SALT LAKE CITY — For people of faith from Utah to Oklahoma, the devastating storms in America's Midwest this week have prompted compassionate action and highlighted the need for vigilance and preparation.
Some, like the Rev. Myke Crowder, senior pastor of the Christian Life Center in Layton, have been prompted to respond personally. Together with his son, Chris, he is soliciting donations so in two weeks he can travel to Moore, Okla., to distribute envelopes containing $500 each to tornado victims in the area hardest hit by this week’s storms.
Others, like North Salt Lake's Nolan S. Taylor, who is just wrapping up three years of ministerial service as president of the LDS Church’s Oklahoma Oklahoma City Mission, are uniting with other like-minded individuals and organizations as part of a collaborative service effort involving dozens of community and faith-based groups, all with the same objective: helping those in need.
“It’s heartbreaking to see what has happened here,” Taylor said of the powerful tornado that hit Moore, just three miles from the mission home in south Oklahoma City. At press time, news sources said 24 people were confirmed dead in what Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett called “the storm of storms,” with untold millions — perhaps billions — of dollars in damages to homes, businesses, farms and schools.
“With everyone else, we grieve for the loss of life and the massive destruction that has taken place,” Taylor said. “But now we have a tremendous opportunity to serve, and our missionaries are very eager to help with the cleanup effort. I’ve asked them all to get some work boots and gloves. We’ll have boots on the ground as soon as we’re told where we’re needed.”
Local LDS boots have already been on the ground in a few instances. In the immediate aftermath of the tornado, church members responded to calls for temporary housing for those displaced by the storm as well as for generators, fuel and water. Two LDS congregations in Edmund joined forces with the Baptist congregation across the street from their meetinghouse to provide water and other emergency supplies for members of a Baptist congregation in Moore.
But for the most part, LDS volunteers are preparing for instructions that will come through a carefully coordinated effort that will include support and contributions from a wide variety of civic and religious organizations, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“We don’t just rush in with our yellow ‘Helping Hands’ vests and start moving things around,” said President Kevin Graves of the LDS Church’s Oklahoma City Oklahoma Stake Tuesday afternoon. “There are specially trained teams in the area today, searching through the debris for survivors and stabilizing the area. The best thing we can do right now is stay out of their way."
Working behind the scenes, LDS officials are preparing to join forces with other groups through Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), a response organization that functions under the direction of the governor in pulling volunteers together to respond to crises in the most effective and efficient way.
“The church has a representative on VOAD, and they tell him what they need from us and then he coordinates with our priesthood leaders to see what we can provide,” Graves said. “Clearly the LDS Church isn’t the entire solution here — we’re part of a much bigger effort. We reach in and offer whatever we can to help.”
Meanwhile, LDS leaders in Oklahoma City have been coordinating with representatives from church headquarters in Salt Lake City in an attempt to be prepared to respond to any requests that are made, from personnel to commodities to clothing to blankets. As part of its far-reaching welfare program, the church has warehouses full of food and supplies in neighboring states, so deliveries can happen quickly.
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