In Christ for the Church and the World

The LCMS’ response to the deadly 2011 earthquake in Japan offered a glimpse into the convention-mandated restructuring efforts.


by Barb Below

When a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck the island of Japan on March 11, 2011, the staff of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod worked quickly to establish contact with partner church members on the ground, determining the damage and outlining the course of action for showing mercy to the suffering. But as the Synod mobilized to respond to Japan’s staggering need, members of individual departments began to work together in what would later be viewed as a test run of the Synod’s restructuring efforts.

At the 2010 LCMS convention, delegates passed Res. 8-08A, which called for the LCMS national office to be reorganized into a new structure. This change encourages coordinated work across departmental units and building-wide, streamlined, efficient responsiveness to identified needs. The national office, an organization built of many program area “experts,” is now being restructured to call for a multidisciplinary, matrix approach to major Synod efforts.

The Japan crisis unknowingly became the first opportunity for these program and service units to work together around the common goal of bringing the love and mercy of Jesus Christ to the hurting people in Japan. The critical nature of this disaster launched Synod employees into integrated work despite a lack of formal processes or procedures.

“Prior to restructuring, most Synod departments were already working together but often on a rather limited basis,” said the Rev. Glenn F. Merritt, director of Disaster Response. “Key components were missing that would tie all of Synod’s departments together, not just in disaster response but in mission and ministry.”

As the former executive director of World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC), President Matthew C. Harrison immediately called for daily briefings on the crisis in Japan. Often leading the meetings himself, he encouraged program area staff to work together to bring help to Japanese Lutherans. One of Harrison’s goals for the restructuring effort was to look for opportunities for cooperation among the national-office staff with the goal of accomplishing more together than they previously did independently.

The Rev. John Fale, interim co-executive director of the Office of International Mission, noticed a subsequent change. “The disaster in Japan was the LCMS’ first opportunity since restructuring to demonstrate to the church that positive steps had been taken to respond as an integrated operation.”

The next priority was to share information with the members of the LCMS. “Japan offered a good preview of how our new focus on integrated communications and collaboration across previously strong departmental lines could work and work well,” noted Jim Heine, director of News and Information. “From day one, it was an intense collaborative effort, an effort that focused on an outcomeinforming the Synod about the status of its brothers and sisters in Japan and offering ways congregations and individuals could, in the name of Jesus, offer help and assistance.”

This new methodology, said Al Dowbnia, director of Digital Media, “helped us identify needs, formulate the strategy and then help with aspects of the Communications coverage.”

Another issue involved funding. Res. 8-08A resolved that the fund-development functions of the national office would be coordinated by the president through the Chief Mission Officer (CMO). Despite the new bylaw, which states that the CMO will supervise fund-raising activity on behalf of the president, the CMO had not yet been named when the earthquake struck. This left the president and the fund development staff of the national office to work together, encouraging the generous donors of the LCMS to share with Japan what God had already given to them.

Three days after the disaster, the Synod made $200,000 in funds available to the two Lutheran church bodies in Japan: the Japan Lutheran Church and the West Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church. Hans Springer, director of Direct Response for Fund Development, offered daily updates to the team as the funds grew to over $2 million.

“The daily meetings, then weekly, were important to keep informed and to see how others were contributing to the LCMS response,” recalled Springer. “To learn that there was interdependence on departments and on each other was an important step in refining all our future responses to disasters. Having the direct involvement of the president also set an important tone.”

When the leaders of the Japanese Lutheran churches finally deemed it time for an LCMS contingent to visit, Harrison and staff from World Mission, WR-HC and Communications journeyed to Japan to see the devastation firsthand, bringing to fruition months of collaboration under the new structure.

Through the tragedy of March 11, 2011, God led the LCMS to come together, unified with a common goal, to respond with Christ’s mercy. In doing so, God not only blessed those devastated by the earthquake but also the ongoing restructuring effort of the LCMS national office. May God’s mercy continue to be a comfort to Japan and an encouragement for the LCMS national office.

About the author: Barb Below is assistant to LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison.

Why are ‘where needed most’ funds so crucial?

by Elizabeth M. Truong

Mark Hofman, executive director of Fund Development for the LCMS, explains that the most helpful offering a steward can give is the undesignated gift: a donation the Synod is allowed to use wherever needed most at the time it is received, under policies set by the Board of Directors.

Hofman said, “These are very cost-effective contributions. It demands less time and effort from Synod staff to track these gifts, so more of the gift actually ends up impacting the work of the Church. Additionally, unrestricted gifts position the Church toward responding immediately when unexpected ministry opportunities arisesuch as a disaster-relief effort or immediately walking through an open door into a new mission and mercy field.”

WR-HC depends on your gifts. No funds come from the Synod’s unrestricted budget. Make your gift:

  • Online at
  • By mailing a check (noting “General Disaster Fund” in the memo line) to LCMS World Relief and Human Care, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
  • By calling toll-free 888-930-4438.

Global first for Lutheran leaders

“We see that suffering is everywhere, but also that God has provided ways for us to respond,” said the Rev. John Halahke, general secretary with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya, one of about 80 participants at the first International Disaster Response Conference for Lutherans on Oct. 1820. The conference was sponsored by the Synod’s Office of International Mission at the International Center in St. Louis.

Taking part in this unique opportunity for networking and fellowship were Lutheran leaders from Chile, Japan, Haiti, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Liberia, South Africa, India, South Korea, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia and the United States. Some 20 LCMS districts also were represented, including pastors and volunteers who served on the front lines of recent U.S. disasters. Visit to learn more about the conference.

January 2012


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