Within hours of a tornado hitting the Beaver Valley Lutheran Church in Valley Springs, South Dakota, more than 100 volunteers arrived and a local catering company showed up with food to provide a free lunch. .
In the predawn hours of May 30 in Valley Springs, South Dakota, tornado sirens pierced the air, pouring rain, and windows clattering off their hinges.
The Beaver Valley Lutheran, a steadily growing congregation of about 420 active members, was in the direct path of the tornado. More than a century ago, the church suffered great damage. According to Beaver Valley Reverend Greg Johnson, its offices, kitchens, fellowship halls, and education buildings were shattered into unrecognizable heaps of rubble.
In the morning, parishioners assessed the damage across the church’s 11-acre campus. They wept in prayer and then got to work. The cleanup group quickly swelled with large numbers of people, including passers-by.
Despite intermittent rain, the crowd continued to grow throughout the day, Johnson said. There were immediate offers of help from other Lutherans and many non-Lutheran congregations. Nearly a dozen local congregations have invited Beaver Valley congregations to set up shop in their buildings “as long as necessary for reconstruction,” Johnson said.
The church’s offices, kitchen, fellowship hall, and education building were shattered into an indistinguishable pile of rubble.
“The experience of being hospitable is humbling,” he said. “Historically, we have offered prayers and directly assisted other congregations when they were in trouble. Being charitable is one thing, receive Charity, in this case the love of people close to you and literally from all over the country, is life-changing. “
Beaver Valley’s sister ELCA congregation, Brandon (SD) Lutheran Church, less than two miles away, has become a Sunday worship place this summer. “They claimed to provide space and technical support for Sunday services, as well as temporary offices for our time away from campus,” Johnson said. “The love that we continue to receive and enjoy has awakened us to the power of the great communion church.”
Immediately after the disaster, donations began pouring in from organizations, churches, individuals and businesses. Some money came from afar and from younger members. Johnson said one of his donations came from a vacation Bible school donated by Wisconsin children. With this gift, Beaver Valley members encouraged youth to consider where VBS offerings could be sent this year.
Donations were also received from the children’s Sunday School classes. “What a wonderful lesson for all of us,” said Susan Johansen, vice president of the Congregation Council. “Community is important. This is how our children learn life lessons.”
Johansen said it was difficult to put into words the emotional impact that the generosity he experienced in the tornado and its aftermath had on the congregation. It was overwhelming to see them crowding into our parking lot,” she said.
“We saw longtime members, families with young children, sister congregation members, and some who felt the need. [show up]They brought their own food, water and supplies without asking. This was a nondenominational response. I still cry. “
“It is one thing to be philanthropic, receive Charity, in this case the love of people close to you and literally from all over the country, is life-changing. “
South Dakota Synod Bishop Constanze Hagmeyer said more than 100 people were already on the scene cleaning up when she and the Synod’s local ministry liaison, Alan Blankenfeld, showed up just hours after the tornado hit. He said he had started
“Through tears and shocked faces, there was also resilience and a desire to rebuild a better church than before,” she said. I was grateful that I was there.
“We appreciate the LDR’s quick response in helping Beaver Valley. We appreciate the resilience and spirit of solidarity of our congregation. I will continue to preach the word of God throughout.”
With so much construction taking place in the area in the aftermath of the tornado, the congregation has yet to find a company that can begin removing debris from within the building’s layers, Johnson said. The exterior of the campus has been beautifully restored, the cemetery has been cleaned, and everything is orderly and comfortable in the campus’s outdoor pavilion, where the congregation worshiped on Wednesdays, weather permitting.
“But rebuilding our buildings will require some patience,” he said.