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A letter from Mary Nebelsick and Paul Matheny in the Philippines

November 18, 2009

Dear Friends,

The last time we wrote, Paul, Rachie and I were in the Philippines where the sun stood high in the Manila sky, and it seemed as if the days would never end. Since then, we have returned to the United States for a year of interpretation assignment. We are living at the Overseas Ministries Studies Center in New Haven, Connecticut. We look forward to this year as a time to get to know all of you better and to spend time together as a family.

Rachel Marie is now 13, a critical time for a teen. She is beginning to gain confidence in herself and is happy to be back with the friends in New Haven that she had made when we were here in 2004-05. If you look at her picture on our webpage, you will see that she has grown up quite a bit. I am almost always surprised when I look at her and realize that she is the same girl who went with us to the Philippines in 2001. It’s a shock to look at the pictures we took then and compare them to the young lady I see now.

Last month Paul and I both participated in World Mission Challenge, which took us across the plains of Kansas, through the hills of Missouri and over the windswept terrain of Oklahoma. The hearts of the churches in these areas are as wide as the star-studded skies that cover the prairies like an azure bowl.

Back in New Haven, the seasons have turned. Crisp fall leaves herald the coming of winter, when the evenings darken at 4:30 p.m. and the taste of apples lingers in your mouth. As we celebrated All Saints’ Day on November 1 and recalled all the people, dead and alive, who have witnessed to Christ’s love, my thoughts turned to our friends in the land of endless summer, smiles, typhoons and mudslides. As I was traveling through the plains of Kansas I was struck by the news of the disasters that plagued Luzon.

The Web site of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines brought news of the disasters that left some UCCP congregations under water. One pastor wrote that it took the church two weeks to locate all their members and that they expected to celebrate Christmas amid the wreckage of their small church. Initial data from 19 UCCP congregations indicate that at least 620 families have been severely affected. Worst hit were the United Metropolis Conference in northern Manila and the Northeast Southern Tagalog Conference. Several UCCP Churches served as evacuation centers, including the UCCP office building in Quezon City. All in all, it’s estimated that at least half a million persons were displaced by the typhoons and mudslides.

Pastor Berlin Guerrero wrote, “Bagyong Ondoy did not carry so much strong winds but a lot of rainfall. The Laguna lake area has practically expanded and its water level increased by 14 meters, submerging parts of several towns in waist-high waters. Several schools were converted into evacuation areas, including some of our local church buildings. UCCP San Mateo is worst affected because it was submerged with only its roof above water. UCCP Banaba was also washed out because it is near a brook which turned into a rushing river. Many of our local congregations were not able to hold worship services.”

It’s hard for us to imagine how they felt holding onto something for their lives on a Sunday morning when they should have been in the comfort of worship and safety of a sanctuary building.

By God’s grace, many congregations sent teams to the areas devastated by the typhoon even while streets were still flooded. UCCP Paete, Sat Cruz and other churches became evacuation sites for residents fearing landslide and escaping the& rising level of the lake.

We now have a relief operation, with UCCP Calamba as center and nodal centers in the districts. The Community Ministeries Committee (CMC), of which I am a member, is responsible for the operation. We continue to receive donations from friends and partners, and strong initiatives from local churches continue. This situation may last till December or longer. We are studying the next steps to be taken. A type of situation adaptation (which includes strong advocacies) is in the offing.

The tragic effects of these typhoons will continue through the coming months. I fear that increased outbreaks of dengue, malaria and typhoid will shadow the Filipinos affected by this catastrophe and will claim even more victims. Yet it seems that the Philippine spirit is undaunted. Rescue efforts will continue, and faith in God will give people the courage to pick up the pieces of their lives and begin a new day.

In this season of Thanksgiving, we give thanks to all of you who have supported us throughout the years. With your support we can continue to do God’s work in a world that longs for God’s healing touch and outstretched arms. We invite you to continue to support our work as we seek to do God’s work on your behalf and spread God’s love to the Philippines.

In Christ,

Mary

The 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 126

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