Lutheran Early Response Teams (LERT) are LCMS volunteers around the country, trained to respond in the wake of natural disasters, such as flooding, earthquakes and tornadoes.
Kent Kunkel, a member of the MO LERT team, helped organize volunteers in the immediate aftermath of the tornado. Kunkel has seen many people recovering from a traumatic experience. He says, “They’re a little shocked and kind of have this feeling of wondering what’s next and wondering what to do. It’s a neat thing when we show up and just getting their yard cleaned up, you can see them have that peace come about them. They’re reassured everything is going to be okay.”
Dr. Jean King (widow of Rev. Dr. Robert King, former Vice-President of the Synod) and her daughter Jocelyn can attest to Kunkel’s observations. During the night of the storm, the Kings were startled when the typical music of their wind chimes escalated, booming like clashing cymbals. Still, they had no reason to suspect the catastrophic damage to the property’s trees.
Because their house is situated at the bottom of a hill, the tornado “jumped” over their house, damaging the roof, but inflicted far less destruction than the block up the hill, where residents found their furniture in the street. However, the tornado wreaked havoc on the property by uprooting and snapping the trees and tossing the pieces across the property. Half a large maple tree landed on their roof.
Unsure what her insurance company would cover, Jocelyn called her Thrivent representative to learn what her options were. The call ended with a suggestion that she reach out to the Missouri District Disaster Response Team, a ministry neither Jocelyn nor her mother had ever heard of.
Soon after their call, Jean sat on her front porch, engrossed in the sounds of three chain saws, a sound she describes as “glorious.” After a few hours, the debris from the yard had been cleared out and piled on the curb. The stack of cut limbs and trunks towered almost eight feet tall and spread into her neighbor’s yard (with their permission).
The team was not able to remove the tree from the roof, because that would have taken specialized equipment. However, seeing Lutheran volunteers tackle the seemingly insurmountable task of cleaning up their yard was incredibly uplifting. Jean says, “We have a ways to go but we’re very grateful. Sometimes when the burden is lifted like that, you can see more clearly where to go.” Jocelyn adds, “And you feel encouraged.”
“Like God’s Grace, it’s Free!”
Throughout his work in Jefferson City over the weekend, many grateful residents offered them money. They couldn’t believe someone was providing these valuable services for free. Kunkel’s response was, “Like God’s grace, it’s free!”
The work on the Kings’ yard would have likely cost thousands of dollars. They feel confident in this estimate, because they received several unsolicited quotes from tree removal companies, with business cards still stuck to their front door after the clean-up. Jean says, “God is so merciful when he answers when you haven’t even asked yet. He had this planned as soon as the tornado struck.”
We encourage the people of the Missouri District to seek out local disaster relief organizations and help in the way that feels right based on their circumstances.