Lutheran Church Charities Responds to Black Forest Wildfire Near Colorado Springs, CO
By Pastor Steve Lee
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Burbank, IL
Founder and Chaplain, Peace Officer Ministries, Inc.
Early in the morning on Thursday, June 13, I watched the news on T.V. with growing alarm. A deadly wildfire fire was racing out of control in Colorado, threatening lives and thousands of homes in its destructive path. The fire was being driven by high temperatures and powerful winds directly into a large rural housing area known as Black Forest, northeast of Colorado Springs near the town of Monument.
This looming disaster was of even more concern to me because I personally knew some of the affected people. Years ago, as a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod Rocky Mountain District Missionary-at-Large, I had started Family of Christ Lutheran Church in that same area. Now, as a Chicago-area pastor and law enforcement chaplain who has responded to many disasters, including Columbine, 9/11, Katrina, and most recently the Moore, Oklahoma tornado (where I assisted Lutheran Church Charities), I knew many people in this large congregation were in harm’s way. I had always worried about Black Forest with its thousands of homes scattered throughout its deep, dry woods. Now my nightmare had come true.
I called Family of Christ and spoke with Wendy Dematto, Director of Community Life, who confirmed the area around Family of Christ was under threat and already one member family had lost their home. I then called my good friend and ministry partner Tim Hetzner at Lutheran Church Charities, who generously offered to fly me to Colorado to assist on behalf of LCC. After scrambling to prepare, that same day I flew to Denver, where I was picked up by my former Family of Christ head elder Gary Smith, who graciously loaned me a vehicle and reserved me a room at a Monument hotel.
Every disaster not only has its characteristic sights and sounds, but also its smells. The trademark smell of a wildfire is the overpowering burned ash stink. This distinctive stench hit my nostrils as that night I crested Monument Hill on southbound I-25, a stark reminder to prepare for the next day’s work for the victims and for the Lord…
As I headed out the next morning, Paulene Howk, one of my former Family of Christ members, greeted me at the hotel’s front desk where she works. As she thanked me for coming the strain on her face was palpable. Her family was in the mandatory evacuation area (later she discovered her in-law’s home had burned to the ground).
Family of Christ’s dedicated pastor, Dave Dyer, along with his church team, had already been ministering to the church family who lost their home, so I turned my attention to community outreach. All that Friday I performed the assessment work LCC had asked me to do. I drove all around the area and spoke with both victims and responders. I helped where I could, and “prayed without ceasing.”
That afternoon, at the El Paso County Citizen’s Assistance Center, I spotted a man sitting by himself in the cafeteria. After glancing at my chaplain’s I.D., he smiled and welcomed me to sit with him at his table. He introduced himself as Ed Busby, and said he had evacuated from his five-acre Black Forest home. He had been unable to retrieve his medications and important family pictures, heirlooms and documents, and was obviously worried. He didn’t know if his home was still standing, but did know the fire was burning all around it. I told him that because of my prior experience as a law enforcement officer and chaplain I might be able to help, and asked if he was interested. He said, “Absolutely!”
We drove out toward Black Forest in Ed’s big Ford F-350 pick-up, where we were stopped by a Colorado Springs P.D. sergeant. We explained to her our mission to retrieve Ed’s important items, and she graciously agreed to have El Paso County Deputy S. (to protect his security I prefer not to reveal his name) escort us across the police perimeter into the fire area. Deputy S. flipped on his patrol car’s flashing emergency lights to clearly I.D. us to firefighters and other first responders, and then followed us into the smoky, scorched, stink-filled woods.
The wildfires I have responded to over the years are different than the house fires I saw as a cop. A house fire will often leave a skeleton structure standing, but a wildfire consumes structures like a bear eating a salmon—everything is devoured except slabs, foundations and chimneys. As we drove past the many burned-down-to-the-foundation houses, I could hear the increasing anguish in Ed’s voice as he called out the names of his neighbors who had lost their homes. He and his wife Linda and their family have lived in Black Forest since 1980, and so his neighbors are like family to him; their loss and hurt is his own.
Our tension grew as we approached Ed’s home. Was it still standing? We drove over the top of the last hill…and there it stood in the heart of the burned forest, intact and undamaged, an obvious miracle of God.
The Apostle Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV), “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” As Ed retrieved his medicine and precious belongings from his home, including a gold pocket watch his great-grandfather had given him when he was a child, I talked with Deputy S. out front by his patrol car. Peace Officer Ministries, the Christian law enforcement chaplaincy I started, publishes a special law enforcement edition Bible, and I happened to have a copy with me. Deputy S. asked if he could buy it from me and I told him no, but I would be happy to give it to him. I pulled it out of my briefcase and showed him the introduction section I wrote in the front of the Bible especially for officers, signed my name in the front, and gave it to him. S. told me he was a Christian believer, but was not attending church. I shared with him how important my faith in Christ was for me during the years I was a law enforcement officer, and encouraged him to read his new Bible and find a good church.
When Ed was done, we took a couple of quick photos and then retreated to safety. After waving goodbye to Deputy S. back at the police fire perimeter, Ed and I drove back to the El Paso County Citizen’s Assistance Center. Riding in his truck, we talked about how God had miraculously spared Ed and Linda’s home from the fire. Ed told me he and his wife had a church background but had not attended in years. I told him God had done a miracle in sparing his home, and in the days ahead he was going to be a support for his neighbors who had lost theirs—that he needed to build his relationship with this God of miracles and His Son Jesus Christ to strengthen himself, his family and others in the days ahead. I said, “Ed, I have the perfect place for you to re-discover your relationship with Christ—Family of Christ Lutheran Church. It’s a great group of folks!” I found out that Ed used to work for Howard Slavens, one of the congregation’s charter members, and Ed said he and his wife would check out the church. I kidded with him that I was going to sic Wendy DeMatto on him and he said that would be just fine, and so I did, and she did, and after I flew back home I phoned Ed and he told me he was indeed just fine with that…
I want to thank Tim Hetzner and Lutheran Church Charities for making it possible for me to share the love of Christ in Colorado Springs at the Black Forest Fire, and encourage all who read this to generously support their fine work for the sake of those in need and for Christ’s Kingdom.
Pastor Steve Lee Deploys to Colorado Wildfire for LCC
On behalf of Lutheran Church Charities, Pastor Steve Lee is deploying today to the still-uncontrolled Colorado Springs area wildfire that has so far claimed more than 350 homes, including at least one member's home of an LCMS congregation, Family of Christ Lutheran Church. The Family of Christ Director of Community Life, Wendy DeMatto, today talked with Pastor Lee and requested that he respond on behalf of Lutheran Church Charities and conduct an early needs assessment and organization assistance. Please pray for the people of Colorado affected by fire, for the first responders, for Family of Christ Lutheran Church and Pastor Dave Dyer, and for Pastor Steve Lee as he responds to assist on behalf of LCC.
Click here to donate to the LCC Disaster Relief Fund
Last Updated on Saturday, 15 June 2013 10:56
LCC Disaster Repsonse Monitors Damage After Severe Storms Hit Illinois - June 12, 2013
Lutheran Church Charities is monitoring the damage done from the June 12th severe storms. One of our congregations, Risen Savior Lutheran Church in Manteno, Illinois , where Rev Kevin Werner is the pastor, was hit. Their church was under construction with Laborers for Christ and was demolished. Everyone is fine - no injuries - they just have to start the construction process over. They were about half way in the construction process when the church building was destroyed.
If your church or those you serve in your community need assistance from Lutheran Church Charities - Disaster Response (we have over 900 trained LERT volunteers) please call us ASAP at 866-455-6466 or email me at
We are here to serve you and those you serve.
In the Name of Jesus who is with us in all situations with His Mercy and Compassion,
It has been over a month since a major disaster was declared in the state of Illinois on May 10. Approximately 30,200 individuals and households were affected by the spring flooding throughout the state. Lutheran Church Charities and LERT volunteers have been serving continuously bringing the Mercy, Compassion, Presence and Proclamation of Jesus Christ to those affected by this disaster in communities all over the state. In Marseilles, IL, LERT teams from Cross Lutheran Church in Yorkville and Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Bloomington are now rebuilding damaged homes working through Trinity Lutheran Church, Marseilles.
Click here to donate to the LCC Disaster Relief Fund
Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 June 2013 09:07
Caring for Oklahoma
What a difference a day makes. Within 24 hours, Care Cards are in the hands of those in need in Oklahoma
On Wednesday, June 5 at 4:30 pm, Senior Pastor Kris Whitby and summer Vicar Pete Berauer from St Paul Lutheran Church in Mt Prospect, Illinois, dropped by the LCC office to deliver $4,400 worth of Visa gift cards to be used in Oklahoma.
The cards were then sent to the LCC K-9 Comfort Dog team serving in Oklahoma and arrived at 8 am Thursday. At 10 am some of the cards were delivered to Pastor Hefta of Trinity Lutheran Church in El Reno, OK. LCC staff member Rich Martin and K-9 handler Bill Meyer, from Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Davenport, IA, made home visits with members and gave cards to those members.
At 3:30 pm the LCC K-9 Comfort Dog team met with Teresa Laudermilk of Messiah Lutheran Church in Oklahoma City and dropped off more care cards for Messiah to use in their ministry to the community.
By 4:30 pm, just 24 hours since the cards were brought to Lutheran Church Charities, the LCC K-9 Comfort Dog team delivered the final group of care cards to Pastor Mark Bersche at St. John's Lutheran Church in Moore, Oklahoma.
Thanks to St. Paul Mt Prospect for your help in sharing the Mercy, Compassion, Presence and Proclamation of Jesus Christ in Oklahoma.
LCC Staff, Volunteers and K-9s Visit Trinity El Reno, Oklahoma
Pictured are LCC volunteer Barb Granado and LCC staff member Rich Martin with Pastor Hefta of Trinity Lutheran Church in El Reno, Oklahoma. His church took in over 200 people and their pets Friday night, including a monkey. Cantaloupe-size hail penetrated the roof of the church and people's homes. There are no reported deaths within the congregation but four members lost their homes. The team prayed with Pastor Hefta and Rich offered to do welfare checks of his members' homes with him. On Thursday they will do home visits with members.
Please keep all who are recovering from the recent tornado in your prayers.
K-9 Comfort Dogs and Handlers Still Serving in Oklahoma
The team, LCC staff member Rich Martin, volunteers Barb Granado, Sharon Flaherty, Bill Meyer and Rick Holste and the LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs Luther, Hannah, Susie and Gracie, has been working with volunteers from St John's Lutheran Church in Moore, Oklahoma. In addition to working in Moore, they have visited the surrounding areas that have also been affected by the most recent tornadoes (one of which had the largest width of a tornado in U.S. history at 2.6 miles in El Reno, OK).
The LCC K-9 Comfort Dog team and volunteers took supplies and basic necessities to Trinity Lutheran Church in El Reno. They took the K-9 Comfort Dogs around the affected neighborhoods, that were deemed safe for the dogs, to bring comfort to the people affected by the tornado. They have also been visiting with many of the first responders who helped the many tornado-stricken communities. They will be spending much of the week at relief centers throughout the community. There are big storms predicted for the week so please keep the team and these hard hit communities in your prayers!
Moore, OK Disaster Response Interview with Vicar Aaron Uphoff from Trinity Lutheran Church, Norman, Oklahoma
Saturday, May 25, 2013 On Saturday, May 25, 2013, LCC staff member Deaconess Tiffany Manor interviewed Vicar Aaron Uphoff from Trinity Lutheran Church in Norman, Oklahoma. Vicar Uphoff talked about his experience with the Moore, Oklahoma tornado disaster relief. The seven crosses in the background represent the seven children that lost their lives at Plaza Towers Elementary School.
Special Appeal - Help Make A Difference in Oklahoma
Having been on the ground in Moore Oklahoma and having talked with so many people and seeing the devastation that has happened, I once again see the outpouring that takes place from Christians throughout the United States and other countries. IT IS WHAT CHRISTIANS DO! We share that Mercy and Compassion of Jesus Christ. It is what Lutheran Church Charities is about and what the churches are all about! All of us working together to help bring relief to people suffering.
The staff and volunteers at St John's Lutheran Church in Moore, Oklahoma are doing a fantastic job - working long hours and giving fully of themselves to serve those who are suffering. Churches in the surrounding area like Messiah Lutheran in Oklahoma City. LCMS Mercy Ministry people on the ground. Oklahoma District people. It is everyone working together as the Body of Christ! The Pastor and DCE from Immanuel Joplin - who themselves have gone through this - present and helping! God working through His Body!
The LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs from the Chicago area, Indiana, Joplin, Missouri and Cairo, Nebraska have been there and continue to remain there to help individuals, children, and families as they process their loss. LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs will be at the church services Sunday at St John's and Messiah Lutheran Church.
I want to thank everyone for their prayers. Please keep them coming for the people of Moore and the surround area. I can't tell you how much they appreciate this!