Interest Time, LCEF News

Lutherans Loving for the Long Haul

May 7, 2018 | Posted by Demian Farnworth

When they happen, climatic disasters dominate the news. Late last year three hurricanes pummeled Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico—leaving the regions in complete chaos. For Texas and Puerto Rico, it will take years to recover. Yet media coverage on hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria lasted less than two months.

However, LCMS Disaster Response has had a presence in these regions before, during and long after the storms struck. “We focus on large-scale disasters for two, three or four years out,” said Ross Johnson, director of LCMS Disaster Response.

LCMS Disaster Response has been in operation for “over a decade, showing mercy in times of natural disasters like hurricanes, wildfires and tornados. It’s a way,” says Johnson, “the Church can show mercy with helping hands in the name of Christ, with the comfort of the Gospel.”

Rev. Ed Brashier, Southern district Disaster Response Coordinator, the Rev. David Winters, a retired pastor and volunteer from Parkers Prarie, Minn., and volunteer Neal Brady from St. Marys, Ohio, work together to remove a damaged tree at a home on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, in Rockport, Texas.

It’s personal and local

When a disaster strikes, LCMS Disaster Response works with local Lutheran congregations. “We want the community to know that it’s not someone from far off sending help,” Johnson said, “but the local church. We want the local pastors to be the hero.”

LCMS Disaster Response supports eight hubs in Texas, three in Houston and five along the coast, all operated by local congregations.

Most work in Texas has focused on mucking out mud, removing moldy carpet and hanging sheetrock so homes are livable. Some regions, however, don’t have the economic means to repair the storm damage. Local congregation Gloria Dei, South Houston, is building complete homes in the impoverished city of Dickinson.

In Florida, volunteers based at Zion Lutheran Church in Fort Myers have put in over 2,000 hours of labor and completed 92 different jobs, including tree and debris removal and roof repair. LCMS Disaster Response furnished disaster supply equipment and supplies valued at $80,000; $10,000 in gift cards; and $171,000 in emergency grants.

Both hurricanes Irma and Maria battered Puerto Rico. Much of the island is still without electricity— and may remain that way for two more years. More than 100,000 residents fled the country. Businesses permanently closed. In rural areas, families lack power, water and communication.

In response, supply centers have been set up in Ponce and Mayagüez, the second and third-largest cities in Puerto Rico. Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Mayagüez is serving as a hub. In addition, Johnson said, “We just started showing up on people’s doorsteps with bags full of essentials they need like water, diapers, formula, wipes, white rice and batteries.”

It’s the love of Christ

In times of disaster, Johnson finds that people not only have physical and economic needs, but they are also going through a spiritual crisis as well. “This is an opportunity,” Johnson said. “When we reach out to them, it breaks down barriers people have to the Gospel. It’s a way of having conversations because we show our compassion and love through our actions . . . making friends with people who would never step into the church.”

Volunteers from Saint Paul Lutheran Church, Mount Prospect, Ill., including, from left, Jon Gehrt, Jim Wille and Bill Makuch, help rebuild a home damaged by Hurricane Harvey on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, in Port Arthur, Texas.

It’s Lutherans

Because the ministry doesn’t receive any government funding, all of this would not be possible, Johnson admits, without the generous contributions of thousands of Lutherans across the country and grants like the Kaleidoscope Fund.

“We are not embarrassed of who we are as Lutherans,” Johnson said, “acting in compassion. We want people to know that Lutherans are there and that Lutherans care. We would rather have fewer funds [as long as] we have the freedom to speak our Christian faith.”

For all the Lutherans who have given, Johnson said, “I would give them heartfelt thanks because there are so many places they could be giving to.”

In September 2017, the Kaleidoscope Fund, a granting program established by LCEF, granted $250,000 to LCMS Disaster Response for hurricane relief. In addition, LCEF investors were also encouraged to donate their interest to LCMS Disaster Response.

This generosity is not lost on Johnson. “I feel a strong burden to make sure those funds are used in the most helpful way possible afterward,” he said.

The road to recovery is long for Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. It’s good to know they’ll have the support and help they need—made possible by charitable Lutherans and LCEF investors—today and long into the future.

Demian Farnworth
Senior Content Writer for the Lutheran Church Extension Fund.