Last Thursday morning began as any other morning in Northwood, Iowa.   That changed when a chemical explosion at Northwood AG Products fertilizer storage led to a mass evacuation of the entire town due to sulfuric acid in the air.
Herb Thompson, president of Bethany Lutheran, in the nearby town of Kensett, just happened to be at the church that morning.  He often stops by to check on the church. He
was the one who got the call that the church was needed to provide space for
people who were being evacuated from Northwood.
“I figured we couldn’t hardly say no,” he commented.
Pastor Tom Martin was bringing his wife home from surgery in Mason City.  By the time he got to the church, he found more than 130 people had been brought to Bethany in school busses.  Hy-Vee donated food and water
and the local Casey’s brought pizza.  There were children and elderly and everyone in between mingling. People from the community brought games for people to play to pass the time away.  There was help from Bethany and their fellow parish members from Elk Creek who showed up to help wherever they were needed.
As Pastor Tom surveyed the scene, he thought of the lessons for Sunday from Leviticus, “The fallen grapes of your vineyard leave them for
the poor and alien.”  These words would make their way to his sermon the following Sunday:
So when I arrived in Kensett. I met Herb and
several other parish members, and the aliens, feasting on the grapes. Grapes
provide by Red Cross, Hy-Vee, and the good people of Bethany and Kensett. The scene could be described as chaos in the midst of a coming storm. And yet no one was panicking just anxious about what to do next.
The Red Cross people were signing folks up at tables, the kitchen was handing out goodies, and that left me to referee among the small children who were getting a little feisty. I can hear echoes of “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  …. God provided and we were Gods hands. Gods work, our hands: That is the motto for the ELCA.
To make the situation even more complicated, there was a blizzard throughout the whole area.  The all-clear was given around 3 pm for people to return to their homes in Northwood. However, there was some concern the weather would prevent people from being able to travel home. Cots were brought in by the Red Cross and set up in the sanctuary.
Prayers were answered when the wind and snow let up enough for busses to take people home.
Pastor Judy Converse of First Lutheran, Northwood, missed all the excitement because she was on vacation in New York.  When she came back on Sunday, people were eager to tell her of their adventures.
“I heard many stories about how organized and orderly the evacuation was handled well by the folks in charge,” she remarks.

“People felt safe and well cared for, both in the transfer and at the site in
Kensett.  The folks at the Lutheran Retirement Home had their meds packed up so they could stay on schedule with those.  Many people had friends who immediately opened their homes and welcomed them and others.
There is tremendous appreciation for the fire department folks and the
emergency preparedness people.  Gratitude abounds!”

It was an eventful day for Pastor Tom.  After everyone had left, his wife experienced medical complications and they had to go back to the hospital in Mason City.
On the way home they went into a ditch just outside Manley. They were pulled out by a kind lady on her way to rescue her own husband who had gone into the ditch just ahead of them.  Traveling any further was out of the question
so Pastor Tom and his wife spent the night in the nursing home in Manley.  “They became God’s hands for us when our own hands were not enough for the storm of Feb. 20th, 2014.”
While Bethany Lutheran worked together with local officials, Pastor Mark Anderson who works with the Synod Lutheran Disaster  Network kept in touch and kept Pastor Michael Stadie, Program Director of the ELCA Lutheran Disaster Response appraised of the situation.  Local congregations are always the first responders but Synod and Churchwide leaders stand ready to provide additional help when necessary.
Pastor Tom Martin & Herb Thompson
People were expecting a storm on February 20th but nobody was expecting what else was to come that day.  Bethany did not have an emergency plan but were lucky that a member of their congregation was on the County Emergency Management Team.  When the town needed more room for evacuees, he knew he could call the church.
 “Communication with your local disaster management team is crucial in these situations,” advises Pastor Stadie. He suggests congregations find out who those people are and make sure they know that they can call upon your congregation to help in an emergency.
“While this disaster was traumatic to the people of Northwood it could have been much worse,” notes Pastor Mark Anderson, assistant to the Bishop.
“It would be wonderful if every congregation would take a look at the
Synod’s disaster plan and think about their role in being prepared to help
their neighbors in times of crisis.”
Your congregation can be called upon anytime. Are you ready? These
kinds of events are good reminders for others to test and improve their own
ability to respond in a crisis.
Find out more about how you can be prepared for emergencies at the
Northeastern Iowa Synod Lutheran Disaster Response Network Page
“It is wonderful how the congregation responded so quickly with open arms.” PastorStadie from LDR observed.
 “Whenever  Lutherans respond to human need that is Lutheran Disaster Response!”
By Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson
Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Thanks for this post. I shared it with our pastor and with a fellow council member who has some considerable work related experience regarding preparedness. It is sparking conversation, which will be shared with the council. What should our church do? Can we partner with the other churches? Red Cross? Should we figure out, at the very least, who has homes with empty beds in case there is some kind of emergency? Our town's lovely motel burnt down last summer, so there could be a need for housing. We have a train that runs through town which carries all sorts of misc tanks and stuff. It sure would be good to know what we CAN do before we are forced to do something.

  2. You may want to invite your local disaster response team to come to your council and share some ideas


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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.




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