ESTANCIA, the Philippines - Pastor Michael Rama huddled with his wife and their 11-month-old son in the Estancia Baptist Church parsonage as the winds and waters from Typhoon Haiyan pounded their home in the coastal town of Estancia. The winds soon took off their roof and they rushed into the adjoining church sanctuary, where they found 100 church members and friends seeking refuge. God protected their lives that day and Pastor Rama continues to praise the Lord for His blessings since the storm ravaged their town.
Rama was one of many pastors that the Texas Baptist disaster assessment team met with during their weeklong trip to the Iloilo province of the Philippines from Nov. 30-Dec. 7. A combined trip with Texas Baptist Disaster Recovery and Texas Baptist Men, the six-member team was led by Dr. Chris Liebrum, director of Texas Baptist Disaster Recovery. The members worked in conjunction with the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches as they traveled to three coastal towns badly damaged by Typhoon Haiyan- Concepcion, Estancia, and Ajuy.
Dr. Ernest Dagohoy and his wife, Cecile, are native Filipinos who have spent the last 19 years of ministry in Houston at the First Philippine Baptist Church. The day after the storm struck their homeland, the Dagohoys began contacting friends and family to see how they could provide help.
"When the opportunity came for me to make this trip, I did not hesitate at all because I knew fully well that it was God's invitation for me to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ to my fellow Filipinos who were still reeling from the devastating effects of the typhoon," said Ernest Dagohoy. "I went in obedience to the call of God and I am so happy to see a glimmer of hope in the eyes of the many people we served."
Each day, the team met at a local church hit by the storm and ministered to the area pastors and church members. They toured the towns and evaluated the damage and ways that Texas Baptists may be able to assist in the rebuilding efforts. Many homes and churches were badly damaged or completely destroyed. Power lines and uprooted trees covered the landscape. The town of Estancia was the most badly hit of those visited, according to the team. In addition to great structural damage, an oil spill from a barge also covered one-third of the town's coastline, forcing mandatory evacuation for many residents.
One of the greatest needs expressed was for roofing materials for churches and pastor's homes. Through gifts from Texas Baptist churches, TBM, and the First Philippine Baptist Church in Missouri City, roofing materials were delivered to help 18 churches and 11 pastor's homes that were damaged by the storm. They also placed orders to help an additional nine churches and six pastors who expressed needs to the team on the trip.
TBM members Jack Meyer and Duane Bechtold brought water filtration systems to give to the local pastors. They demonstrated how the filtration system worked and set them up at the churches, providing a means for 50 gallons of clean, drinkable water each day for up to six months.
"I went to the Philippines because Jesus compels me to share His love with our neighbors," said Jack Meyer, TBM yellow cap member. "Even though the Filipino people are halfway around the world, they are my neighbors. Jesus's love showed in the faces of the Filipino Baptist pastors as they watched our demonstration of the water filters. Their excitement and joy were precious: pure water so easily attainable! Literal waters of life!"
Dagohoy's wife, Cecile, is a licensed Filipino doctor and was able to hold medical clinics in the churches. She met with more than 100 each day, providing vitamins and medicine to those in need.
While the devastation in the region was vast, the hope that the pastors and church members had was uplifting, according to Dagohoy.
After a week of assessment, Texas Baptists are now developing a plan on how to provide assistance to those they met. From meetings and visual assessment, it has been determined that helping to rebuild pastor's homes will be the best way to partner with those in the Iloilo region.
"One of the biggest challenges you face when visiting a mass disaster area is trying to find your piece of the puzzle," said Liebrum. "It would be impossible meet the needs of everyone. Our plan to help rebuild pastors' homes will be our piece. I'm confident that Texas Baptists will respond generously to the needs of these pastors and their families."
Texas Baptist churches can send offerings and donations to Disaster Recovery at www.texasbaptists.org/give.
"I realize that the recovery work will take years to complete," Dagohoy said. "However, I am deeply honored to be a part of what God is already doing in bringing comfort and restoration to our people who have been broken but not completely crushed."