The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


January 14, 2010

Seminary students' status unclear in Haiti

At least one student, perhaps two, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Wartburg Theological Seminary are unaccounted for in Haiti, following a severe earthquake that struck Jan.12, according to the Rev. Duane H. Larson, Wartburg president. Wartburg, Dubuque, Iowa, is one of eight ELCA seminaries.

The quake caused considerable property and structural damage, and knocked out power and communication systems. One estimate suggested more than 100,000 people may have died.

In an e-mail sent to students, faculty and others the evening of Jan. 13, Larson reported "we do not know" the whereabouts of Jonathan Larson and Ben Larson. Ben and Jonathan are senior students and cousins, studying for master of divinity degrees.

However, according to an unconfirmed Jan. 13 blog report, Jonathan Larson and Renee Splichal Larson, Ben's spouse and a student at Wartburg, are reported safe at St. Joseph's Boys Home or possibly, the U.S. Embassy. A fourth Wartburg student, Sara Thomson, an intern at Abiding Hope Lutheran Church, Littleton, Colo., was safe in Jacmel, Haiti, Duane Larson reported.

Benjamin Larson's whereabouts were still unknown the evening of Jan. 13, according to the seminary president and his parents, April Ulring Larson and Judd W. Larson. April Larson is pastor at First Lutheran Church , Duluth, Minn. and former bishop of the La Crosse Area Synod; Judd Larson is a retired ELCA pastor.

Earlier in the day, Duane Larson said information communicated to him suggested that all four students were safe, however, he said those sources turned out to be inaccurate.

The four students were in Haiti working on various January term projects, Duane Larson said. At the time of the quake "it appears they were ministering in different places," he wrote.

"I've been spending my time the best I can coordinating information ... and praying, too," Duane Larson told the ELCA News Service. Duane Larson said U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan's (N.D.) staff is assisting the seminary in locating the students with help from the U.S. State Department and U.S. Embassy in Haiti. ELCA churchwide staff and other faith-based organizations with representatives Haiti were also assisting, he said.

April Larson said in a phone interview that Ben and Jonathan were invited to teach lay leaders in Haiti. Renee was working on a thesis and interviewing people, she said.

She describes Ben, 25, as "gentle, in love with Christ, in love with people, in love with life. He's been hearing God's call. His life belonged to God. If you want to know Ben, listen to his music." Ben is the youngest of four Larson children.

April Larson said she knows there are many worried parents and spouses with family members in Haiti. "I hope Ben is okay someplace, just unable to communicate with anyone," she said.

Members of First Lutheran Church and Thomas M. Aitken, bishop, Northeastern Minnesota Synod, were with the Larsons at their home Jan. 13. April Larson said Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, had called to express his concern.

International Disaster Response commits funds

International Disaster Response of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America announced it will immediately commit $250,000 to support response efforts to the earthquake in Haiti. It will also advance another $500,000 in anticipation of additional gifts from ELCA members.

To give

ELCA members can contribute gifts online or call 800-638-3522.


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