We’re republishing this as part of our 25th anniversary series featuring favorite stories from our archives. This story by John Lindner, about the work in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, appeared in ANM’s magazine in 2014. Enjoy!
“We didn’t eat for three days,” said a pastor on Leyte Island. “Then Danny Montes came with a loaf of bread.”
“Before you came we had handfuls of rice. Now we have bags full,” beamed Pastor Nestor at an ANM gathering in Calbayog.
“When the storm hit, my family and I took cover in a ditch. For four days we ate the food of pigs. Then ANM came,” declared Pastor Fernan on Samar Island.
“We were ready to give up, but then you came and gave us hope,” a pastor’s wife said to the ANM staff who had surrendered their Christmas holiday with family to bring hope and encouragement to depressed pastors and wives at a Christmas celebration in Tacloban.
What began in tragedy stirred 12 ANM national partners to action, giving medical, physical and spiritual aid to hundreds of stricken pastors and churches and thousands of hope-deprived residents.
On Friday, November 8, Typhoon Haiyan (called Yolanda in the Philippines) swept across Leyte Island. It seemed demonically targeted for Tacloban, Leyte’s provincial capital of 200,000.
Winds exceeding 200 miles per hour stripped and uprooted approximately 15 million coconut trees, robbing thousands of their livelihood. The storm tossed cars and jeepneys like toys, and left several large ships marooned inland.
The fierce and merciless winds also ripped corrugated metal sheets off roofs and sent them flying at bullet speed. Woe to anyone they hit. One family watched in horror as a flying metal sheet cut off a man’s head.
The largest storm ever to make landfall sent a swell of water 16 feet deep rushing nearly a mile inland. As the brackish water rose, one family went to the second floor of their house, and stood on the bed with water rising to their knees, wondering if they would drown. They looked out the window and saw their neighbors swept away.
The storm left disaster, devastation, destruction, death, and discouragement in its wake. Government statistics as of December 31: 6,155 dead, 1,785 still missing, 1.14 million houses destroyed (plus churches and businesses), and four million people displaced. Most of the deaths occurred in Tacloban, where 1,400 cadavers still lay unburied awaiting identification Christmas Day.
When news of the tragedy unfolded and emails started arriving at Advancing Native Missions, Marlou, senior editor in ANM’s publications department and wife of ANM co-founder and president, Bo Barredo, was smitten to tears. Bo urged her, born in Tacloban, to speak out as an Esther on behalf of her Waray-Waray people. She told a local TV reporter:
My father was a widower with seven children, and my mother a widow with two children. I was the first-born of the four children they had together.
My father served in the guerrilla army during World War II and was among those who met General Douglas MacArthur when he landed on the shores of Palo, Leyte, in 1944 in fulfillment of his promise, “I shall return.”
I have beautiful memories of my birthplace: the school I attended, the high school where my mother taught, the provincial capitol building where my father had his office, the streets I walked on….
All of these are now gone. Looking at the photos of devastation, I am heartsick and have been in tears even in my sleep. Please help my people!
Marlou’s plea was placed on the Internet and sent via email to the ANM community. Immediately donations targeted for typhoon relief started pouring in. President Bo immediately began wiring financial aid to Philippine mission leaders. With funds in hand they rushed out and purchased supplies while they were still available.
Calbayog City lies on the western edge of Samar Island immediately north of Leyte and escaped the worst of the storm. Two days after the storm Danny Montes, leader of Living Rock Ministries headquartered there, drove to Tacloban to check on Living Rock Center there. It took 10 hours to traverse the 50 miles of debris-filled roads.
“I could not believe what I saw,” he told ANM on November 14. “Dead bodies are everywhere. There is no public transport. People are wandering like zombies, hungry and thirsty, looking for food and water. I could not hold my emotions.”
Some people were looting stores. “The Tacloban government can’t do anything; they also are victims,” Danny said.
Danny found his sister, Ruth, and her husband, Pastor Eugene Ramirez, alive. He also learned Marlou’s brother survived the storm, but five of her kin perished, and several lost their homes.
Danny found Pastor Ronald Impang and his wife, Marlyn, managing, but Living Rock Center was damaged and covered with tarps to protect it from the continually falling rain. Even so, the pastor and his congregation had taken on the care of 200 additional homeless families.
Days later Danny returned bringing water, rice, noodles, canned goods, salt and sugar, straw mats, medicines and cooking kettles. “ANM was the first to respond in our hour of need,” said Pastor Impang. “The funds sent by ANM were like a can opener. When ANM trusted us with this great responsibility, so did other relief agencies. They saw there were no blockages in our channel.”
As a result, Living Rock Center became a distribution hub for relief goods from several sources.
Medical teams dispatched
Meanwhile, Dr. Linda Balugo of Philippine Gospel Association on Cebu Island also sprang into action. After receiving funds from ANM she took the first medical team since the typhoon to Medellin in Northern Cebu and to Bantayan Island.
The team had planned to stay three days, but after seeing 1,000 patients in two days, their medical supplies ran out. Then Dr. Joy Tica of Health Education Medical Ministry joined them for a trip to Palawan, where they treated 700 patients, 46 of whom yielded their lives to Christ.
Later, after receiving additional funds from ANM, Dr. Linda took two vehicles containing medical supplies and a team of 10 doctors, nurses and pharmacists to conduct a medical clinic in Tacloban.
Linda and her team took a five-hour boat ride to Ormoc City on Leyte’s western coast. The captain delayed departure to ensure they arrived after sunrise, since gangs were looting passengers after disembarking. After they arrived, they drove two hours overland to reach Tacloban.
Some slept in Pastor Impang’s church with a tarp replacing the blown-off roof. Others slept on cots under the stars. It was 100 degrees and no electricity.
In the morning they ministered to inmates at the Tacloban jail. Most had been injured or sickened by the storm surge, and many had not eaten for five days. All 218 inmates treated prayed the sinner’s prayer.
That afternoon they went to another part of Tacloban and treated an additional 151 patients. The mission concluded at Pastor Impang’s church on Sunday, where the medical team saw another 176 patients before heading back to Cebu.
In addition to participating in the medical trips with PGA, Dr. Joy Tica also made several trips to Panay Island, and distributed over 1,000 bags of food, clothing and/or hygienic supplies, and treated hundreds of patients.
“They told us we were the first medical team to reach them,” Dr. Joy said. The team also distributed 1,500 Gospel tracts, and about 200 people raised their hands to indicate they made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
Her brother, Pastor James Tica from Grace Christian Mission on Luzon Island, accompanied her. “Many fishermen lost their boats—their livelihood,” he said.
Meeting real needs
In another part of Panay Island the storm destroyed the simple homes and churches of the Ati people. Roger and Sylvia Elosendo, who operate Ati Tribes Mission, got up at 2 a.m. daily to purchase and prepare food so they could take it to the stricken victims.
Ben Barredo, Bo’s brother and director of CROSS Philippine Ministries also on Panay Island, obtained food and supplies, and then drove for hours to bring help to a village of native Aklanon and aboriginal Ati people.
When their houses blew away, they had run to a big house for shelter. But the big steel gate was closed, locking them out in the fierce wind and rain. During the ordeal the village chief died.
Ben’s team found them huddling together under blown-off roofs. They immediately cooked food for them, helped them construct temporary shelters, and left food packs with them. “The Lord expects us to always remember the poor,” Ben said.
Tony Dasalla also led a team from Translators Association of the Philippines in Manila to the hometown of one of their missionaries in Antique Province on Panay Island. There they gave relief packs to 50 families and left cash gifts to help 15 families of the church repair their damaged homes. They also gave each family a Bible in Kinaray-a, their local language.
Meanwhile, on nearby Guimaras Island, Alex and Eunice Malanday, leaders of Church Builders Ministries, sprang into action.
With aid sent by ANM Alex purchased supplies and took relief goods to people living on the smaller, nearby island of Salvacion. In one village of 157 homes only eight remained. He thanked God he had brought wire and nails to help the people construct temporary shelters out of the debris.
We do not have space to tell of the equally heroic efforts of the teams of Wilson and Cora Ladringan, directors of Aetas Bible Study Center on Luzon; or of Joji Barredo (Bo’s sister), director of Asian Youth and Children Ministries in nearby Negros Island; or of Dr. Rosalie Bajado, who led a team from Mindanao Island to work with Linda Balugo. All leaders teamed with pastors in their areas. Yet what we have told is but the tip of the iceberg.
The significance is this: As government and NGO aid gravitated to the major cities, small and remote places were missed. ANM teams targeted these areas. Native to the land, they knew where to go.
We must go there
After six weeks of sending financial aid, Bo decided, “We must go there and give them the Christmas they otherwise will miss.”
So Bo, staff members Jay Temple and Jerry Harding, and ANM donor Mike Riley took flight toward the Philippines and landed in Tacloban early Christmas morning.
Buildings lay in ruins; piles of debris lined the streets. The stench still rose from pools of black water left by the storm surge. Families were living under tarps.
The next day 58 pastors, most with their wives, gathered at Living Rock Center for an ANM-sponsored Christmas celebration.
“Tacloban is the hometown of my wife,” Bo told them, choking back tears. “We have come with no agenda but to love you, to remind you that you have not been forgotten, to tell you that your tears have been our tears, and the tears of your brothers and sisters in America.”
How different from some who had preceded them. You didn’t pray enough. You weren’t spiritual enough. That’s why this tragedy came upon you, they had been told.
This time the pastors feasted for four hours on the Word of God. Jerry Harding reminded them that not all those mentioned in Hebrews 11 had things go their way. “Don’t run! Don’t quit! Don’t hide!” he told them.
Jay Temple clarified “The Ministry of Complaining.” “David did not hesitate to bring his complaints before God,” he said, “because in so doing he was affirming God’s justice, love and power.”
After the spiritual feast these servants of the Lord joyfully helped themselves to a sumptuous and traditional holiday feast of two whole roasted pigs with ample rice with all the trimmings—the best and most food they had eaten in weeks. Each one received one sack of rice and a Christmas card with cash inside.
The next day the team traveled to Calbayog where a similar pastor’s conference was held in Danny Montes’ church.
Dante Lingo, pastor of Hope in Christ Fellowship in Tacloban, spoke for all when he handed Bo a hand-written letter that said:
Thank you for this opportunity to gather all the pastors and wives in this ministry on behalf of LRM church with Pastor Impang.
Even though we lost three of our four kids to Typhoon Yolanda, the Word of God remains in our hearts. Help us to pray that God will continue to give us strength so we can continue serving Him.
Thank you for this blessing you have given to us. It will help us start a second life. May God bless you always.
Through these combined efforts, at least 10,000 families received packs of relief goods, more than 6,000 patients were treated, and 1,553 people received Christ. Repairs and restoration to churches are ongoing. More is yet to come.
A rainbow of hope now transcends the city of Tacloban.
Twenty-five years after we started partnering with native ministries to make a difference in places like the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, we are closer than ever to seeing the Gospel proclaimed and lived out among every people group in the world. Thank you for your partnership in the Gospel!
There’s more to be done, and just $25 a month can equip another missionary.