By Pastor Jack Horner
Photos by Jack Horner and Richard Johnsen
It was moving. Lutheran church leaders from Namibia, Tanzania, and Canada, representatives of the Lutheran World Federation, as well as Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and Bishop Rimbo, along with churchwide staff for Lutheran Disaster Response were standing in front of a foundation where a house once stood. On the steps, neighbors put together a makeshift shrine to the father and daughter who lost their lives during Hurricane Sandy. We listened to the stories of survivors seeing a 10-foot surge of water flood their homes as they scrambled to higher floors. We surveyed a neighborhood in Queens where things looked like they had gotten back to "normal." It was an illusion, however. Most of the cars we saw had been under water and didn’t work anymore. We heard the witness of those in our congregations on Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island who immediately cared for neighbors before they could muck out the four feet of water in their own houses. There were so many stories of people who struggled to survive and stories of those who worked tirelessly to bring relief.
It was a historic storm and a historic response from our brothers and sisters in the Lutheran World Federation. Never before had LWF visited a disaster site on American soil. We, after all, are the strong ones, who take care of ourselves and often the world when disaster strikes. (Remember the inserts that we put in the bulletins for disaster response?) This time they were here to accompany us. At the Bishop’s Retreat, they listened as pastors shared how the storm impacted their members. At worship, Bishop Buberwa from our companion diocese in Tanzania offered $1,000 for relief efforts, a huge amount from a country where the average person makes $600 a year. The delegation heard the stories of people still homeless, met with New York City council members in the flooded basement of a Queens church, prayed by candlelight in a Brooklyn parish still without power six weeks later, and saw block after block of devastation in Staten Island, and learned of the church’s response to neighbors in need.
"I came to the United States to do what e-mails, faxes, and phone calls cannot do—to express solidarity, love, and care in person, to listen to the people who have experienced the reality here," shared the Rev. Dr. Veikko Munyika from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia. His words remind us that we are not alone. The prayers of our partner churches throughout the world are with us.
See additional photos from the visit.
Read the ELCA News release about the Lutheran World Federation visit.