"Quickly and Generously:" ELCA Members Reach Out to Haiti
Photo credit: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
A girl in the Belair neighborhood of
Port-au-Prince enjoys safe water for the first
time since the January 12 earthquake.
Over the past 20 years, members of Bethany Lutheran Church in Elkader, Iowa, have suffered through several major floods.
“We are no strangers to what people in crises go through,” says the Rev. Jim Klosterboer, pastor.
So when members heard about the devastating earthquake in Haiti, many promptly opened their hearts ... and their wallets.
“We’re a small congregation—like many in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)—but we have a long history of responding quickly and generously to disasters,” Pastor Klosterboer says.
Bethany took a special collection for ELCA Disaster Response and plans on raising even more for Haiti through a special congregational mailing.
Like Bethany, other ELCA congregations across the nation have responded with speed and generosity.
A Long-Term Commitment
In an e-letter dated January 22, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson thanked members and told them their gifts were already making a difference.
In addition to providing food, water, medical supplies and shelter to thousands of Haitians through community-based partners, Hanson noted, “This church is committed to walking with our brothers and sisters in Haiti for years to come.
“Your generosity is making this life-saving work possible.”
Christ Lutheran Church, Buffalo Mills, Pa., is committed to that walk with the people of Haiti.
“So many people do what they can to help after a disaster,” says Eli Baker, a member of Christ Lutheran. “However, weeks down the road, some may forget and go on with their lives.”
For that reason, Christ Lutheran will hold additional collections in February and March, with youth providing up-to-date news reports on the disaster as offerings are taken.
“It is an effort to keep Haiti in our prayers and in our hands,” Baker says.
A New Age of Information
The Electronic Age plays a large role in helping the ELCA churchwide organization in Chicago get the word out to its partners in 65 synods and nearly 10,500 congregations.
Through e-mail alerts, news releases and a video message from Presiding Bishop Hanson, the churchwide organization is able to bring members up-to-speed on how the ELCA and its partners are responding in Haiti—and ask for prayers and financial support on behalf of the Haitian people.
With just a few clicks on the ELCA Web site, visitors can donate, get the latest information on the disaster response, and access resources, like bulletin inserts and suggested prayers.
Members can also learn about the valuable, long-standing partnerships that make effective response possible, including The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Lutheran World Relief (LWR).
A Tradition of Generosity
Social media is playing a vital new role in spreading the message and connecting people to this church.
The ELCA News Service transmits releases in real-time via Twitter. And the nearly 11,000 fans on the ELCA Facebook page challenge each other to raise money and to invite family and friends to join the effort.
“Facebook has definitely helped our congregation respond quickly,” Baker says.
“Even if it is just one person who sees a post or comment, it doesn’t take long for that piece of information to reach everyone through other means, like phone chains, e-mails and hard-copy postings at church.”
The Rev. Susan Nachtigal, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Mass., relied on all these tools when she sent members an e-mail summarizing the Haiti disaster and asking for their help.
Elizabeth Keck, a member of Trinity, was grateful for those e-mails from her pastor, as well as for a Facebook post of Bishop Hanson’s video message.
“[That] was an excellent idea,” she says. “The ELCA Facebook posts have certainly been informative for my husband and me, especially since we cannot make it to church every Sunday.”
Rev. Daniel Rift, director of ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal, is grateful for the outpouring of financial gifts but not surprised.
“The ELCA has a tradition of generosity,” he noted, recalling that total response to the tsunami in Thailand five years ago exceeded $11 million.
According to Rift, as of January 22, ELCA Disaster Response has already received more than $1.6 million in gifts, most from ELCA members and congregations.
Rift says he’s confident that this is just the beginning.