Archive | March, 2014

Philippines: Running the relief marathon

12 Mar

IMG_1217It’s Sunday morning in Tacloban. Last November this city gripped the world’s attention after mega-typhoon Haiyan smashed into the Philippines, claiming 6,000 lives. I am sitting in the Tacloban Christian Church (TCC) where I can still see the high water mark left on the walls from the 16-foot tidal surge that flooded the sanctuary. Some of my OM co-workers who arrived here a few days later helped scrape away the mud and debris so the church could be used as a relief centre. Three months later there is still no electricity, and the pastor and his family have only a limited water supply. The church van parked outside is unusable, its engine corroded by salt water.

“Tacloban went on world display because of this typhoon,” TCC Pastor William Dy tells his audience. “There is ‘global warming,’ and there is ‘global warning’. What does God want to say to us?”

For such a time as this

After the service I talk with Jerry  “Sambo” Yaokasin, a former pastor who attends this church and who was elected vice mayor only six months before the disaster. “People say to me, this is a bad time to be in office. But I think it’s the best time! I strongly feel I’ve been put in this position for such a time as this. We Christians are instruments of God, put here to make a change and to speak for Jesus Christ. I think this situation has opened doors to the gospel.

He adds, “When I graduated from seminary I worked in a Cebu church, and the first relief goods we IMG_1239received was from that church. I feel Christians have to unite and show that it makes a difference to follow Him.”

Over the next few days I inspect some of the other hundreds of churches that have been affected–some only left with bare foundations. Other congregations have stretched tarps across partially-destroyed roofs or walls. The auditorium of the King Jesus Community Church is crammed with small tents and mosquito nets that shelter a  team doing medical work. On Sundays the tents are taken down for services. Pastor Nilo Timkang and his wife look tired. Their family lives in a tiny room attached to the church, and she gets up at four each morning to care for the teams.

“But God is doing great things in people’s lives,” affirms the pastor. “An OM social worker did 277 case studies of families in the nearby communities—the poorest of the poor—who we are helping. Now three-fourths of the people who come to church are new!”

Ministering to the ministers IMG_1273

Pastor Nilo’s fellowship is part of a network of Christian churches and agencies that have gone all out to minister to the area’s stricken people. But pastors families, too, are victims, and after months of continuous coping amidst inadequate conditions they are exhausted. After assessing the situation, OM International’s Philippine Field Leader, Sally Ababa, recognised that the best help OM could offer was to empower, train and sustain God’s people so they could carry on with their strategic work. OM also served as a buffer between churches and the offers of teams and relief goods that came to Tacloban’s vice mayor.

Sally Ababa is convinced that the Lord was preparing her all of her life for this moment in history. “I still feel the pain of all that has happened, of course. But God has given me an avenue to exercise my passion for people–and when your passion can be used to meet one of the world’s greatest needs, it’s amazing. That’s how I survive: being a channel of God’s light and salt to the community.

“Our OM staff is no stranger to crisis situations,” she points out. “We have been in training for many years. Eighty percent have graduated from community development courses.”

In the last few months, a partner organisation has provided three short but intensive training courses in relief work for OMers and church leaders aimed at helping them to make emergency decisions and relate more effectively to NGOs. Training in trauma counselling was also put to use among displaced people, and in February Epic Solutions, another partner agency, held sessions in Cebu and Manila that were particularly aimed at helping individuals who had lost their livelihoods to start small businesses. This March, OM is hosting a “time out” for about 30 pastors and their families who have been in the thick of relief efforts over the past months.

“We want to give them some space and time to process and get debriefed from their traumatic experience,” explains Sally, “so that their need for inner healing and spiritual formation can also be addressed and they can anchor their hope in Jesus Christ alone.”


In it for the long-term  

When asked if OM has hosted relief teams from other countries, Sally says she had to make some hard choices. “We couldn’t accommodate teams– and we couldn’t ask churches in the disaster area to take them, either, when they were already exhausted. Our OM staff members were also personally affected by the disaster.

“It would have been easy–and tempting–to spend all of the money that came in on mass distributions,” she says. “We have chosen instead to build up local capacity to deal with the emergency over the next months and years. The big NGOs come and go. They are essential but their help is short-term. OM’s goal is long-term: that no one in the Philippines [not just in areas in the news] will die because of hunger and thirst. Relief and development is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”