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Posted by Barbara Shippy on September 17, 2014 at 1:42 PM

On June 16, 2014, twin tornadoes ripped through the small town of Pilger, Nebraska, leaving in their wake a path of devastation. Families lost loved ones, many were critically injured, and nearly 75 percent of Pilger’s buildings were destroyed, including the town’s only elementary school. And all that was left of St. John Lutheran Church was the bell tower.

Tornado damage in Pilger, Nebraska
Members of the team from Ascension capture some of what was left behind, including the bell tower of St. John Lutheran Church, after twin tornadoes ripped through Pilger.

Nearly 530 miles away, at Ascension Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Missouri, Kathy Thies was listening to the radio when a Matthew West song titled “Do Something” came on.

“I had just read online about the help needed in Pilger when the song came on,” said Kathy. “It just clicked that this was something that our church needed to do. We needed to do something.”

And from that point forward, it was full steam ahead. Kathy and her husband, Chris, the youth group leaders at Ascension, immediately sent out an email to the congregation. In 72 hours, they saw God do some amazing things. Twenty-four youth and adults signed up to participate. Our Savior in Norfolk, Nebraska, opened their doors for free lodging. St. Paul’s High School in Concordia, Missouri, offered to feed the group lunch on their way to Pilger, and Good Shepard in Fremont, Nebraska, offered dinner. And with a Sunday morning door offering at Ascension, the team raised enough money for all of the gas expenses for four cars.

So on July 10, twenty-four youth and adults, four cars, and one trailer began the nine-hour journey to Pilger. Packed inside those cars were also two boxes full of Arch Books and devotionals from Concordia Gospel Outreach.

“When a community has lost everything—suddenly and without warning—it’s shocking, and our hearts ache for the community of Pilger,” says Elizabeth Pittman, manager of Concordia Gospel Outreach. “We know that God remains faithful, even when it feels like all is lost. Concordia Gospel Outreach was grateful to partner with the team from Ascension to share God’s Word through books and devotions with the community.”

When asked what stood out the most when the team pulled into Pilger, Chris said he was astonished on two fronts.

“First, so much of the town was just completely gone,” he said. “At least 75 percent of the structures had damage or were completely gone. Trees were ripped from the ground, and telephone poles were twisted off at the base. Holes went clean through buildings from debris passing through.”

And second, he said he was amazed by how much had already been cleaned up because of the efforts of groups that had gone before.

But there was still much work to be done.

For three days, Ascension’s team assisted in cleanup efforts at the Pilger Fire Department, in homes, and in yards, and they organized what was left behind of St. John—all to the hum of excavators tearing down the remains of homes and buildings.

“Pilger had a town festival scheduled in a few weeks, and they were not going to let the loss of over half the town stop them,” said Chris. “We spent a lot of time working with recovering things needed for this festival, and I don’t think we have ever moved more metal folding chairs in our lives.”

Volunteers delivering donated books from CGO
Rob Bremer, a member of the team from Ascension, delivers boxes of Arch Books and devotions from Concordia Gospel Outreach.

On their last work day in Pilger, the team delivered the Arch Books and devotionals from Concordia Gospel Outreach.

“Pastor Makelin was in great need of materials to use with comforting and encouraging the town of Pilger,” said Chris. “He went to work immediately using the materials.”

Chris said there are many great material needs, but so much was happening to fill those needs. He said it was amazing to see the supplies, food, and water that had poured into the devastated town.

On the other hand, he said the emotional side of things is more difficult to resolve—that it will take time and good relationships to recover from such a frightful and devastating event.

“As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to keep them in our prayers and find ways to provide personal comfort, even from 500 miles away.”

We need your help to continue the mission. Concordia Gospel Outreach is able to send the Gospel all over the world because of the generous support of our donors. Every donation goes toward sharing the Gospel with someone who might never know Jesus or who is in need of hearing His comforting Word. We encourage you to partner with us in this important work.


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Barbara Shippy

Written by Barbara Shippy

Barbara Shippy was an associate editor at Concordia Publishing House. She attended the University of Missouri—Columbia, where she studied journalism and French. Barbara and her husband enjoy going to baseball games, traveling, and playing on the worship team at church.