A letter from Barry and Shelly Dawson in Thailand (regional liaison for Southeast Asia)
Bayani’s 9-year-old heart was racing, overflowing with fear and uncertainty.* Howling, gale-force winds swirled around him, twisting coconut trees like toothpicks, shattering windows, and creating impromptu clouds of dust and debris. The normally dry ground below their family’s apartment had become a surging wall of water that suddenly appeared from the sea. As fierce raindrops pelted his mother’s face, she beckoned her son to jump from the quickly fading safety of their family home and escape with her to a nearby location. “Bayani, jump in. Swim with me. Keep your eyes on the cross,” she shouted to her only son, pointing to a landmark high atop a nearby church. They swam past the submerged nurses’ dormitories and finally reached the solid concrete second floor of Bethany Hospital in Tacloban. It was November 8, 2013. Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Typhoon Yolanda) had struck the Philippines with tsunami-like waves and unprecedented winds that claimed 6,300 lives (with another 1,800 still reported missing), destroyed more than 580,000 homes, and initially displaced as many as 6 million people from nearly 12,000 villages. SuperTyphoon Yolanda, with one-minute sustained winds measured at 195 mph and gusts clocked at 235 mph, is the strongest storm to make landfall in recorded history, surpassing the wind velocity of Hurricane Katrina, which battered New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of the U.S.A. in 2005.
* (The events described are true, although the boy’s name has been changed. In the native Tagalog language Bayani means “hero.”)
Realities on the Ground: From May 29 to June 2 we were in the Philippines on the islands of Samar and Leyte to visit areas devastated by Typhoon Yolanda. Signs of widespread destruction and unnecessary delay still abound. Eight months after 11/8 many small businesses in the heart of Tacloban City had not yet opened their doors. Piles of twisted metal roofing and splintered planks continue to serve as visible reminders of shattered homes and lives forever gone. A massive cargo ship, tossed effortlessly by the storm’s powerful thrusts of deadly water, now rests awkwardly near a highway where it crushed the tiny homes of poor seaside villagers. Bethany Hospital, a medical ministry founded a century ago by American Presbyterian missionaries, is presently not in operation. The life-giving interventions of doctors and nurses have been temporarily suspended. Medical records offices are now littered with watermarked remnants of Yolanda. Patient rooms are hauntingly silent. In the nearby community of San Jose, white-and-blue tents provided by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) form a makeshift village of typhoon survivors who find themselves existing in a state of limbo on patches of land that authorities have declared a “no build zone.” In that same tent city, just two days before we visited some of its displaced people, a brave mother and all six of her children tragically died in a late-night fire that quickly consumed their blue-and-white temporary shelter, leaving only charred cooking utensils and the dark ashes of their dreams. Where is God in the daily lives of so many poor people who struggle to survive?
Signs of Hope: Yet, amidst the undeniable realities of gutted buildings and unforgettable nightmares spawned by Yolanda, signs of hope are emerging. Some of the most encouraging glimpses of new life are the direct result of ecumenical partnerships within the ACT Alliance, a global association of Christian denominations that is building 1,000 homes in seven neighborhoods. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has been providing significant funding for ACT Alliance’s Typhoon Yolandarelief efforts and working closely with the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP). We were overjoyed to see tangible results of their rebuilding work during our June 1st visit to Jinamoc Island. Jinamoc (an acronym for Joint Intelligence Naval Air Military Operations Center) was used as an airstrip by American and Australian forces near the end of World War II, but today it is populated by more than 300 families who make their living by fishing and farming. Yolanda’smerciless winds and waves brought such wide-scale devastation to Jinamoc that ACT Alliance is now in the process of assisting the community in the rebuilding of 274 homes. ACT Alliance provides building materials and tools, but neighbors work together to build each family’s new home. The new homes, primarily constructed of concrete blocks and wood, measure 20’ x 16’, a modest space that includes two bedrooms, a toilet, and a small area for food preparation and eating. Additionally, Norwegian Church Aid has provided each house with a 100-gallon collection tank for rainwater that can then be used for personal hygiene and laundry. The total cost of each house is approximately $2,500. We were welcomed into the new home of the Cabalquinto family, and instantly we detected their deep feelings of gratitude for this new beginning in their life together.
But the rehabilitation work in the wake of Yolandais not merely housing reconstruction. Rehabilitation and recovery work reflects a holistic approach that includes the provision of seeds, fishing boats, and school supplies for children, as well as the repair of water pumps that are each used by 250 families. Our primary denominational mission partner, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), has distributed relief packages, coordinated medical teams, and sent psychosocial teams to the affected areas. Where is God in the daily struggles of Typhoon Yolanda survivors? God is present in the gifts of love and the church’s solidarity with those who need strength and hope to rebuild their lives.
Prayer Requests: Please join us in praying for survivors of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan)as they grieve the loss of loved ones and struggle to meet their daily needs. Let us also pray for church mission partners in the Philippines as they work to build homes and restore communities in Samar and Leyte, all to the glory of God.
An Invitation to Share in Our Ministry: As we continue to build deeper mission connections throughout our nine-country region of Southeast Asia, we invite you to join our team of partners who support us with prayers, financial contributions, and encouraging correspondence. Please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org for details about how you can share in our ministry.
With thanksgiving for your prayers and partnership,
Barry and Shelly
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