It’s been nineteen months since Hurricane Harvey turned the area around my home into a lake. Though some homes have been rebuilt, many remain vacant except for contractor crews working on them. Some businesses are open again but many still are not. Several put up a “For Sale” sign. Gone are the closest grocery store, library and recreation center. Also gone are several neighbors who won’t be coming back. Our area is but one very small segment of the city hurt by Harvey. Even as the fourth largest city in the country, Houston is only a small portion of the Gulf Coast area damaged in August 2017. Since then we’ve witnessed equally devastating disasters, here and internationally.
Lutheran Disaster Response is still very much engaged in helping our region come back. Meanwhile, other disasters wrecked havoc in other places. In 2018 LDR responded to 29 disasters in 17 states and territories. LDR Director, Michael Stadie told me, “LDR used to wait to come in, though we are starting to engage earlier through our Synods (geographic regions within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) and our affiliates.”
Local and International Assistance
As if LDR didn’t have enough to do keeping up with disasters in the States, the organization also the ELCA’s international response agency in the global Lutheran community. The staff of this amazing organization includes two Program Directors for the US, one Program Director for international work, a Program Communicator, and a few support staff. How can such a small staff simultaneously contend with hurricanes, wild fires, tornadoes, and flooding at home and abroad?
Stadie explains, “We work through partners like Lutheran Social Service agencies and partners within the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (National VOAD) community. These entities recruit the staff and volunteers to provide direct assistance. This enables us to assure that 100 percent of donations designated for a specific disaster go to responding to that disaster. Funding for staff and their expenses comes from undesignated donations.
Harvey, Maria, Irma, Matthew & Florence
Currently LDR is responding to Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, Irma, Matthew and Florence. They are also assisting with recovery efforts following flooding in South Carolina and the California wildfires. By the time this blog is published they may well be responding to one or more other disasters.
Supplying gift cards to the Lutheran Social Service agencies in Northern and Southern California is typical of an early LDR response following a disaster. The long-term assistance comes in the form of sending supplies for early intervention, as was the response in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
Stadie explains, “Our area of focus for the long-term is rebuilding, volunteer coordination, and case management. We provide these services via our affiliates. We also fund unmet needs stemming from loss of personal property, construction costs, and building supplies.”
Partners in Faith; Partners in Response
Amazing things happen when partners in the faith community join together to address these catastrophic challenges. For example, the Lutheran community invited the youth attending the tri-annual National Youth Gathering in Houston last summer to help frame two houses for disaster survivors. The Mennonite community sent volunteers to finish the homes in their permanent location.
“As the church, we are a catalyst. We’re a convener and a bridge builder. We collaborate with other disaster response organizations and religious entities, both in the United States and around the world. This approach enables the greatest stewardship of resources and maximizes the impact of our response. We are a welcome partner in the disaster response community because we respect the perspectives and strengths of others.
God’s Work, Our Hands
Both government and non-government agencies play a part in responding to disasters. Lutheran Disaster Response brings a specifically faith-based approach. “We live out our ELCA motto: ‘God’s work, our hands.’ We serve all those in need , not just Lutherans, and we pay special attention to vulnerable populations, such as seniors, people with disabilities, and those struggling with generational poverty. We can to do all this because of the robust efforts of volunteers and the generous financial support of donors.”
Every disaster is local. Because of this reality, LDR works to accompany the community from immediate relief through long-term recovery. Sadie explains, “For our international work we partner closely with companion churches and other Lutheran and ecumenical relief agencies. We work together to ensure local needs are addressed.
One significant effort LDR contributes toward mitigating the destruction of a disaster is to support the local clergy. Pastors are often called on to help people impacted by the disaster. Yet few clergy are trained to be disaster responders; and are often dealing with the damage to their church facilities and perhaps their own homes. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 one local pastor lived in the church office for months. Her own home was flooded and she was too busy coordinating volunteer teams to address her own housing needs. By supporting local clergy, LDR is able to extend its reach into a disaster-impacted community.
You can help LDR help communities recover with a donation here: www.ldr.org
I was so moved by what I learned in my brief time in the Disaster Response community I wrote a book about it. A Ready Hope: Effective Disaster Ministry for Congregations is available at Rowman & Littlefield