In late October of 2013, we made a decision as an organization to set up our South East Asia hub on the island of Leyte in the Philippines. Through prayer, discernment and discussion, we sat in a room and unanimously decided this was the place God was leading us to plant ourselves. What happened two weeks later, on November 8th, 2013, was something we never could have anticipated.
If you’ve read almost any of our publications related to South East Asia over the last 3 years, you know that we have a hard time not mentioning what happened on that date (today's date).
Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest typhoon on record to have touched land, struck the Philippines, leaving complete devastation in its wake. While death tolls reached nearly 10,000, over 16 million people were affected by the storm’s destructive force.
Dates help us commemorate events. From September 11th to our child’s birthdays, a date can represent a tragic or beautiful memory. Today, November 8th, we remember that tragic time in Filipino history. And while we recognize the grief and incredible loss people felt days, weeks, months, and years afterward, we also recognize the resilience of the Filipino people to continue living. We recognize their determination to rebuild their homes, communities and, most importantly, families.
We also don’t take for granted that we established a hub in a place that would, yes, need immense relief assistance after the typhoon, but also so much more in the way of long-term development in the years to come.
Three years after the typhoon, the visible effects of the storm are still apparent in wreckage that remains, but also among the vivid stories that so many have to tell.
Last December we met an elderly couple named Lorna and Romeo who lived along the coast. Their grandson was with them; he had been born only weeks after the typhoon. Prior to the storm, they had lived in a concrete home about 100 yards from shore. As the storm approached, the couple was told to evacuate, but like most other men, Romeo stayed behind to protect the house from potential robbery while Lorna went to a nearby elementary school to take shelter.
When the storm came, waves surged 20 feet high, carrying Romeo away as the house was destroyed. Remarkably, he stayed conscious and swam almost 3 km (1.5 miles) after the initial surge. He found debris to float on, and fell asleep from exhaustion.
When Romeo awoke, he walked to the elementary school and found his wife who had been told he was dead. She was on the roof of the school. For three days they stayed in the same clothes, unable to eat until relief arrived. Six weeks later their daughter gave birth to her son in a storm-damaged hospital. Due to the unsanitary conditions following the flood, the birth was complicated and ended in a cesarean without the appropriate amount of medication, due to lack of access.
After the storm, the baby’s mother moved to the neighboring island of Cebu because she could not find work in Leyte. She now sends money home to her parents to take care of her son. Lorna and Romeo depend on a pension of $100 a month to meet their basic needs. They formerly ran a cosmetic store for their livelihood but everything was destroyed in the storm.
During an relief outreach we conducted, we were able to help Romeo and Lorna purchase the basic inventory to get their home back up and running.
Lorna and Romeo represent one in hundreds of thousands of people who experienced loss on November 8th, 2013. But they also represent that same number of people who have courageously chosen to continue living forward. They raise their grandson--a new life that continues on the other side of such tragic circumstances.
It’s our prayer that we, as the people making up this organization, can continue supporting those rebuilding their lives after this tragedy. Most relief organizations have moved on, but there is still so much work to do. We are confident that God called us to this region for this work. It's not just the infrastructure that needs rebuilt, it's the people. Our community center, now open on the same shores that were ravaged by Haiyan, is home to weekly gatherings where people are able to find opportunities for worship, biblical education and friendship that go along way to strengthen the resolve to live forward. We work with a local midwife clinic, whose clinic was destroyed in the storm, to serve those who can't afford the maternal healthcare they need. We visit the local detention centers for youth to enable them to continue being educated while they wait to be released. These are ways in which we are building up people, in faith-filled expectation that this is where you start in the wake of such a disaster - building up people.