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Dear friends in Christ,
It is two days since I sent my first report about the southern California fires. In those two days an additional thousand homes burned and three more lives were lost. Today's statistics are staggering: seven separate fires have burned 600,000 acres, 2,600 homes are destroyed, and twenty persons have died. The fires are not diminishing. Shifting and strengthening winds continue and expand the flames, and there is a threat some fires will combine to form "super fires." How long it will take to extinguish them is beyond speculation. There is hope the weather may become more favorable in a few days. Many communities are still evacuated. The LCMS Pacific Southwest District has evacuated its San Bernardino and San Diego offices.
What you see on the news is somewhat deceptive. These fires are not about multi-million dollar vacation houses in the California mountains. These fires are about the homes of ordinary people like you and me, some elderly who have lived forty years in their homes, people in small communities and their houses of worship. They are about young couples in their first homes, children who have lost their sense of safety and security. Yes, some multi-million dollar vacation houses have burned. But the fires are likely to have significant impact on uninsured and minority communities. Church World Service reports there is a concern for mobile home parks and service worker housing. The fires have impacted Native American communities, including the Rinco, San Pasqual and Barona Tribes, destroying 107 residences. But the church is reaching out to help the most vulnerable: the elderly, the handicapped, the single parent, the unemployed, the underinsured, the undocumented workers trying to start a new life in this country.
Lutheran Disaster Response (a cooperative ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) is responding to this on-going disaster through Lutheran Social Services of Southern California (John Clausen, President). Andrea Muir serves as the LDR-SCal coordinator. In addition to coordinating efforts with the LCMS Pacific Southwest District and the ELCA Pacifica Synod, the area of need has expanded into the ELCA Southwest California Synod (Dean Nelson, Bishop). LDR is also cooperating with the American Red Cross, FEMA, and participating in interfaith efforts as they begin to organize in affected communities.
What is LDR doing right now:
> Today I sent a $25,000 LDR grant to LSS-Southern California to provide operational support and provide for emergency supplies.
> LDR is working with local congregations in cooperation with The American Red Cross to provide for basic human needs. Thrivent Financial for Lutherans is working with LDR to help provide financial support for food, clothing, and shelter.
> Andrea Muir, along with synod and district staff, are meeting pastors to provide them with the "tools" they will need for the task of dealing with the grief and loss of their members and neighbors. "It is amazing to see the absolute fatigue and the spirit go out of the people," Bishop Murray Fink told me. As he prepared to meet with pastors yesterday he drove "through acres and acres of black burned-out areas and thick smoke."
> LDR is bringing in care providers, people of faith, who have responded to fires in Arizona, Colorado, and northern California. They are giving hands-on assistance and skills to help LSS-Southern California to respond.
> LDR is in direct conversation with other national faith-based disaster organizations, to pool resources and expertise and provide an effective and efficient response.
> LDR is seeking out the most vulnerable people - people who fall through the cracks-to help them access available aid and assistance.
> LDR is beginning plans for "Camp Noah," a weeklong day came for children of kindergarten through grade six. These will be specifically designed for children traumatized by walls of fire, ash and smoke-filled air, the fright of evacuation, the loss of home and community.
Many of you are asking how you can help. Complete assessments have just begun. You can help the church in this response:
>> Through your prayers. President Stoterau offers this prayer: "Dear Heavenly Father, you are truly awesome and in complete control. We now come to you asking for the safety of those who are in the areas affected by the fires. We ask that you be with the firefighters and keep them safe, and give them the strength to continue to fight the fires. We ask that You give favorable weather and stop the winds so that these men and women fighting the fires may get them under control quickly and with little more loss to life and home. Lord we come laying these burdens at Your feet as you command through Your Son, our Risen Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
>> Through your generosity. Your contributions provide the resources needed to assist with immediate emergency needs, cleanup provisions, long term and unmet needs, as well as spiritual/emotional counseling.
Please send your contributions to:
ELCA DOMESTIC Disaster Response - Southern California Fires
PO Box 71764 Chicago, Illinois 60694-1764
Credit card gift line: 1-800-638-3522
Credit card gifts via the web: https://www.elca.org/scriptlib/dcm/giving/ddisaster.asp
LC-MS World Relief and Human Care - Southern California Fires
P.O. Box 66861
St. Louis, MO 63166-9810
Credit card gift line: 1-888-930-4438.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE: I will be away from my office for several days, doing some personal travel, spending time with my family (including my new granddaughter!), "recharging" my internal batteries. If you need information about Lutheran Disaster Response, please call Jerry Rux, Associate Director for Lutheran Disaster Response, at 1-800-248-1930, extension 1387. If you need information about ELCA Domestic Disaster Response, please speak with Johanna Olson, assistant for Domestic Disaster Response, at 1-800-638-3522, extension 2822.
Yours in Christ,
Gilbert B. Furst (written on October 30, 2003 at 3:20 p.m.). Director for ELCA Domestic Disaster Response (Division for Church in Society) and Lutheran Disaster Response (a cooperative ministry of the ELCA and LC-MS) 8765 W. Higgins Rd., Chicago 60631 PHONE: 773-380-2822 FAX: 773-380-2493 Please visit our new website