ABCNJ & Partners come to the aid of the Convention of Philippine Baptist ChurchesThe Philippines is hit by an average of 21 typhoons each year. But when Typhoon Haiyan hit the central Philippines on November 8, 2013 with the strongest destructive cyclonic force ever recorded to hit land, even such a typhoon-jaded country like the Philippines was felled to its knees, and visited upon by a tempest beyond its imagination. By now most of us have seen a photograph or two of the horrific destruction that Typhoon Haiyan has left in its wake, which only belies the massive number of lives lost and upturned, and countless structures demolished in this populous but largely rural and agrarian country.
Of note for us here in ABCNJ and ABCUSA is that the megatyphoon entered from the east and plowed through the central part of the Philippines on its way out to the west. Lying on its direct path as it moved westward were the northern provinces of the three major islands of western Visayas, where the historical location of American Baptist missionary work in the Philippines is centered. The vast majority of the churches and institutions of our partner convention there, the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches, are located in the same region.
The day after the typhoon hit, ABCNJ's Council authorized Dr. Lee B. Spitzer, senior regional pastor and executive minister, to mount a regional appeal for CPBC. Many of our ABCNJ churches and individuals have generously responded to the appeal so far. American Baptists, through its One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) disaster relief, immediately released an initial amount of funds to assist our partner convention in the emergency phase to purchase essential times like food, fresh water, medicine and temporary shelter materials. This rapid response enabled CPBC to visit stricken areas and deliver assistance almost immediately where safe passage was possible.
In late December of 2013, Dr. Lee B. Spitzer, Rev. Dr. Ben Chan, International Ministries area director for East Asia, India, Hong Kong and China, and Ms. Lisa Rothenberger, ABC World Relief Officer, began discussion on how we can effectively partner together in the now crucial recovery and reconstruction phase. By the turn of the year in January 2014, ABCNJ, IM and WRO joined together to commission me to travel to the Philippines on a brief mission trip. This allowed us to conduct direct onsite assessments with our partners in stricken areas in order to provide vital information needed to enable IM, ABCNJ and WRO to faithfully discharge American Baptist disaster relief funds received thus far. After a flurry of negotiations with CPBC to coordinate my schedule, I was able to finally leave for the Philippines on January 26, 2014, affording almost 7 days of intensive onsite visits to affected areas, engaging in dialogue and prayer with pastors, church members and leaders of institutions, and daily debriefings with CPBC staff. I returned to the US on February 5, 2014
Due to the limitation of time, I was not able to visit all the provinces where CPBC churches and institutions were affected (and some locations are yet inaccessible even to CPBC staff almost three months after the typhoon), but CPBC staff took me to enough locations that provided a visual overview of the damage in other provinces. The damage to property, loss of life and livelihood that I saw were heartbreaking. But what encouraged me daily was the knowledge that wherever I went, I brought a personal presence to the love and care of American Baptists from across the ocean. Dr. Spitzer and I went to the national office in Valley Forge after I returned, to report my findings and handover data I collected to International Ministries and the World Relief Office. Initial damage findings of CPBC indicate more than 149 churches and 53 parsonages destroyed, and hundreds upon hundreds of member homes damaged and livelihoods disrupted or lost. Filamer Christian University, a major university established by American Baptists which now has more than 4,300 students, sustained 42 million pesos worth of damage.
Together with IM and WRO, ABCNJ is now finalizing a strategy to allocate funds for the recovery and rebuilding phase along the priority categories of rebuilding churches and parsonages, schools and institutions, member homes, and restoration of livelihood.
In the midst of the loss, grief and destruction, I never heard a single word of bitterness uttered from anyone - even from those who have lost everything. Instead, I was blessed to see dignity in the suffering of the innocent; I was blessed to see the fruit of the Holy Spirit at work as a vibrant community spirit is ignited spontaneously everywhere - people helping people, reaching out to total strangers with the meager resources they have, opening their homes and churches to refugees, consoling each other in the deep fellowship of their faith. While their walls, roofs, chancels, pulpits and pews may have been lost or damaged in the storm, the real church is alive and well! The journey ahead will take a few years, but the partnership between American Baptists and the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches runs silent, runs deep and is secure in the hands of Christ.Together we will face the promise of God's renewed future with faith and action.