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Putting faith into action

ELCA seminarians repair homes and provide pastoral care in the Gulf Coast

For two weeks in January, 17 student from the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.); Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.; and Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, traveled to Biloxi, Miss., to help with Gulf Coast hurricane relief efforts through Lutheran Episcopal Disaster Response of Mississippi. I was among them.

Tim Koester is a first-year student at Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque (Iowa).
We made this trip during J-term—an intensive monthlong January course most Lutheran seminaries offer. Two schools provided class credit and required students to read several texts on ministry and mission, relief work and God in the midst of natural disaster. The students also had to provide nightly devotionals for the group.

This trip also was a chance to put faith into action. As Chris Laughlin, a first-year Gettysburg seminarian, said: “If I’m going to teach, confess and preach solidarity, perhaps I’d better live it too.”

Our typical workday in Biloxi began at 7:30 a.m. We’d either work on a home or help provide pastoral care at the free medical clinic at Bethel Lutheran, an ELCA congregation at the epicenter of disaster response work. We helped repair eight or nine houses—putting up drywall, removing mold, clearing yard debris, repairing roofs, installing windows and painting.

One of those houses belonged to Kathy, a single mother who saved her home from water damage by removing wet insulation in a laundry basket and hauling it to the curb. The seminarians were able to put up drywall and paint her house, finishing the work she’d started and, as Kathy said, making it a “home again.”

Harold Vanicek, Carrie Anderson, and DJ Rasner, seminarians at Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque (Iowa), cut drywall.   
Bethel’s free clinic offered the community a place to receive necessary medical care and served as a gateway to other LEDR services. At Bethel we spoke with survivors, heard their stories of loss and witnessed their faith. The presence of Christ’s love was visceral. It was here that Kelley Baxter, a first-year student at Gettysburg, met a homeless man who had lost his tent in the storm. Without a tent, he decided to donate his air mattress to the church for someone else to use. While we as seminarians and visiting pastors were charged with providing pastoral care at the clinic, we were amazed to see how survivors often provided the best comfort to one another as they sat and waited for the doctor.

We were astonished by the amount of destruction and the work yet to be done in Biloxi. But we were most impressed by the constant outpouring of love and generosity from the survivors and other volunteers. “The people we met during our two weeks there seemed to carry a very strong faith about the situation,” said Harold Vanicek, a first-year seminarian at Wartburg. “Not to say that everything was all right or that they wouldn’t get angry with the government for a dwindling response, but [they felt] God would provide and is still in this community.”

We all appreciated the chance to work, worship and experience fellowship across school lines, developing friendships that will hopefully continue in our future calls as pastors.

(The group included: Wartburg—Bryant Kaden, Carrie Anderson, Chris Heller, D.J. Rasner, Harold Vanicek, Hillary Burns, Kat Montira, Kit Neel, Tim Koester and Tamra Harder; Gettysburg—Chris Laughlin, Jarrod Jabre, Kelley Baxter, Max Miller, Naomi Olson and W. Andy Schottelkorb; Luther Seminary—Sara M. Quigley. Ron Schardt from Wartburg served as adviser.)


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