As Concordia families from around the country flock to campus for Family Weekend, they are being asked to remember those struggling to pick up the pieces left behind by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“As a college of the church, we’re affected by the recognition that these are our neighbors,” President William Craft said. “The Christian tradition teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but it doesn’t say anything about how far away those neighbors need to be.”
All offering collected at Family Weekend Worship this year will go toward relief efforts in the wake of a recent string of tropical weather that flooded thousands of homes, displaced more than 30,000 people, and killed at least 70 in the southern United States.
According to Deacon Jon Leiseth, who will be preaching at the Sept. 17 service, the recipient of Family Weekend offering varies from year to year. The inspiration for this year’s offering came in an email from one Cobber alum.
Jim Reinhart ‘80 lives in Galveston Island, Texas, just over 50 miles from Houston. Galveston is no stranger to hurricanes — on Sept. 8, 1900, a category four hurricane made landfall on the city with winds recorded at 145 miles per hour. That storm, known as the Great Storm of 1900, remains the deadliest hurricane in United States history. Among the thousands of fatalities were a four-year-old and a baby — Reinhart’s aunts. Both of his grandparents survived the storm.
More than a century later, as Hurricane Harvey encroached on Texas, Reinhart was reminded of the Great Storm of 1900, his grandparents, and his own time at Concordia.
“One thing Concordia taught me is don’t be afraid, trust the Lord to guide you, and just do it,” Reinhart said.
So he went out in a motorboat to the flooded areas and began to pull people from the water. He also reached out to friends in congregations and communities around the country — including Concordia— for help. Not knowing who to contact at the school, he called Hank Tkachuk, his former communications professor and mentor, who retired in 2016.
“Hank inspired me when I was a student to be unafraid to act,” Reinhart said. “He told me the most efficient way to get something done is to contact President Craft directly.”
Reinhart emailed Leiseth and President Craft, petitioning Concordia for assistance with relief efforts. Leiseth and the Office of Ministry decided then to put all Family Weekend offerings toward Hurricane Harvey relief, although the recent storm in Florida may lead to a slight change in plans.
“Now that Hurricane Irma has been on the scene too, we may revisit that and have it go to hurricane relief, period,” Leiseth said.
But contributing to Family Weekend offering is not the only way Cobbers can help with relief efforts. Less than 24 hours after receiving Reinhart’s message, Craft sent out an email to all Concordia employees urging them to donate individually to reputable organizations like Lutheran Disaster Response.
One common barrier to donating in times of need, especially for college students, is the assumption that only large donations can make a difference.
“It is a mistake to imagine that if you’re not a millionaire you can’t make a difference,” Craft said. “It is possible for people with limited means to make a very significant difference in large numbers.”
In addition to financial assistance, there will eventually come a need for contributions of time and energy to help rebuild the communities devastated by Harvey and Irma. Leiseth said that there is already discussion of Justice Journeys and Habitat for Humanity trips to go and work directly in the affected areas, although it is too early to say what the need will be for such trips, or when.
“There’s certainly a lot of student concern and passion about showing up for one’s neighbors, including our neighbors in Texas or Florida,” Leiseth said.
Recovery after natural disasters like Harvey and Irma is a long process, as evidenced by the ongoing efforts to rebuild the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans more than 12 years after Hurricane Katrina. For this reason, both Craft and Leiseth highlight Concordia’s responsibility as an academic institution to consider questions of why storms like these are causing so much destruction, who is most affected, and how we can provide solutions that last beyond the length of a news cycle.
“We are called to become educated about the complexity of what happens in the aftermath of an experience like Hurricane Harvey or Irma,” Leiseth said. “I think Katrina was a good teacher for this. We had the opportunity to ask ourselves, ‘what lessons did we learn in terms of who’s getting helped? Who’s being seen, who’s being heard? Who’s not being seen, who’s not being heard?’”
Craft urges Concordia students, faculty, and staff to pay particular attention to the increasing frequency and severity of these “500 year floods” and the human actions that contribute to them.
“It is quite possible to say this trend in storms has been exacerbated by climate change,” Craft said. “So if we want to do something, then we must be thinking about the question and causes of climate change and doing something about climate change.”
This weekend, families will gather on Concordia’s campus for football, ice cream, and worship. More than 1,000 miles away, in Texas, flood waters are receding, winds are slowing, and evacuees are returning to their homes.
In the midst of it all, Reinhart said that a source of great comfort has been the support he and his state have received from the greater Concordia family.
“I am just one of thousands of Cobbers around the country helping out with relief efforts,” Reinhart said. “When things happen, Concordia students and alumni respond.”
Katie Beedy (’18) is co-Editor-in-Chief of the Concordian. She is majoring in multimedia journalism and communication studies. Her work has been featured by Emerging Prairie, where she interned in the summer of 2016, and at concordiacollege.edu/blog.