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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Extreme home makeovers — Lutheran style

After 33 trips in five years, this disaster crew knows what to do

Cathy Brown had no time for tears. In May 2010, floodwaters swept through Nashville, Tenn., killing some 30 people and costing more than $1 billion. While the deluge didn't destroy Brown's house, it was engulfed in 8 feet of water, ruining everything inside.

"When that happens, you have to find another place to live. I have a disabled son, so that was more of a challenge," she said.

Some 1,300 miles away in Fridley, Minn., disaster recovery veterans with St. Philip's Disaster Relief (SPDR), based at St. Philip Lutheran Church, already had Nashville on their radar. SPDR began in 2005 after a member returned from assisting with Hurricane Katrina recovery. His story piqued the interest of 13 other members who soon planned their first trip to Ocean Springs, Miss., in May 2006.

This year's theme at St. Philip Lutheran
This year's theme at St. Philip Lutheran Church, Fridley, Minn., is "Love Your Neighbor." The St. Philip's Disaster Relief team has been living that theme by logging more than 10,000 volunteer hours in five years to help those affected by disasters, including six trips to restore homes and lives damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Thelma and Myron Nash have been on most of the 33 trips and are known as "Mr. and Mrs. Volunteer." Recently, SPDR made four trips to Hammond, Minn. (near Rochester), which was hit last fall by flooding, and went to Nashville, Tenn., April 30-May 7.

Renee Johnson didn't think twice before getting involved. "That was my 'pay it forward' moment," she said. In 1965 a tornado leveled her childhood home. "My folks often mentioned the Mennonites from Canada who came down to help with the cleanup. If I were to go down to Mississippi, maybe they would remember the Lutherans," said Johnson, a co-coordinator of SPDR.

In 2006 "none of us knew each other, but that's changed in the five years since we started. I often tell people, it's not a vacation but it's a trip you won't forget," said Johnson, who works as a quality coordinator.

Fellow member and SPDR co-coordinator Mike Anderson, a retired hydrologist, said, "We've done about 33 trips in five years." The initial Mississippi visit was followed by a trip that October — over a year since Katrina. "Just because a disaster isn't on the front pages, that doesn't mean they've recovered. That can take years," he added.


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