by Kim Plummer Krull
While searching for the home of LCMS members who were among some 4,100 flooded families in Minot, N.D., two pastors pulled into the driveway of a man “who looked sad and in need of a listening ear.” Little more than a shell remained of the man’s house, where he had lived more than 20 years and raised a family. Tears flowed, says the Rev. Paul Krueger, as the husband and father spoke about his loss.
“He knew we were with a church that was helping out [with emergency flood relief],” said Krueger, pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Minot, who was showing the Rev. John A. Fale, interim co-executive director with the Synod’s Office of International Mission, devastation in the hard-hit community.
When Krueger asked if the three could pray together, the weary homeowner said it had been a long time since he had been in church. “This man needed Jesus,” Krueger said. “At that moment, there was the opportunity to let him know that he wasn’t forgotten; that the people of God care.” After the prayer, the man asked the pastor, “Where is your church?”
That’s just one “mercy moment,” to borrow a favorite expression from the Rev. Glenn F. Merritt, director of LCMS Disaster Response, from 2011, a year that, at times, seemed like 365 days of devastation.
It was a stretch that included the catastrophic quake, tsunami and nuclear power-plant accident in Japan; deadly tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri; flooding in the Midwest and Northeast; drought and famine in East Africa; raging wildfires in central Texas and many more calamities around the globe.
But amid the suffering, Merritt says, “God opened doors to share the Gospel.” Together, the LCMS and ministry partnersdonors, volunteers, districts, congregations, Recognized Service Organizations, international partner churchesoffered a helping hand and a listening ear. “It’s our unique Lutheran theology of witness and mercy that separates us from others that respond,” says Merritt.
In October, ministry leaders at the first International Disaster Response Conference for Lutherans focused on how mercy can follow misery. The following are brief updates from only a few conference participants and their colleagues about needs, challenges and “mercy moments” in the wake of four disasters.
In Minot: Helping families
This year, Minot’s winter cold is sure to feel especially harsh to families with homes damaged in last summer’s record floods. Many live in FEMA trailers because of a shortage of available housing.
“When a two-inch thick trailer-home wall is all that protects you from minus 45 degrees and 35 mile-per-hour winds, you know you’re going to be cold inside your trailer, and you know that you will be spending money on heat,” said Krueger, whose congregation turned the church fellowship hall into a community food center when the Souris River crested in June.
Nearly 300 families from three LCMS congregationsOur Savior, St. Mark and St. Pauland the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch (DGBR), an LCMS Recognized Service Organization, are among the thousands whose homes were damaged or destroyed. Most lack flood insurance.
Ministry leaders, including Fale and Merritt, joined forces to provide emergency assistance and work on long-term recovery efforts. In early 2012, Merritt will return to Minot to discuss plans to open a volunteer village at Our Savior Lutheran.
“When spring and summer come, I would ask our brothers and sisters from all over the Synod to come and help those in Minot to rebuild, clean up and recover,” said the Rev. Dr. James A. Baneck, LCMS North Dakota District president.
Through LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC), the Synod’s mercy arm, donors have provided a total $269,800 in grants for flood relief in Minot. But that assistance doesn’t “even touch the surface,” Merritt stresses. More is urgently needed.
Krueger tells of a single mother living with her children in a FEMA trailer. Her January heating bill is sure to cost more than $500. “Who will help her, if not her church family?” he asked.
In Joplin: Doing work, telling why
“Everyone else leaves, and the Lutherans are still at it.” The Rev. Gregory Mech, pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church, smiles as he shares a comment that caught his ear in Joplin, the southwestern Missouri town where an EF5 tornado caused 160 deaths and damaged about 7,500 homes on May 22, 2011.
Immediately after the twister, Immanuel members used their school gym to provide emergency services. Now the congregation is tackling housing needs through the non-profit corporation Transform Joplin and converting a former cabinet factory into a ministry center.
By early 2012, volunteers expect to begin constructing homes in the 20,000 square-foot facility, focusing on that 40 percent of affected homeowners without sufficient resources to rebuild. “We’re going to do the work and tell people why we’re doing it,” Mech said. “Volunteers, motivated by the love of Christ, are going to rebuild our town.”
Synod ministry leaders continue to work with Immanuel and the LCMS Missouri District to support the congregation’s disaster response. To date, WR-HC donors have provided a total $120,977 in grants for tornado response in Joplin.
In August, Trent Davis joined the Immanuel staff to coordinate the congregation’s tornado recovery efforts. He tells of a retiree, under-insured when the storm hit, who lives in a FEMA trailer. The man is using money set aside for his retirement to rebuild his home. Transform Joplin volunteers are lending a hand. This fall, Davis spotted the man at Sunday worship. “Without any prodding, he started attending,” Davis said. “I think he knows we’re walking alongside him, and he wants to walk with us too.”
In Japan: Comfort and courage
“You give us great comfort and courage,” says the Rev. Masahiro Ando. The director of disaster support for the Japan Lutheran Church (JLC) is speaking of Missouri Synod Lutherans who have sent prayers, financial gifts and ministry leaders “to guide, to encourage” Japanese Lutherans since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant accident dealt their country a triple blow in March.
A tiny minority in the predominantly Buddhist nation, Japanese Lutherans “did not know how to help the people,” Ando said, after the tsunami killed some 20,000 and left tens of thousands homeless.
They formed Japan Lutheran Emergency Relief (JLER) with members from four Japanese Lutheran church bodies and distributed emergency supplies at a relief center in Sendai. Now the partners are focusing on long-term recovery needs, including concerns about radiation.
To date, $1.2 million in grants have been made available to Japanese Lutheran partners for emergency and recovery efforts. That outreach has prompted
questions from the countrymen of Yuko Endo of Japan Lutheran Emergency Relief. “They say, ‘Why are Christians so kind?,'” says Endo, who welcomes the opportunity to answer.
In Haiti: Building hope
One of the first families to move into the new Lutheran village in Jacmel built by LCMS and Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti (ELCH) partners for earthquake survivors was a young mother and her youngsters. They are some of the people Merritt thinks of when he says “thousands of lives” have been touched by Christ’s mercy since the quake devastated Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, killing some 300,000.
Two years later, plans are under way to dedicate three villages in January 2012 as part of “Building Homes and Hope in Haiti” (BHHH). The project is helping families leave squalid refugee camps for communities that provide safe, permanent homes. The villagesalso located in Beaudouin and Leoganeare anchored by local ELCH churches.
BHHH is one of seven major collaborative efforts made possible by more than $5.6 million donated to WR-HC for the Haiti earthquake response. Those gifts helped provide emergency supplies immediately after the disaster. Subsequent projects have assisted families who lost homes, children who lost parents and people with desperate needs for medical care and clean water.
Today, donations for the Haiti earthquake response are nearly depleted. Additional funds are needed to continue mercy work in a country where hundreds of thousands remain homeless and, according to ELCH President Rev. Marky Kessa, many are turning to Christ.
In October, Kessa told how more than 300 people have been baptized at his Jacmel church since the quakethe same church where, nearly two years ago, emergency supplies made possible by Lutheran partners and WR-HC donors helped feed “many, many thousands of people.”
“We didn’t need to know where they came from or which church they belonged to,” Kessa said of the earthquake survivors. “We served them because God blessed us, and we blessed them.”
> For more on the LCMS’ mercy work, see January’s Caring at worldrelief.org/.
> Register to help at the volunteer village at Our Savior, Minot, N.D., at www.oslcnow.com.
> Lutheran Church Charities, an LCMS RSO, is scheduling volunteers. Learn more at www.lutheranchurchcharities.org.
> Donors to LCMS World Relief and Human Care have provided more than $5.6 million for help in Haiti since the 2010
> To date, LCMS supporters have given more than $2.3 million for relief efforts in Japan.
> Go to https://picasaweb.google.com/LutheranMOSynod/ to see photos of LCMS representatives in Minot, N.D., in Japan and at the first ever International Disaster Response Conference for Lutherans.
> Designate your gift to WR-HC’s General Disaster Fund at http://givenowlcms.org or by calling 888-930-4438.
About the author: Kim Plummer Krull is a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.