Sometimes it only takes one person’s story to capture a congregation’s interest and inspire a whole new ministry.

That’s how the Disaster Relief Ministry began at St. Philip’s Lutheran Church in Fridley, Minn.

The ministry had its beginning in January 2006, after one parishioner sparked the interest of fellow congregation members through talking about his experience volunteering in post-Hurricane Katrina cleanup. That following May, 13 members got together to form the first team from St. Philip’s to travel to a disaster area as they journeyed to Ocean Springs, Miss., to assist in rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.

Since then, St. Philip’s Disaster Relief Ministry has made 48 more trips to disaster-affected areas to volunteer with rebuilding efforts. Some trips are weeklong ranging anywhere from 500 to 1,300 miles from Fridley.

Places that have been impacted by St. Philip’s Disaster Relief Ministry include:

  • Ocean Springs, Miss., following Hurricane Katrina
  • Galveston, Texas, following Hurricane Ike
  • Nashville, Tenn., following the Cumberland River flooding
  • Minot, N.D., following the Souris River flooding
  • Shawnee, Okla., following May 2013 tornadoes
  • Rushford, Minn., for flood relief efforts
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for flood relief efforts
  • Wadena, Minn., for tornado relief efforts
  • Hammond, Minn., for flood relief efforts
  • Duluth, Minn., for flood relief efforts

Using everyone’s gifts for service

Over the past eight years, the team has grown, with some trips having more than 35 members participate. The team’s skills have also evolved. The group can assist in many areas of the home rebuilding process, including electrical wiring and installation, sheet rocking and taping, painting, roofing, plumbing, framing buildings and rooms, and installing windows, doors, cabinets and flooring.

“In the early years, the list was not as long, but as time went on, we learned and taught,” says Mike Anderson, a member of the team. “We are now at a point where we will tackle just about anything in the disaster rebuilding arena.”

Overall, the team’s 49 trips have totaled 642 members, with many of the members participating in more than one trip. A majority are members at St. Philip’s, but the ministry has reached beyond the congregation to include friends, family members and co-workers who want to participate.

Building community and support

The disaster ministry program has helped strengthen the community of St. Philip’s.

“For the most part, the original 13 team members were strangers to each other, even though many were long-time members of St. Philip’s,” says Renee Johnson, a member of the Disaster Relief Ministry. “Close friendships have now formed among many team members. Some have gone on vacations together, celebrated birthdays together, and rejoiced and mourned together. And those who cannot go on the trips have been so supportive by praying for and encouraging the team members and continuing to donate to the ministry.”

Every year, St. Philip’s hosts a lasagna dinner and silent auction fundraiser to support the disaster ministry. More than 200 people attend the all-weekend event and bid on items that are donated, mostly by team members. In addition to the annual event, the St. Philip’s congregation is generous with donations.

“Everyone knows about St. Philip’s Disaster Relief,” Mike says. “We have been very blessed to have the support we have.”

Funds raised are used to reimburse team members for gas to travel to disaster areas or for gifts to congregations that host the team while they are on location. The team has also used the funds to purchase an enclosed cargo trailer that is well-stocked with tools and supplies, which can be used while the team is on site. The ministry also pays forward its gifts by regularly giving to Lutheran Disaster Response to assist in international responses that the group cannot travel to, such as the Haiti earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

St. Philip’s Disaster Relief is a ministry that not only unites its members but also provides immeasurable assistance to those who have been impacted by a disaster.

And the journey continues

“In the past eight years, I think I can say our team members have met thousands of individuals and each and everyone has a story to share — of the event, how they are coping, or in the case of volunteers, why they are there helping,” says Mike. “We call our ministry a ‘journey’ because it truly is a journey for everyone involved.”

St. Philip’s Disaster Relief will take its 50th trip this May to New Jersey to assist in Superstorm Sandy rebuilding work.

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