By Linda Bloom*
Aquilino (Pong) Javier Jr. remembers living through many natural calamities while growing up in the Philippines.
But the stark television images of people who had lost family and homes to Typhoon Haiyan , including “the parent who was cradling a dead child in his arms not knowing where to turn to for help,” made the 68-year-old Chicago area resident “jump out of the couch, as many did,” he said, “to do something.”
As president of the National Association of Filipino American United Methodists, which represents about 48 local congregations, fellowships and communities, Javier is in a position to promote relief efforts for the Philippines.
“I’ve shared with acquaintances that this is a blessed opportunity for those of us out of harm’s way to be an answer to the Filipino’s prayer in the devastated area at this moment,” he said. “God will be pleased. I’m sure.”
The destructive path of Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, on Nov. 8 cut across the northern tip of Cebu and tore through the three large island provinces of Samar, Leyte and Bohol. The United Methodist Committee on Relief announced a $97,000 grant Nov. 11 for emergency food, water and water purification tablets in Tacloban.
In Long Beach, Calif., the Rev. Nestor Gerente and his congregation at Grace United Methodist Church are continuing to attract news media attention since holding a Nov. 10 news conference after worship to talk about relief needs.
He organized the event with a young adult church member, Alex Montance, who is regional coordinator for the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns. A candlelight vigil is planned Nov. 15 in front of the church.
Although the congregation is “in the thick of preparations” for the church’s 110th anniversary celebration, the urgency of the relief effort has become Gerente’s priority. “That’s why I call this a holy interruption in my pastoral ministry and the ministry of the church,” he told United Methodist News Service.
“We know that in times such as this, the church’s presence and the church’s efforts need to be intensified. I feel blessed that I have this opportunity to become a channel of God’s grace to my fellow Filipinos in the affected areas.”
Worry over lack of information
While many Filipinos have developed the resiliency needed to deal with the earthquakes, typhoons and floods that are a part of life in the Philippines, Javier explained, this was different.
“When the water receded after the heavy rain, we saw on TV the great devastation that the typhoon had left the region,” said Javier, who has family in the Manila area. “And then it hit home – this is my people whose lives and livelihood have just been washed away.”
The lack of communication from the affected area has heightened the anxiety for those worried about relatives, friends and church members.
One of the two United Methodist pastors in Tacloban is reportedly missing. Church members have not been able to locate the Rev. Iris Picardeal-Perana, her husband, Juneril, and their 2-year old son.
A member of Grace church has been waiting to hear about family in Tacloban. Gerente has relatives from his father’s family in Samar and an uncle in Tacloban, whose house was destroyed. “There’s still patchy communication about the real extent of damages,” he said. “It’s really frustrating. Not knowing, sometimes, is tortuous.”
The United Methodist Dakotas Annual (regional) Conference reported that a pastor there finally had been able to reach his family in Tacloban.
The Rev. Jeff Lathrop of Plankinton / White Lake United Methodist Church in South Dakota was able to communicate with his parents Nov. 11 via Skype. “It was nice to hear and see them,” he said. “They are safe but have lost everything.”
However, Lathrop remains concerned for extended family members throughout the Philippines who have not been located.
Javier was forwarded an email from the Rev. Max Maregmen, who serves the Zamboanga City United Methodist Church in Mindanao, but whose family was in Ormoc, the second-largest city in Leyte Province, and lost their house but survived the typhoon. “It seems it is worse than Tacloban City,” Maregmen wrote. “Almost all the houses in our neighborhood were wiped out, only very few remain standing.”
The Rev. David Cosmiano, a United Methodist district superintendent, has reported that at least 60 family members from local churches in Leyte Province are among the many residents displaced by the typhoon.
Testimony at the vigil
Friday’s 8 p.m. candlelight vigil at Grace church will include testimonies from those with relatives in the area affected by the typhoon as well as messages of solidarity from non-Filipino pastors, Gerente said.
His multicultural congregation, which averages about 90 people at Sunday worship, is about 10 percent Filipino and includes a larger representation, about 45 percent, of Cambodian members.
Grace provides office space and occasional financial resources for the Filipino Migrant Center, a nonprofit organization that it considers to be a ministry of the church. Some staff and volunteers are members of Grace.
The center serves low-income Filipino families and youth with a focus on domestic workers and caregivers, said Joy Prim, a mission intern with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries currently assigned to the center.
The church, migrant center and National Alliance for Filipino Concerns are working to educate the community on what is happening in the Philippines. “There’s a lot of concern and just a lot of worry, knowing the situation that was on the ground,” she said.
Javier plans to meet in Chicago this week with Bishop said Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco and Bishop Daniel C. Arichea Jr. before they head back to the Philippines after attending a U.S. meeting of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.
He hopes their conversations will help the National Association of Filipino American United Methodists and the United Methodist Church in the Philippines “jointly make (typhoon relief) plans for the immediate future.”
“The Filipino American UM community appreciates the outpouring of support from sisters and brothers in the U.S. and from people of different faiths around the world,” Javier said. “We are fortunate to belong to a faith community that cares.”