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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Lutherans help after Arkansas tornado

Something wonderful happened when Lutherans assisted Royal Oaks, Ark., after a tornado devastated the area south of Little Rock on March 17, 1997.

While putting families back on their feet, Lutherans planted seeds for the neighborhood to discover a sense of community spirit. For the first time neighbors are reaching out to one another, organizing and working for a better community.
While putting families back on their feet, Lutherans planted seeds for the neighborhood to discover a sense of community spirit. For the first time neighbors are reaching out to one another, organizing and working for a better community.

"Before the storm there were thieves and crack houses around here," said longtime resident Donna DePriest. For 36 years she lived near Ruth Apple but hadn't met her. Now they're close friends helping lead Royal Oaks' turnaround.

Lutheran Disaster Response rushed in to help after the tornado destroyed 80 homes. So did Lutheran Social Service of Kansas/Oklahoma and Lutheran Family and Children's Services of Missouri. Local Lutheran churches joined a network of diverse organizations in the effort.

Hal Shope, a member of Faith Lutheran Church, Little Rock, directed the recovery effort for Lutheran Disaster Response. What began as a volunteer effort became a paid job that absorbed him day and night.

"We were the only church working out there," said Shope, who became known as "the Lutheran guy." Shope also saw unfilled spiritual needs. "There were people who had never read the Bible."

He and Marianne Zotti started Bible study groups that have attracted enthusiastic non-Lutherans, including Apple and DePriest.

Apple and DePriest helped form the Royal Oaks Community Association, organized cleanup days and participated in crime-watch patrols. The association is pushing for public improvements, sewers and better roads.

Shope, whose official duties are done, still visits Royal Oaks frequently. "We are in this for the long haul," he said.


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