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Rising to the challenge

Tualatin community rallies to help rebuild Living Savior Lutheran Church
by: Jaime Valdez, Robert Stefanek dances with Lori, left, and Flava Williams during a benefit for Living Savior Lutheran Church at Tualatin High School.

Neighbors of Living Savior Lutheran Church stepped up Sunday to rally around the Tualatin church that welcomed them into the fold with open arms.

Nearly 150 people joined Robert Stefanek and his friends from Bethesda Lutheran Communities in raising close to $2,000 during a benefit dinner, dance and silent auction at Tualatin High School. Those funds will help the church rise from the ashes following a devastating three-alarm fire on March 19 that destroyed the preschool, office space and sanctuary.

"We were just thrilled with the turnout and show of support from the community," said Mona Fuerstenau, who works with Bethesda Lutheran Communities, a leading provider of support and services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. "It was a delightful evening. It was nice to see everyone dancing and having a great time."

She was particularly delighted to see Stefanek and other residents, who live in a group home on the property adjacent to the church, enjoying themselves while doing something to give back to the congregation that has been such a big part of their lives for nearly 30 years.

"Robert was very upset by the fire and concerned about what had happened to his church," Fuerstenau said of the group home's longest residing tenant. "As the fire department was fighting the fire, he was out there in his wheelchair, wondering what was going on. He was really worried about his church.

"Organizing this event was an outgrowth of that concern."

For three decades, Stefanek and several other adults who receive support and services from Bethesda, have been active members of Living Savior Lutheran Church. Stefanek is a beloved member of its faith community, where he serves as a greeter and attends regular Bible classes.

He was among the crowd of neighbors huddled together in the wee hours of the morning watching 17 fire trucks and about 60 firefighters from Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, Lake Oswego Fire Department and Portland Fire and Rescue battle the blaze for more than three hours.

Two months later, Stefanek was doing his part to raise money for his church, including helping with a bake sale and arts and crafts fair that were part of Sunday's festivities.

"It was an empowering evening," Fuerstenau said.

As the night came to a close, a crew of Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue firefighters, who spent that March morning fighting the fire, filed into the event in a show of support.

"It was really just heartwarming to see their dedication and their sense of community," Fuerstenau said. "They were so charming and delightful. It was amazing that they showed up, made a donation and wanted to be there."

Also in attendance were Nathan Brandt, pastor of Living Savior, and John Bauer, president and chief executive officer of Bethesda.

"Since about 1985, Living Savior Lutheran Church has been our neighbor and welcomed people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to their congregation," Bauer said, noting the church's involvement with five Bethesda group homes in Tualatin. "Living Savior embraces, through action, our shared mission to enhance the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"This fundraiser is Bethesda's way of thanking Living Savior for years of partnership and practicing what is preached from the pulpit."