His Christians light and salt in our world so that His salvation would be made known and His name glorified.”
Posted Feb. 5, 2020