By Erik M. Lunsford
TACLOBAN, Philippines — The woman here unfurled her hand as rain began to pour. She stood among debris and gestured to the remaining damage and rebuilding in her neighborhood on the coastal island of Leyte in the Philippines, ravaged from Typhoon Haiyan last November.
“When we came here [immediately after the typhoon], everything was just broken. Everything was destroyed, even the vegetation on the ground was destroyed,” said the Rev. Ross Johnson, director of LCMS Disaster Response.
As Johnson huddled under the woman’s pink umbrella, he watched as residents trudged through the mud and debris. Brothers and sisters in Christ, he said, are still suffering here.
In March, Johnson led a team to the Philippines with career missionary Sean Harlow and a team from LCMS Communications. For three days, the team documented the recovery efforts in Tacloban and Mahayag. Team members interviewed storm victims, spent time in the community and surveyed the results of the involvement of LCMS Disaster Response in a country still reeling from the storm.
“It’s my hope and prayer that somehow the city will be restored in its original condition, and if not, the city will be developed more than the previous condition it had,” said the Rev. Nicolas Ranara of Christ Lutheran Church in Tacloban.
Months after the typhoon killed thousands and displaced millions, the island of Leyte has sprung back to life. Patches of green have returned and the sound of hammers, chainsaws and other tools permeate the air.
“You can see how there is hope in people’s eyes. There is joy that is being restored,” said Johnson.
“Because of the generosity shown by many in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, over 50 homes of Lutheran families and others connected to the church have been rebuilt, restored, new roofs put on, or even new walls put up from cinderblock,” Johnson said. “It was amazing to see the amount of progress.”
Two days later, the Rev. Xavier James Palattao, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Mahayag, raised his hand in the sanctuary. He blessed the children during worship in the small village several hours by car from Tacloban.
Angel Tugonon, 98, watched from the second-to-last row in the packed church. To attend services, he has been trekking up and down a muddy hill with the help of a cane. He started coming after church members rebuilt his home that was destroyed in the typhoon.
Rain that used to fall into the church now slides down the tarp covering the damaged roof. Soon, a new roof will cover the sanctuary. Outside, workers break from weeks of work building a new well, dormitory and parsonage.
Palattao said he looks forward to more restoration. “We are now in the final plan of reconstructing [Christ Lutheran Church] again. … I will again organize the council so that we can plan immediately the restoration of the church building, with the help of our brothers and sisters abroad — especially the LCMS.”
“We have a special place in our hearts for the members of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines [LCP],” Johnson said. The LCP is a church body that is in official fellowship with the LCMS. “We consider them not only our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also our brothers and sisters in theology.”
Helping rebuild communities and lives takes time and support. “Every situation and every family has a different story, so that’s why it takes a little bit longer to make sure we’re helping out different people in the right ways,” Johnson said. The LCMS walks with the LCP during its long-term recovery, he said.
To make a gift in support of LCMS typhoon relief and recovery efforts:
- mail checks payable to “The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod” (with a memo line or note designating “LCMS Disaster Relief — Typhoon”) to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
- call toll-free 888-930-4438 (8:10 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. Central Time, Monday through Friday).
Donors who make contributions for Typhoon Haiyan relief before April 15, 2014, may treat it as a charitable contribution made by Dec. 31, 2013, for income-tax purposes. (For information about the Philippines Charitable Giving Assistance Act, which was signed by President Obama March 25, click here.)
For more information about the Synod’s disaster-response efforts, visit lcms.org/disaster on the Web.
Facebook users who “like” LCMS Disaster Response will receive regular updates on the Synod’s response to Typhoon Haiyan in partnership with the Lutheran Church in the Philippines.
Erik M. Lunsford is editor of stakeholder information and staff photojournalist with LCMS Communications.
Updated April 1, 2014