A letter from Cobbie Palm serving in the Philippines
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I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7
It was a surprise visit. I had sent no one warning that I would be dropping in. I was on my way home to Dumaguete from Borongan, a small town on the east coast of Samar island, 560 miles south of Manila. The bus journey required that I travel through Tacloban, the city that was at the center of attention four years ago. That city was devastated by one of the strongest typhoons to make landfall in recorded history, typhoon Haiyan.
I arrived unannounced at the church office where Task Force Haiyan is based in Tacloban City. There was the sudden calling of my name, and then another, and then applause. Like a member of the family, I was received into the gathering, offered food, offered a place to sleep. I was overwhelmed with the warm welcome and how many people knew my name. But in a moment of humility, I knew in my heart that the warm welcome was not about me personally, but about the church I represent, the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Presbyterian mission reached Tacloban City in the early 1900s and established Bethany Hospital, just on the edge of the sea, in 1917. There are many among the elderly in Tacloban who can still remember the small wooden medical boat that would travel from the Bethany Hospital up along the coast to the isolated small towns on medical missions. These small coastal towns with no medical access saw doctors and nurses for the first time as part of early Presbyterian mission.
In the early morning of November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan put a temporary end to Bethany Hospital and left a death toll of more than 10,000 in its wake. It was a disaster of unheard of proportions, and the nation was at a loss as to where to start to recover and rehabilitate. The Presbyterian Church had not forgotten that it had given birth to Bethany Hospital, and with the wisdom to evolve its mission with initiatives and programs to meet the needs of our changing world, the PC(USA) had a life-giving and profound way to respond. Created to offer the ministry of relief and rehabilitation, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) took it upon itself to step in with humanitarian support and to build up and train our partner church, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), in implementing a comprehensive and sustainable rehabilitation program.
The program gave birth to Task Force Haiyan, and, in the spirit of true partnership, PDA did not just airdrop funds and disappear, nor did it walk in with funds and experts to police over the project. Rather, it took on the painstaking task of training up a brigade of Filipino rehabilitation workers, empowering and encouraging them to own and lead Task Force Haiyan. In the moments when there were mistakes, PDA lent a compassionate heart to assist in the rectification. In the moments of success, PDA celebrated with Task Force Haiyan, showing their sincerity and dedication to the long and difficult journey of rebuilding communities among the poor and marginalized. Task Force Haiyan rehabilitated six communities with new housing units complete with water, sanitation, hygiene and support for the livelihood of the community. Task Force Haiyan also rehabilitated a school of our partner church.
The Presbyterian Church that planted Bethany Hospital, giving life and hope to so many over the years, did not abandon its partner church in the Philippines in times of trial and hardship. The Presbyterian Church empowered the Filipinos to stand up from the storm and proudly say, “we did it!”
The gathering turned into tears for some, as it was a farewell to those on the staff of Task Force Haiyan whose roles had come to an end. The communities were rebuilt, the families were relocated now, the job was done. They were tears of farewell, but tears that represented a successful mission supported by PC(USA) churches throughout the United States, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the competent leaders of our partner church, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. It is an amazing story of partnership, and when they asked me to say a few words on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (USA), I simply said, “You make me proud to be Presbyterian!”
There is a great legacy of Presbyterian mission in the Philippines—lives have been changed and lifted by so many who have crossed the ocean, sent by the Presbyterian Church to reach out in love and compassion. I am among those who continue to give my life to the legacy of Presbyterian mission in the Philippines. With a team of committed Filipinos, we reach communities in need of clean drinking water. Your prayers and gifts to our ministry through the PC(USA) keep this ministry and the legacy alive. Thank you for your continuing support.
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