Christ’s Mercy in a Year of Devastating Disasters
With disasters in Louisiana, the Carolinas and Haiti, 2016 brought its share of devastation.
Thanks to caring Lutherans across the Synod, this past year allowed people distressed by tragedy to experience Christ’s mercy and the comfort of the Gospel.
Baton Rouge Deluge
“...The spirit of the people of Louisiana is strong, and God is at work providing hope through His people.” The Rev. Dave Buss
In the aftermath of the Aug. 11-12 deluge that fell on the Baton Rouge, La., area, residents and volunteers acted quickly to remove flood-damaged drywall, insulation and debris during the “muck-out” phase of flood recovery so rebuilding could begin.
Thousands of homes were damaged, including the homes of 110 Trinity Lutheran Church, Baton Rouge, members; 91 school families from Baton Rouge Lutheran School (BRLS) and Trinity Lutheran Child Development Center; and 16 staff members from the church and two schools.
“Very few people have returned to their homes [as of Nov. 7],” said the Rev. Dave Buss, Trinity’s pastor. “The work is slow, the demand for building materials greatly outpaces the supply, and reputable contractors are scarce. But the spirit of the people of Louisiana is strong, and God is at work providing hope through His people.”
Soon after the flooding, Buss helped establish Camp Restore—Baton Rouge with the help of an $85,000 grant from LCMS Disaster Response, which was made possible by designated gifts from LCMS donors around the country.
In total, LCMS Disaster Response was able to provide over $235,000 in grants and other aid to help with recovery following both the Baton Rouge flood and the 2016 California wildfires. This included providing gift cards for victims’ immediate needs and supplying emergency tuition assistance to families with children attending BRLS.
Buss said Trinity also has distributed some 70 “We Care” tubs. These are large tubs filled with items needed to set up a home, including devotional material provided by LCMS Disaster Response.
“When I went to pick up my [We Care tub], I had no idea of what I was receiving,” said Trinity member Angela Phillips. “God truly blessed me in so many ways. I know I left the church for a few years. When I came back, everyone made me feel so welcome.
“And the blessings just keep coming,” she continued. “God has proven to me over and over He is always with me, even when I have stepped away from Him. I am blessed to be a member of this amazing church.”
“God has proven to me over and over He is always with me, even when I have stepped away from Him. I am blessed to be a member of this amazing church.” Church member Angela Phillips
Hurricane Havoc in Haiti
Less than seven years after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti, the Caribbean country again found itself reeling from calamity — this time from Hurricane Matthew, which fell on the Tiburon Peninsula in southern Haiti Oct. 4.
Thanks to people in the LCMS who responded in the days following the disaster, coupled with some funds already on hand for disaster-response work, two aircraft were chartered to airdrop some 60,000 packaged meals and supplies to the people in the hardest-hit areas of Haiti. On Oct. 6, LCMS leaders approved a $10,000 grant for a partner organization to coordinate the vital airdrop.
Just days after the hurricane struck, LCMS Disaster Response Director Rev. Ross Johnson traveled to Haiti to help determine how best to provide additional aid to Haitian victims, including pastors and members of the LCMS partner church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti.
Matthew’s 140-mile-per-hour winds ripped roofs off and left homes in shambles. To make matters worse, an outbreak of cholera soon followed, leaving people struggling to find safe, clean water.
“We are partnering with [Recognized Service Organizations] and [nongovernmental organizations] that have a long track record of effectively working in Haiti and that have a good working relationship with the LCMS Office of International Mission Latin America region,” Johnson said.
He said the first phase consisted of a $10,000 grant for emergency medicine for cholera and malaria to be distributed through Lutheran communities, as well as $10,000 for food and $50,000 to provide roofs for the homes of 50 pastors.
So far, materials have been purchased locally and construction has begun on 40 pastors’ homes, with two homes completed as of November. Another $10,000 was provided to help with subsistence farming, including for 1,000 laying hens and coops to shelter them as part of a long-term sustainable food project. Johnson said LCMS Disaster Response also is providing a grant to build five deep, clean-water wells near the churches.
“We made an intentional choice to drill water wells near churches and to focus on stabilizing the personal situation for pastors in an effort to draw people in close to where they can hear the life-saving Gospel and receive spiritual care,” Johnson said. “We do all of this in Jesus’ name, because we want people in distress to hear the Gospel and receive Christ’s comfort. These people experience the Lutheran church as part of Christ’s Body, the very Savior who cares for them long after other relief agencies and news crews are gone.”
Johnson said the second phase could begin as early as February. It likely will involve as many as five more deep wells at an estimated cost of $25,000 and roofs for some 10 church properties at an estimated cost of $50,000. He noted that the extent of the Synod’s response is contingent upon the funding God provides through the people of His Church.
Hurricane Matthew later moved through the Caribbean toward the U.S. southeastern coastline, eventually making landfall in the Carolinas.
Destruction in the Carolinas
Not long after Johnson left for Haiti, LCMS Disaster Response Manager Rev. Michael Meyer joined LCMS Southeastern District President Rev. Dr. John Denninger to travel through some of the hardest-hit areas in North and South Carolina. These areas took on torrents of rain and fierce winds as the hurricane moved up the coastline.
“In North Carolina, it was primarily a flood event,” Meyer said. The “Lumberton and St. Paul areas had some of the worst flooding, and we were providing spiritual care for families living in emergency shelters and distributing gift cards for essential, immediate needs.
“In South Carolina, they had a lot of rain, but they also had more wind, so there are a lot of trees down, so tree and debris removal will be key to ensuring the safety of victims in the area,” Meyer continued.
“Trees were just blowing back and forth and back and forth, and I said, ‘Oh boy, this is going to be scary,’” said Marion Bogle, a member of Risen Christ Lutheran Church in Myrtle Beach, S.C., as she recalled the night the hurricane struck. “Also with that was the noise of all the branches and pine cones hitting the top of my roof, which sounded and felt like a war zone.”
Thanks to the compassion of people across the Synod who gave to the recovery effort, LCMS Disaster Response was able to provide more than $50,000 in grants and other assistance for people in these areas.
Ongoing Recovery in the Midwest
Efforts to assist the Midwestern communities affected by flash flooding in late December 2015 carried over well into 2016. Giving in early 2016 allowed LCMS Disaster Response to provide grants totaling nearly $98,000 and to spend nearly $67,000 to help congregations assess the damage from these disasters and coordinate assistance for people in their communities.
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Eureka, Mo., received a $20,000 grant to continue flood-relief work, while New Beginnings Lutheran Church in Pacific, Mo., received a $10,000 grant. Both churches also received $5,000 to purchase a disaster-response trailer.
LCMS Disaster Response also was able to provide a $14,939 grant to Lutheran Church Charities and the LCMS Northern Illinois District to purchase commercial-grade pumps and the trailers to move those pumps.
“It’s important for people to know that recovery, rebuilding and healing go on long after the initial responders have gone,” Johnson said.
Pray with Us
God of all creation, You sent Your Son to restore this fallen world. As disasters continue to befall us, set our eyes on His death and resurrection as we wait with eager expectation for His return and the new heavens and new earth. Until that day, empower Your Church to share Your love through mercy work and the proclamation of the Gospel. In Your mercy, we ask that You would bless those recovering from disasters and provide for their needs, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
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