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Brazil’s Lutherans reach out amidst catastrophic flooding

Devastating flooding in Brazil. Photo: Ricardo Stuckert. CC BY-SA 2.0.

BRAZIL – Lutherans in Brazil are reaching out with the love of Christ as they struggle in the aftermath of devastating floods—the worst the country has experienced in 80 years.

Beginning at the end of April and continuing through May, the state of Rio Grande do Sul has experienced massive flooding. More than 160 people are confirmed dead, others are still missing, and hundreds more are injured. Nearly 600,000 people have been displaced, with close to 70,000 people currently living in emergency shelters.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (Igreja Evangelica Luterana do Brasil – IELB) is experiencing the devastation firsthand; more than half of the church’s members live in the affected state. “In Rio Grande do Sul, heavy rains are causing destruction like never before,” explains IELB President Geraldo Schüler. “There are hundreds of municipalities partially or completely destroyed. Many people have died because of the floods and landslides, thousands of homes have been destroyed, and many people are missing.”

Congregação Concórdia, a 120 year old IELB church in São Leopoldo, under water. Photo: IELB.

The IELB reports that 14 of their churches are known to have suffered damage in the flooding; some, like the Congregação São João in Novo Hamburgo, still remain submerged. A number of Lutheran schools have also been affected. Seven pastors have completely lost their homes and everything inside them. Other pastors managed to save a few belongings and escape by car, while others lost even their cars. The full impact on church members remains impossible to assess at this point, but many of them have lost their homes and been displaced.

Flooding at Editora Concórdia. Photo: IELB.

The church’s publishing house, Editora Concórdia, also remains underwater. “We still don’t have a real understanding of how things are there,” the IELB reports, “and we confess, we are afraid of what we will find.”

“This catastrophe is unprecedented,” says IELB Vice President Airton Schroeder, who oversees social ministry in the church body. But while the creation may have been devastated, he says, “the Creator remains the same yesterday, today and forever. The Creator has shown His mercy through Christians and non-Christians alike, caring for one another. But He has especially demonstrated His mercy through those who, in the midst of tragedy, look to the cross and realize that human life on Earth is temporary and testify to the love of Jesus Christ in words and actions, working to minimize the suffering of their neighbour.”

Lutherans reach out

Relief efforts at the Lutheran University of Brazil. Photo: IELB.

Even as Rio Grande do Sul is facing an increasingly dire humanitarian situation, Brazil’s Lutherans are reaching out with critical care and support. The Lutheran University of Brazil in Canoas, for example, is hosting more than 8,000 people who have been displaced—the largest such shelter in the country. In São Leopoldo, meanwhile, the church’s seminary, Seminário Concórdia, is likewise hosting displaced people who have been referred to them by the city, primarily elderly people and those with special needs. Faculty, students, and family are all involved in caring and feeding those on campus, as well as distributing food to people in other locations.

Faculty, students, and families at Seminário Concórdia prepare food for those affected by the floods. Photo: IELB.

“We are facing many difficulties because of this huge flooding,” said President Schüler. “But this is also an important opportunity for the church to share God’s great love, and this is being done in a wonderful way through the congregations and institutions linked to the IELB.” IELB congregations have provided assistance in numerous ways, ranging from rescuing people caught in the flooding; providing shelter in unaffected buildings; collecting and distributing necessities like food, water, blankets, clothing, and hygiene goods; raising emergency funds; and of course providing pastoral care to people in the midst of great suffering.

As of May 22, the IELB has raised more than R$1,850,000 for relief work, and already distributed R$500,000 for emergency food, life-protecting supplies, and other needs. You can find out more about the IELB’s ongoing response to the crisis and its Disaster Response Fund on the IELB’s website here (in Portuguese).

Chances are the work will continue for some time. Authorities have suggested it will be months—perhaps even years—before life in in the affected areas returns to normal.

“I encourage all Christians around the world to remember Brazil in prayer,” said General Secretary Klaus Detlev Schulz of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “The people are facing great sorrow and loss in this time. May God strengthen the work of authorities as they seek to preserve life and property in Brazil. And may He bless the work of our friends in the IELB, as they offer practical care and comfort in the name of Jesus Christ to all those who have been affected by this tragedy.”

The ILC, of which the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil is a member, is a global association of confessional Lutheran churches grounded in the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

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SELK responds to flooding in Germany

Flooding in Kordel, Germany. (Image: Chz, CC BY-SA 4.0)

GERMANY – Catastrophic flooding in Europe in mid-July destroyed homes and infrastructure in several countries, and led to the deaths of more than 200 people. Germany was particularly hit hard, with at least 170 people dead, many more currently unaccounted for, and widespread damage in the western part of the country.

Infrastructure damage at Königssee following widespread flooding in West Germany. (Image: TheGlobetrotter, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) reports that while some members of their church body have been affected by the flooding, none of their church buildings were damaged by the water. One family from the St. Johannes congregation in Cologne, for example, has had to relocate to a hotel due to damage at their home. At a parishioner’s home in Wuppertal, meanwhile, the basement has flooded with rainwater and sewage, though the situation there may be repairable. The full extent of damages incurred by members of SELK congregations is not fully clear at this time, however, as a result of partial communications interruptions.

SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt—who is also Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC)—has expressed gratitude for the several inquiries he has received from SELK’s partner churches and ILC members. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, for example, offered assistance from their disaster relief fund, but Bishop Voigt explained there did not seem to be a need for interchurch aid at present.

Speaking to selk_news, Bishop Voigt said he was impressed by this expression of worldwide solidarity in prayer for those affected by the flooding and willingness to help. He said this was just as moving and a sign of hope as the people who came to help from neighboring towns in the affected communities with rubber boots and shovels.

Church leadership and the diaconal work of the SELK has invited its congregations and parishioners to support internal relief efforts through an appeal for donations for the victims of the flood disaster.

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With files from selk_news.

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