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Friday, January 15, 2010

ELCA Seminary Student
May Have Perished in Haiti Earthquake


CHICAGO (ELCA) -- It is believed that Benjamin Judd Larson, a student at Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, died from the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, according to the Rev. Duane H. Larson, Wartburg president.

Ben Larson's wife, Renee Splichal Larson, and his cousin, Jonathan Larson, were in the same building as Ben at the time of the earthquake. Renee and Jonathan "made it out, eventually found each other, then returned to St. Joseph Guest House in the attempt to rescue Ben, to no avail," Duane Larson wrote in a Jan. 14 letter to the Wartburg community. Wartburg is one of eight seminaries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Jonathan and Renee are being evacuated to the Dominican Republic, and "we're hoping that (they) will soon travel back to the United States," Duane Larson told the ELCA News Service.

Ben, Renee and Jonathan are fourth-year Wartburg seminarians certified for ordination. They traveled together to Haiti to help with the new Haiti Lutheran Church. Ben was teaching at the Pastors and Lay Leaders Theological Conference in Haiti.

"We so grieve with (Ben's) parents, April and Judd; for Renee's loss of her husband; Jonathan's loss of a dear cousin, for our loss of a beautiful friend," wrote Duane Larson. "Ben's baptismal light burned so brightly in our community and for all who came to know him. We grieve the loss of so clear a proclamation, with eyes twinkling, of Christ's love, compassion and humor," he wrote.

Ben's mother, the Rev. April Ulring Larson, is pastor at First Lutheran Church, Duluth, Minn., and former bishop of the ELCA La Crosse Area Synod. His father, the Rev. Judd W. Larson, is a retired ELCA pastor.

"Ben was so excited to become a pastor," said April Larson in a Jan. 14 statement from First Lutheran Church's executive committee. "Ben loved Christ, and he loved people," she said.

"We hold Renee, April, Judd, Jonathan and all of Ben's family and friends in prayer, trusting in God's mercy and the promise of the Resurrection," said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop. "Our prayers are with the people of Haiti, and their families and friends throughout the world."

The Rev. Thomas M. Aitken, bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Minnesota Synod, Duluth, has been ministering to April and Judd Larson at their home. He said in an interview that First Lutheran Church will host a community prayer service Jan. 14 for the people of Haiti. Aitken said he will offer a reflection at that service.

The Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director, ELCA Global Mission, said he has visited the building where Ben Larson is believed to be trapped on the third floor. That building is the St. Joseph Home for Boys, he said.

Renee and Jonathan tried twice to get to the place in the building where Ben is located, but were unsuccessful, Malpica Padilla told the ELCA News Service. Malpica Padilla had been in contact with staff at the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Geneva, and asked if they could send LWF staff in Haiti to travel to the building site where Ben Larson is believed to be located. But, they could not gain access to the building.

Ben Larson is a "best friend" of Malpica Padilla's son, Felix. The two attended Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, together, and sang in the college's Nordic Choir, said Malpica Padilla. Luther is one of 27 ELCA colleges and universities.

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