It seemed like the winds would never end. The howling and relentless pounding, coupled with a powerful storm surge and driving rain, forced people to flee for safety as Typhoon Rai devastated the Philippines just before Christmas. Melvan, a long time friend of ReachGlobal living on Surigao Island said, "First there was the strong winds. Then an eerie calm, followed by storm surge. Everyone ran to the mountain and sat in the rain for 6 hours." They returned to devastation. Four feet of sea water flooded into homes. Almost every building had its roof ripped off, while wooden structures were flattened. The elementary school was battered and all the contents swept out to sea. The local Evangelical Free Church of the Philippines (EFCP) church building, which was being used as an emergency evacuation center, was inundated with two feet of water and had it's roof ripped off. Almost every power pole was down and the public drinking water system was not working.
Similar stories were repeated across the Central Philippines, in places like Surigao, Bohol, Mindinao, Leyte, Samar, Cebu and others. Pastor Dave Ramos, President of the EFCP, our long time ministry partner, reported that communities served by over 80 EFCP churches, about two-thirds of the denomination, had been impacted by the devastation, with about 40 church buildings damaged or destroyed. But beyond the physical damage, the storm has brought significant suffering and trauma in both it's immediate effect, but also with it's longer term impacts.
In Leyte, this storm was doubly impactful. Leyte was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and this storm brought back memories of that prior trauma. Pastor Silverio Monte, another EFCP church planter, barely survived Haiyan. He was caught in the storm surge, and survived by climbing on top of and clinging to a post in neck deep water, while also rescuing two other young boys. He said, "During Typhoon Rai, I evacuated to the school, the same school I evacuated to during Typhoon Haiyan. I was terrified because I got traumatized by Haiyan. So when the storm hit, I just covered my ears so I couldn't hear the sounds of the storm and thunder."
Many of his church members lost their homes in this most recent typhoon, and the church building collapsed, while other had their livelihoods impacted. "Some of the fishermen's boats were lost and the rice fields of the farmers were destroyed by the floods and surge. This is a huge problem for them as that is their only source of income." The trauma of the storm itself is compounded by the stress on these families to provide for their daily needs until livelihoods can be restored is an ongoing concern. Silverio and his team have been out sharing hope and what resources they have since the storm.
Pastor Lito Jamisola, an EFCP church planter, contacted ReachGlobal Crisis Response Director Mark Lewis as soon as the storm passed. He pleaded, "Pastor Mark, please pray for us here in Cebu. Typhoon Rai greatly devastated us yesterday. Many homes in our community and of church members were damaged or destroyed. some of these families are now living in the church as a temporary shelter. Pray for food and clean water, materials to repair homes, and emotional and mental recovery of many who got traumatized. There were two casualties we recovered this morning and two more are still missing." Pastor Lito spent the day after the storm in his brother's community, another EFCP church planter, digging through debris to recover the bodies of victims. And since, he and his church members have been fully engaged in Gospel relief and recovery efforts, including a focus on care for kids and families, while needs continue in his community.
Pastor Cris Asilom, a church planter in Cebu, was largely spared, but his extended family in Surigao was very hard hit. He said, "The storm literally swept away my relatives homes." After seeing things first had, Cris contacted ReachGlobal and asked, "Can we partner again to respond and plant churches?" And so we are! In addition to crushing thousands of homes, the storm knocked down MANY of trees. Following an effective response model from Haiyan, Cris and his team are deploying a 'Chain Saw Outreach and Evangelism' team, to cut up trees into lumber, so that people have a resource to start rebuilding their homes, and to open relational doors to share Gospel Hope and Healing. The vision is to see a church or churches planted among those impacted by the storm.
After surviving Haiyan in 2013, and being a part of the early relief and recovery efforts, Pastors Silverio. Lito and Cris were three of several younger leaders across the region that felt called to engage long term recovery outreach and intentional disciple-making. ReachGlobal and others partnered with this group of younger leaders in those response efforts, and the Lord blessed that work with the planting of 30 churches, and the birth of the Filipino Leader Development Network. (Learn more about the Typhoon Haiyan Response). This network was set up to help these church planting leaders and their teams to collaborate in regional church planting efforts, and to grow, to learn from and encourage one another.
Mark Lewis, and ReachGlobal Crisis Response Trauma Care Director Katrina Welch will be meeting with this network March 8-11, 2022, to offer encouragement, trauma care debriefing and equipping, and to see how we can collaborate to make disciples and plant churches in the mission field that follows crisis.
In the hours immediately following Typhoon Rai, ReachGlobal Crisis Response was able to immediately funds to the EFCP to initiate relief efforts. Typhoons Haiyan and Rai are similar in their impacts and devastation, and we are praying they will be similar in the long term disciple-making and church planting fruit, yet because Typhoon Rai was largely unreported in the US media, giving for the this response has been less than $10,000, compared to $250,000 given for the Haiyan Response. Yet the response is moving forward with what the Lord has provided, a gifted and called group of Filipino leaders, desiring to extend Gospel ministry to those in need around them.
Pray for the EFCP leadership and local church pastors as they respond. Pray for a generous outpouring of resources. Pray for hurting people experience care and compassion, pray for lives to be transformed and churches to be planted.
Email Crisisresponse@efca.org to learn how your church can get involved in the typhoon response and related church planting efforts.
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