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The response to Typhoon Yolanda
Matt Gamston travelled down to Panay Island in the Central Philippines to see the damage for himself. Matt knows the area well, having visited to train pastors in a local Bible college. This is how he described what he saw:
‘Once again I looked for the oldest person I could see and asked them if they had ever experienced anything like this before. Once again the answer was the same: there has never been a storm like this one.
‘After arriving on the island of Panay late at night we caught the bus to travel north just after 3am. As the dawn began to break the mess left behind by Typhoon Yolanda became more and more apparent. I've seen the aftermath of typhoons before here in the Philippines but nothing like the scale of this one. Mile after mile after mile of damage and destruction.
‘Typhoon Yolanda brought 200mph winds smashing through the centre of the country. Waves twenty feet high crashed onto the coastal areas, cars were lifted off the ground and buildings flattened. People died in their houses, in the streets and even in evacuation centres. At least 6,000 dead, thousands more were injured, half a million houses totally destroyed and 16 million people affected.
‘One of the big encouragements for me over the last few weeks has been to see the generous response of Christians both here and in many other countries and the opportunities for churches to offer short term and long term help and minister to both the physical and spiritual needs of people in their communities.
‘A chance to show that Christians love their fellow Christians and are willing to
give sacrificially to help them. And to show that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
inspires us not just to care for our own but to reach out and show love and compassion
to others around us in need. Bags of food given out, medicine distributed, materials
bought to repair houses -
‘Please continue to pray for pastors and Christians working in these devastated areas and that the testimony and example of churches in the midst of the suffering will lead many people to find true hope both for this life and the life to come.’
Christian Compassion Ministries is a relief ministry of Cubao Reformed Baptist Church in Manila. Their trained social workers were ready for such a disaster, and soon set off to bring emergency relief to those in the worst hit areas. With a team from Texas who set up water filtration equipment, they also provided food, groceries and construction materials, all of which had to be trucked 400 miles. Their work focussed on helping local churches on the affected islands, who have the best knowledge of the local area. Here are some of the comments of those who took part:
‘I don’t think any of us will ever forget what we saw over there. Thousands dead, swept away by the relentless storm surge or buried under the ubiquitous piles of debris that litter the landscape. Tens of thousands of houses washed away, leaving homeless families throughout the islands. Waves so strong they knocked concrete structures to the ground. Yet in the midst of this we saw a resilient people rising up from the rubble, grabbing a shovel and a hammer, and trying to get their life back together.” Daniel Sem
‘I can't hide my feelings! The devastation was overwhelming. The damage is vast! It took me ages to get the images out of my mind after what I'd seen in the affected areas. Listening to their horrific stories was quite exhausting and it's hard to find words to comfort them. The relief goods we gave would only supply a day’s needs.
Broken hearts, loss of loved ones, shattered lives, no houses, where to get food for the next day – these are the many problems they are facing. It has been a traumatic experience but it was a great opportunity to be one of the many people on the ground.’ Cathy Gacutan (CCM Director for Community Work)
At GBM we rejoice in the growth of the church in Manila. These areas are a long way south and much less reached. When the relief agencies have gone and livelihoods have to some extent been rebuilt, there will remain an ongoing need to see the gospel take root among these shattered communities. Missionaries are needed who can partner with these national churches and live close to the lives of ordinary people to make sure the gospel takes root in these communities.
To read more on this story, see the March edition of GBM Herald.