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YDS alumni coping with natural disasters in Midwest

Flooding and tornadoes in the Midwest have rocked areas populated by YDS alumni, who report that friends, family and members of their congregations are exhausted but in many cases exhibiting great resilience.  The devastation has also prompted some sermonizing on the topic of theodicy.  Here are samples of some of alumni stories sent in response to a June 13, 2008 email letter of concern from YDS Acting Director of Alumni Relations Carmen Germino ’07 M.Div.:

Norma Cook Everist '79 M.Div.
Professor, Wartburg Seminary
Dubuque, IA

Personally, we in Dubuque are fine for now.  We have a flood wall.  Traffic is closed on Interstate 80, which means the detour is 110 miles, up from the Quad Cities, through Dubuque, over Hwy 20 and back down to Des Moines.  Almost every county in Iowa has been declared a disaster area.  You simply "can't get there from here" on most roads.

Our son and his family evacuated from Mason City, IA.  They would have come here, but couldn't because all of the nine rivers in Iowa are over flood stage (some over twice the height of flood stage).  They could go only one direction: north to Minnesota where they stayed with my daughter-in-law's parents.

But perhaps the real story is people helping people.  One hears a call for sandbaggers in one part of Cedar Rapids and 600 people show up within the hour.  Then another call goes up in another part of town that there is a need for pillows and blankets in a shelter, and the need is filled.   However, there is fatigue.  Everyone is helping, but then they need help.  First there was the raid on "illegal" immigrants in Postville, Iowa.  That community is in great pain.  Then there was the tornado in Parkersburg.  Can you imagine 200 homes just gone?  Families, including the 91-year-old mother of a pastor in Dubuque, went quickly to their basements.  (Iowans "do what they are told.")  Families got under their basement stairways.  But even so, some had to hold down their small children with something heavy as they felt them being sucked out of their arms up into the tornado.

Perhaps the most poignant is the "crawl" across our TV screen Monday, "Visits to Parkersburg cancelled."  (Iowans understate things.)  That meant that the clean-up crews from all over, including Dubuque, could no longer get into Parkersburg because the town was now flooded.

Our Lutheran bishop has been on the scene all over.  Lutheran churches, the ones not flooded, have been serving as shelters.  Our governor has been all over the state, from the Boy Scout camp in western Iowa, to every corner of the flooded counties.  The organization is excellent. You have seen Cedar Rapids on the news.  The flooding is over the 500 year flood plain. The newspaper says, "Unchartered waters."  No one knows how high, or where it will go, because the water has not been there before. So officials are trying to think ahead... Iowa City comes next... but literally have to plan together as the waters roll on.

Iowans are strong and resilient and helpful.  But they are tired.  The waters will stay high for a week or more.  Then, and only then, will people be able to begin to see the damage and needs for clean-up and rebuilding.  Iowans don't tell their story in a sensational way.  But the need is very, very great.  Please tell alums to contact their church leaders in Iowa, and other Midwestern states and to contact the Red Cross.  We will need help from outside the state.  We will need help!

Dick Eick '67 B.D., '68 M.U.S.
Pastor Zion UCC
Waukon, IA

As to the flood waters, we are fine in Waukon and mostly fine in Allamakee County. Some farm fields are under water in Allamakee, and probably some of the fields are lost to crops for this year. (This flood could be a disaster for our agricultural community, which is VERY important in Iowa and in Allamakee County.)  But we experienced nothing like Elkader, Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, Iowa City.. . points south of us. Decorah and Winneshiek County (about 25 miles to the west of Waukon) were harder hit than we were. First, because the Upper Iowa River flows through the middle of Decorah and because on Saturday the brunt of THE storm tracked just to the west of us, hitting Decorah hard, but then moving mostly north and only a little east. We got 4” of rain, Decorah got 9” of rain. One of Zion’s members – Mary Larson -- lives next to the Upper Iowa River in Decorah – the levy was not breached, though the water was a foot or two away from topping the levy. BUT the ground water filled her basement to over four feet. A team of Zion folk went over on Thursday evening and helped Mary empty out the water soaked stuff from her basement. In Decorah, they had to evacuate two nursing homes and 1st Congregational UCC served as one of the shelters. 

Elkader is about 35 miles to the south of Waukon, and home of another close UCC neighboring congregation. The levy on the Turkey River was breached and flooded the south part of town. The pastor and lay leaders in Elkader are taking a lead role in coordinating support for the flood victims.
Neighbor helping neighbor is the norm here. And the churches are playing a central role, but there are lots of other people and institutions that are pitching in with equal dedication.”

>Read Eick’s sermon “Where is God in All This?” delivered June 15, 2008 at Zion United Church of Christ in Waukon, IA


Hugh Stone '76 M.Div.
Pastor-Osceola UMC
Adel, IA

Thank you for your expressions of concern and prayers.

The area that I served in Des Moines for nine years several charges ago is facing the threat of severe flooding. The levee broke last night, and now the authorities and National Guard are working to build another one to contain the water.

The tornado in Parkersburg several weeks ago caused the death of the father of one of my parishioners.  I participated in the funeral service.  The devastation in the town is terrible.  Members of my church are planning a work trip to help in the cleanup effort.

The recent tornado that struck the Boy Scout Camp was very disturbing to me because of my long time involvement with the scouting movement.

Iowa is reeling right now, but we are a resilient people and are pulling together. My brother lives in Cedar Rapids, which has been hit very hard.  He is unable to get to his law office, but fortunately his home is safe.

Personally our home is on high ground west of Des Moines and we are safe.  Again thank you for your prayers and concern.

Rachael Hanson '78 M.Div.
Pastor-Bergen Lutheran Church
Roland, IA

My congregation is in a little village (pop. 1300) just north of Ames, IA. In our town we've been spared the worst of the flooding, though Bear Creek, in the watershed of the South Skunk River, has been over its banks here in town for many days. City sewers are full, and sump pumps just keep pumping more water into a backed up system. Drainage tiles under the farmland are not moving the water away, because it has nowhere to go. Fields have many ponds of water.

Our farm people are suffering most, with the knowledge that their crops are under water. Acres of young corn will die, and there's no time to replant it. The soybeans must be planted by July 1 to have a crop. That looks less likely for many farmers. As usual, the small farmers are hurt worst; many have no crop insurance. Faces are long, sober and stiff as if there's been a death in the family. Dependence on a monoculture means we can lose a lot at once.

Everyone is exhausted, even if there's no water in their own basement. Everyone in the state seems to be helping neighbors. The severe weather seems to go on and on. There is talk of a drought later. It's very simple, how it happens, even in rich Iowa soil. Plants maintain very short root systems to stay up out of the high water table beneath them during flood. Then, when dry weather comes, there's no root system to reach a little lower, where subsoil moisture is abundant. The crops bake on the surface of the ground.

Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines are seeing unprecedented flooding. Hospitals without water or food preparation facilities are using wipes to clean patients and cold food. Evacuations of patients and of prisoners are happening now.  Our synod assembly was postponed because its site is flooded. Our ELCA synod office has sent out resources we'll be using in worship tomorrow.  We are keeping in mind the people of Myanmar and of the China earthquake. We are grateful for all our resources, the strength of willing neighbors, and (comparatively) good government.  One can only say, "We live by grace."

Sarai Schnucker Rice '80 M.Div.
Interim Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of the Twin Cities
Des Moines, IA

Please offer everyone our thanks for the prayers.  This is truly a catastrophic time for the state of Iowa. Some dead from tornadoes, thousands displaced because of the flooding, acres and acres of fields that will have no yield this year.

My parents live in Parkersburg, which is where the F-5 tornado hit on the Memorial Day weekend.  Their house was 1/4 mile north of the storm track, so they survived, but no one had electricity or plumbing for a week.  My favorite story from their experience is from the Friday after the Sunday tornado. There was still no electricity or plumbing, but my 78-year-old mother and her best friend, a woman of a similar age whose house was partially damaged, spent the day going around to all the nursing homes and care centers in the area, not to check on how everyone was doing but to make sure that everyone who wanted to vote got registered for absentee ballots!  It's just so first-caucus-in-the-country Iowa!

Janna Tull Steed '79 M.Div. '93 S.T.M.
Consultant/Writer/Jazz Singer-Jazz for Heaven's Sake, LLC
Creston, IA

I live in a small town in Southwestern Iowa. Beginning around June 3 we were having daily severe weather warnings, including two nights in a row of tornadoes. One night there was more than nine inches of rain in my area.  I have personally suffered no harm, except for some water damage in my unsealed basement. However, I feel so terrible for the residents of Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, and Iowa City, plus many smaller cities and towns that have been hardest hit

When I moved to Iowa in 1995 people talked about the floods of '93, and some of their effects were still evident. This is much worse in many ways, although municipal water supplies have been better protected, especially in Des Moines.  The United Methodist Church is among the agencies responding to the losses, as I'm sure other churches are, too. The municipal governments, emergency personnel, and media have done a superb job.  Thank you all for your prayers.

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