Baton Rouge Disaster Relief

The following is what I wrote for the Eastern District LCMS in regard to our Disaster Relief trip (which we are still in transit back from at the time of this posting…)

EASTERN DISTRICT DISASTER RELIEF TO BATON ROUGE, LA.

Jesus teaches us in the parable of the Good Samaritan that loving God by loving our neighbor as ourselves is the privilege of each child of His. That love is shown in so many ways by Christians in their every day lives (in our families and to next door neighbors, etc.) But there are times when the body of Christ is hurting in extraordinary ways in distant places, giving the church at large ample opportunity to work together to bring the mercy of God to so many in need. Even in the New Testament church, God’s people sent money and representatives to far off destinations when people needed relief from their difficult circumstances. (1 Corinthians 16)

It is a great privilege for Christians even today to extend acts of love across great distances to those who are in desperate need of the grace and comfort of the Lord. The recent floods in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which damaged over 40% of the region’s homes (over 140,000 of them), gave Christians in the Eastern District, LCMS, opportunity once again to bless those in need. Eastern District Disaster Relief swung into action with the call of Rev. Benjamin Bahr (Grace Lutheran, Niagara Falls, NY). Rev. Bahr was formerly a pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Baton Rouge, a congregation now in the epicenter of the disaster.

Rev. Bahr was in contact with his former congregation leaders and members – and they pleaded “Come Now!” to help. An email blast was put out for volunteers and within 30 hours a wonderful team of six individuals from Grace (Niagara Falls, NY), and Peace Lutheran (Scranton, PA) was put together. Rev. Kristian Bjornstad, Eastern District Disaster Relief Coordinator, left early in the morning from Scranton, PA, August 17, 2016 with two of his congregation members: Susan Crosbie, a registered nurse, and (his father) Carsten Bjornstad. At the same time Rev. Bahr started out from Niagara Falls with Karen Kumm and her son Derrik Mahoney. They met in Akron, Ohio, all piling into the bigger van with the Eastern District disaster relief trailer in tow. They pushed on through the night to get to Baton Rouge by about noon the next day. They arrived to get their first work assignment that they tackled that same afternoon.

Over the next several days they were able to touch the lives of at least six families. They heard the accounts of their flooding experiences, sharing hugs and bolstered the difficult tasks of throwing much of each family’s material belongings out on the curb and gutting their houses bare. Beautiful Christian fellowship was had with many other volunteers from Texas and New Orleans – and even from as far away as Germany! At each place they worked they prayed with the survivor families and shared the Love of Christ with them. It was meaningful beyond words – both for the survivors of the flood, and for the team.

Derrik, being the youngest of the team (20 years old) was very glad to be part of the team. He learned that even if you are just one person or part of a small team, you can still make a very big difference in the lives of others. He also learned first hand that the material belongings that we have one day might be taken away tomorrow.

Pastor Bahr was so blessed to see how God’s hand and presence is evidenced most powerfully not so much in the wrath of the flood itself, but in the the mercy and grace that comes in the days after.

Karen (a Hurricane Katrina disaster relief veteran) says that she will be back again and wants so much to encourage others to take part in future disaster relief opportunities.

Susan valued how even though the team came down to a community that they didn’t know – they were immediately accepted and known as brothers and sisters in Christ, members of the same family of Christ.

Carsten (first time on a relief team at 78 years of age) was so appreciative of the amazing teamwork that was demonstrated among everyone involved with the relief effort – but especially within the Eastern District Relief team. He was also struck by the endurance of love (1 Cor. 13) that was demonstrated not only in the team’s work, but in the lives of the flood survivors.

In many ways the team left just as work was actually being ramped up. The Eastern District Relief team was one of the first on the scene, but when the team left Monday night, more and more volunteers were streaming in and being put to work. But the reality is that the easy, non-skilled relief work is finishing up for more and more of the survivors. In the near future the harder part will begin: the survivors will have to start rebuilding their homes and lives. The real need for the support of the church at large will continue on into the months and years ahead as the shock and horror of the fast moving waters of the last couple weeks fades in the face of so many more grinding hurdles of life post-flood. May God bless and keep us all close to His heart as we pray and support all those in need – those in Baton Rouge and beyond!

Submitted on behalf of the team,

Rev. Kristian Bjornstad

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Team arrives and unloads at Trinity Lutheran Church in Baton Rouge, LA

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Team members with Lain Ardoin, homeowner of the first house we were assigned work.

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Horrific sight outside the second house we worked on.

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Inside scene of the kitchen after gutting.

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Lutheran Church Charities Comfort dogs in full force by Sunday.

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Pastor Bahr talking with a child he baptized years ago. It was a blessing that he knew so many people.
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Pastor Bahr was invited to preach to the congregation on Sunday morning.

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The team with the Donald family after a day of work at their house.

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Lots of hugs all around.

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Most of the nights the team stayed at Trinity Lutheran Church in one of the school classrooms. But on the last night, because school was starting up again, we were blessed to be hosted in the home of Allen. Most other volunteers were hosted by members of Trinity.

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It is important to know that the relief operations were contributed to by so MANY people and Lutheran institutions…. Here disaster cleanup pails filled with cleaning supplies were being unloaded (all 288 of them) along with dozens of hand made quilts and bags of towels – all donated from a small church in Texas. The drivers were so thrilled to tell us how this delivery put them over 1400 pails given out THIS YEAR alone – and it is only August!

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Boycotting the Olympic Games

The opening ceremonies were held last night for this summer’s games – and according to the newspaper this morning they were all about world peace and saving trees. So do I laugh hysterically or heave my breakfast? Maybe both.  My attitude toward the Olympic Games has never been good. And it isn’t getting any better as I move into my crotchety old age.

Watching the olympics when we lived in Canada was grinding. For Canada, a smallish country battling self- image problems, winning at the games was what verified the fact that the country actually existed – and mattered – to at least someone. CBC TV would run the bios of Canadian athletes and you would swear that they were gods sent from heaven. These Canadian athletes were perfect in every way. If ONLY we would all be like them, right?

Here in the US, it isn’t quite so bad that way. We already know how important and impressive we are so we don’t need to prove it. We all know everyone else is on some doping program anyway, right???

The whole institution is such an empty farce. Impoverishing their host countries in the mad dash for glory. Imagining excuses for the games like “good will” and “peace” and “conservation” is just utter corruption.

Why can’t we just have some honest games? Why can’t we just play some games sans the nation building, hubris, and international politics? How come we can’t just be astonished and praise God when an athlete accomplishes marvelous feats of physical prowess – no matter the place he was born? How come he runs “for” his nation? How come he has to wave a flag?

The reason is that we are ungodly. We have all swallowed the lie that our world can find salvation in events like the olympics. We believe we can find within ourselves as human beings the strength and skill to overcome war and all our ills in the same way we can jump higher hurdles. I find it SO ironic that what we really find, if we take off the blinders, is that the games that are supposed to save us – end up demonstrating the worst of us.

I know. I know. I am just a sour pus and I should just put the blinders on and join the couch party.

Nah… I think I will just skip it. There are way more fun things to do. Anyone want to play some volleyball?  If you race me on my sailboat you will be sure to win!!