Last January I (Brian) had the chance to lead a small team to the Philippines to help with
disaster relief two months after Typhoon Yolanda destroyed the central section of the
When the four of us flew into Tacloban it reminded me of how the Tohoku region of
Japan looked after the tsunami. I didn’t know what to think or how to feel. There was
just devastation everywhere. The District Superintendent, Edgar Longcop, who was
driving us the two hours further to our work site said that this town did not have the
destructive winds but the storm surge had drowned so many.
As we drove down the small highway, every small community, already poor, looked like
it had been hit with a hammer. The rain was falling, making everything more muddy.
The landscape was covered by white tarps and tents from more aid agencies than I had
ever heard of. The hillsides, once covered with thousands of coconut trees held some
long trunks with the top snapped off, but it seemed most were blown down like
We arrived into Balangiga and saw the church where we would be working. The entire
structure, well built though old, had been destroyed, along with the nursery school and
parsonage. The church members had painstakingly separated the destroyed materials
into piles of lumber, metal rebar, and crushed concrete. After beginning that day to
rebuild a temporary wooden structure to give the church a place to meet, we went to
stay in the home of a church member whose concrete house had not been destroyed.
I remember being surprised by the many young people that were in the church. They
were there at the work-site that day as our team tried not to get in the way and to be
as much of a help as we could, without specific carpentry or construction skills. What
struck me that day and the days after was their great joy and great optimism. They
were always laughing, joking, smiling, half in English and half in their home language of
God has taught me through multiple mission trips that the ‘job’ is not the reason you
come to a place. It’s often a convenient purpose or reason. The ‘job’ is the people you
get to be with. This was a great blessing because there were more people than work,
and we began to settle into a very different rhythm of working and talking as the frame
of the structure slowly went up.
The youth always loved to sing. There was a small tarp-covered area where they would
bring out a guitar and worship. They loved to worship Jesus. As we got to know them
we found out that most of them had only come to have a relationship with Jesus in the
past few years, but their faces were living illustrations of a change in their lives.
On the last day our team invited the youth over to the house we were staying at.
Probably 35-40 people crammed into the small kitchen and living room. One of our
team members had been invited to guide the group through a stress debriefing and
invited them to talk about their stories surviving the typhoon. We wanted them to
speak in their own language and share with those who had experienced the situation
together. But I was surprised when a few of the youth found me and said, “We want to
share the story of the typhoon with you.”
I sat for the next hour listening to the horror of that night. It struck hours before dawn,
the winds rising to gale force and the storm surge from the ocean, a mere 100 feet away,
flooding the property to their knees. The youth had been living in the church sanctuary
recently and they recounted how the church literally was blown to pieces around them.
They met the pastor and his family outside, the parsonage also blown down around
them, and waited out the night in chest-deep water, with 180 mile an hour winds
howling around them. I won’t forget the youth who said “Jesus will not forget us, we
will make it!”
At the end of our few days, the new church sanctuary had a frame and half of a roof.
But our lives had been changed by Jesus and what he had done in the lives of those
who would remain after we flew back to the comforts of home and Japan. I remember
reflecting with God about the time. The people’s lives had been deeply traumatized,
many still dealing with the after-effects of that night. The joy that Jesus gave, while not
cancelling out the past, began to surpass it, re-shape it, and redeem it. Their laughter,
smiles, and songs were not the triumph of the human spirit over and against adversity,
but the gift of a loving a gracious God who saw them through that night, and was giving
them a life, even greater than they had before, as they learned to live more deeply from
his inexhaustible presence.
I remember watching the landscape grow small in the airplane window as we returned
and talking to God. What I saw in the lives of that church, of those youth, I hungered for.
There was a joy, hope, and love that went so far beyond the reality of their economic
condition and the trauma of that disaster, that I couldn’t grasp it. It only was because
of Jesus and what he does in the lives of people who, in whatever the circumstances of
the life they are living, learn to trust deeply in him. Thank you to the people who make
up the Balangiga Nazarene Church, for your hospitality and for the ways Jesus met me
through your lives. May my life also reflect the same to others!
here to listen.