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Friday, January 15, 2010

A Day in the Life of WR-HC -- Early Stages of Disaster

I wanted to give you a glimpse to some of the behind the scenes activities at LCMS World Relief and Human Care (and the International Center, in general) during the initial stages of a disaster. No doubt in this stream of consciousness review of the past week, I will forget to mention a colleague or partner; please forgive as this is not intentional.  For the most up-to-date information regarding the LCMS's response to the Haitian earthquake click here.

At least for me, the week began with the Model Theological Conference on Worship hosted by the CTCR and Commission on Worship. Nearly three hundred people gathered to listen to presentations and to discuss worship in the LCMS. As a participant in the conference, at least for the first day or so, my focus was not primarily on things related to "world relief" but on "worship". Yet as the events in Haiti unfolded, the focus shifted. On the second day of the worship conference, Rev. Matthew Harrison, Executive Director of World Relief and Human Care, who was also a participant in the worship conference, said to me, "The situation in Haiti has the potential to be big. Get ready." Of course, at that moment no one really had any idea of how big (and how big is still unfolding) it really would be. Harrison would not be able to attend the last day of the worship conference and I was called away after the first presentation.

The first day after the disaster in Haiti, the entire staff of World Relief and Human Care became focused on Haiti and how the LCMS could best respond to what happened. Initially, there was precious little information on the exact conditions and the status of our partner churches in Haiti. President Marky Kessa of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Haiti (ELCH) was unreachable and his status unknown. Although President Kessa did not live in Port-au-Prince, the last report known at the International Center (that is, information shared between President Kieschnick's office and his responsibilities for church relations, World Mission, and World Relief and Human Care) was that the day before the earthquake President Kessa had traveled to Port-au-Prince. By the very end of the day, we had a third hand report that President Kessa was okay. (For the most recent information about the location and status of pastors and partners in Haiti, check out the Interactive Map.) Attempts were made to locate and find the status of the pastors of the Lutheran church in Haiti. There were also groups from LCMS congregations in Haiti at the time of the earthquake and there was great concern for how they fared in the earthquake. Not to mention the people who have friends and family in Haiti.

The latest from President Kessa as of 15 January 2010 via some of our partners:

  • Port au Prince and Jacmel are in ruins
  • over 100,0000 dead
  • 3/4 of the people are sleeping on the streets
  • No power, no water
  • No idea how many church members are dead
  • All Lutheran pastors are alive as far as he knows
  • He is going to each church and holding prayer and funeral services
  • Focusing on the hurt to keep them alive

There are a variety of mission societies that support Haiti; so we were contacting them and them us to share information. Districts of the LCMS, most notably -- Florida-Georgia, have long established ties to Haiti. Many congregations also have an interest and a connection to Haiti via short term mission trips or through other means. Contacting these various groups to learn what they know, to see how partnerships can be formed and resources pooled, are all parts of the disaster response. Individuals, congregations, and other entities contact not only WR-HC directly but other Synodical entities to ask how they can assist or help or volunteer. It is sometimes challenging connecting the correct people with each other. Communications had to be ramped up and preparations were made for an appeal to the people and congregations of the LCMS to provide assistance and help for Haiti.

In disaster mode, debriefings are held twice a day, usually first thing in the morning and again late in the afternoon. The purpose of these is to share the information learned during the day, the status of various efforts, and how to proceed next. These meetings include not only staff from World Relief and Human Care, but also from World Mission, the Synod's Communications department, and the President's office.

People like Rev. Glenn Merritt, WR-HC Director of Disaster Response, began gathering information and assessing the situation, moments after the earthquake struck in Haiti. He is in contact with our partners, districts, congregations, individuals, NGOs, governmental agencies, etc. to help formulate a plan for response. Maggie Karner, WR-HC Director of Life and Health Ministries, and her team began formulating a plan on how to get a Mercy Medical Team (MMT) of experienced trama doctors and nurses to Haiti. Of course, there are logistical and safety concerns that have to be addressed. A very practical question is how to get material goods to Haiti? Chartering a private cargo plane might cost $50,000. Fortunately, a commercial shipping option was found that only costs $5000. Somewhere between and in cooperation with, Glenn, Maggie and her team, and our partners like Orphan Grain Train figured out how to ship a quarter million ready to eat meals for ten times less than a private charter freight shipment. The goal of accomplishing what needs to be done with the best stewardship is a top priority. How to get a team into Haiti when the airport is closed? Work with our partners in the Dominican Republic, including the missionaries there, to go to Haiti over land. Many of these details change on an hourly and daily basis. An obstacle or solution yesterday may or may not work today. There is simply no way to go into all the detail the staff of WR-HC is engaged in. The goal is to do no harm -- that is not be part of the problem, requiring rescue yourself.

Yesterday, Thursday, combined disaster planning with other events at the International Center. For me the day began in the daily briefing. However, I had to leave the briefing early to greet and host some visitors from Japan, planned long before the disaster in Haiti occurred. Rev. Dr. Makito Masaki, President of the Kobe Theological Seminary in Kobe, Japan, and his assistant dean, Rev. Shinji Ishizaki, arrived. After chapel in the International Center, they were greeted by Dr. Samual Nafzger, who took us to visit with President Kieschnick. Now President Kieschnick had just finished recording a video about the disaster in Haiti. Since the West Evangelical Lutheran Church of Japan is not a partner church, the LCMS has not spent a great amount of time in dialogue with them. This meeting went very well and could be the beginning of more discussions in the future. Every one seemed pleased with this meeting. The Japanese guests also met with the CTCR, Commission on Worship, World Mission, World Relief and Human Care, etc. This vignette just illustrates that the other work of the International Center does not cease when a disaster or some other major event strikes. Things get fit in, schedules adjusted, etc.

Meanwhile, Rev. Matthew Harrison is leading and coordinating the disaster response efforts. He was working closely with President Kieschnick's office and World Mission, as well as a variety of partners. Not to mention discussions with LWR and even discussions with the ELCA. There is a great amount of coordination and information sharing between a variety of entities and parties, which can be at times both challenging and complex.

My brief glimpse into the work going on at LCMS WR-HC does not do justice to all that is going on, nor does it mention the contributions of all the staff, etc. Like the rest of the world, we wait to see how things transpire and also are hampered by the same challenges other relief agencies experience. In the coming days, the transportation challenges should lessen and better information from the ground will be had. Teams will hit the ground and aid distributed. In the meantime, we pray the kyrie eleison, Lord Have Mercy, Christ Have Mercy, Lord Have Mercy.

In closing, consider these words from John Pless' article in the February 2010 issue of Lutheran Witness (cited in the previous post):

"Unexplainable tragedies bring pain and chaos. God leaves the wound open, to use the words of Bayer. We cry out to God in lamentation in the face of events that defy our capacities for understanding. But the anguished lament ascends from the crucible of faith, not unbelief. It is a confession of trust in the God who works all things for the good of those who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). Living in repentance and faith, we are freed from the inward turn of speculation that seeks to investigate the hidden God. Instead, we trust in the kindness and mercy of God revealed in Christ Jesus."

Click For the latest information regarding the LCMS' disaster relief 


Click to Donate to Assist Relief Efforts in Haiti

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what's going on at LCMS WR-HC Dr. Collver. It's encouraging to see such a well orchestrated synodical response to help those in need.