(JECPP’s Recovery Mission in Visayas and Luzon)
By Mayme F. Olegario
Let Yolanda’s trail be the path of revival in the Philippines! This is the hope and cry of all JECPP churches in the country. Now, a month after the ravaging storm, JECPP reviews God’s immense faithfulness and grace that propel injured lives and ministries on the way to recovery.
It all started on a hastily relocated leaders’ meeting in Manila, supposedly held in Palawan but was cancelled due to alarming weather. On that Saturday breakfast meeting of the JECPP Spiritual Council, no one could touch his food. It was November 9, the day after typhoon Yolanda’s devastating six landfalls in the Visayas region.
Around that breakfast table at the Traders Hotel in Manila, the pastors’ eyes and hearts were crying for God’s mercy for the churches in Western, Central and Eastern Visayas and Luzon. It was an anxious waiting for calls and texts from the pastors stationed in those places. But none was heard of Samar Section Leader, Pastor Nelson Banol, his wife and three young children in EFC-Tacloban.
The agonizing silence on his whereabouts would last for three days. JECPP Chairperson Rev. Peter Wee said that they sent Pastor Ronel from Maasin who walked overnight to reach EFC-Tacloban, ran out of water on his journey there, and went to the police station asking for Pastor Nelson and his family. But all he saw in Tacloban was only the building where Pastor Nelson’s family had taken refuge in.
“We also sent in pastors from Calbayog and Ormoc to search as well as mobilize believers to pray for their safety. We prayed, but we also braced ourselves for the worst,” said Rev. Chuck Chua who heads Central and Eastern Visayas.
Doubly worried on that Saturday morning meeting was Reverend Benjamin (Benjie) Chavez whose family was left in Ajuy, 5th District of Iloilo placed on state of calamity. He was not home on Yolanda’s onslaught as he was travelling for this Spiritual Council meeting in Manila. “According to my wife, they felt the strong wind around 11:00 am. At exactly 11:30am, they saw how the very strong wind totally blew off the wall and the roof of our parsonage.”
Pastor Benjie said his wife Pastor Lina and two children immediately ran inside the church to protect themselves from flying roofs and tree branches. Seeing the rapid surge of water reaching the sanctuary, they decided to leave. But the flood was so swift that in very few minutes, the water already reached their necks. They tried to swim to reach the road where the police saw and picked them up. They stayed in the police station until the typhoon was over.
Thanking God for His protection to the Chavez family and the other pastors in Iloilo, JECPP was also very relieved to hear that Pastor Nelson’s family was found by Pastor Jeffrey of EFC-Calbayog.
“Thankfully, we finally got news that the family was located and safe by noon on Nov 11, Monday! We had them evacuated via land and sea journey, and they arrived finally in Cebu City on Nov 15. We are thankful for protection from the Lord for all our workers and families”, said Pastor Chuck.
A week after the Spiritual Council meeting in Manila, the pastors had to brace themselves again for what they would personally observe on their assessment visit to Yolanda’s trail. The assessment was needed for the recovery direction of JECPP. The pastors struggled with difficult transport and communication as these were dysfunctional for many days in the ravaged Visayas and Luzon regions. Pastor Chuck and Pastor Benjie travelled all over Visayas. Pastor Jessie Yu also went to Iloilo to assist Pastor Benjie to assess the damages of the church buildings.
“I did a follow up of all churches in Western Visayas. Aside from our church in Ajuy, I found out that there were five more destroyed churches in Northern Iloilo and Northern Antique. My heart was really troubled when I saw the pictures they e-mailed me”, shared Pastor Benjie.
According to Pastor Wee, a total of 23 JECPP churches were hit by Yolanda. 14 of these experienced slight damages (such as blown roofs or walls) to severe damages. Around 6 seriously damaged churches could not hold Sunday gathering. EFC-Culasi, for instance, held Sunday service under a tree.
In Luzon, Pastor Jessie reported that Metro Manila was spared by Yolanda and only one church in Mindoro was minimally affected, thankfully noting that the damage could have been more critical based on the building’s light material. “Our pastor related to me that the wind was super strong. The whole town was black out. I’m very thankful to the Lord for sparing all our planters. None of them was physically hurt badly.”
“We should prioritize to rebuild the facilities of our ministry centers and restore our pastors, workers and members spiritually and emotionally to serve as lighthouses in the physical and spiritual dark areas of the devastated communities,” said Pastor Chuck referring to JECPP’s recovery mission.
Church buildings and parsonages must be rebuilt so church services can function normally again, agreed Pastor Benjie. He said that by doing so, pastors and their families can recover from their own trauma. Then, they can begin to effectively minister to members and other families in their communities.
Rebuilding now goes on for the Evangel Family Churches in Ajuy, Barbaza, Padan, Bugasong, Culasi, Libertad, Patnongon, Bogo, Panliwad-on, Dawis, Anonang Sur, Agujo, Ormoc, Albuera, Macabug, Montebello, Airpot, Seguinon and Sipaway. Construction is expected to be completed in time for these churches to celebrate the hope of Jesus on their Christmas services.
Pastor Wee said that the pastors from these churches were instructed to submit a recovery proposal and budget plan for reconstruction. All JECPP churches, especially in Mindanao and Luzon carried the burden of their fellow brothers and sisters in Visayas and gave eagerly and sacrificially. Founding Chair Rev. Robert Lim spearheaded foreign help upon seeing the great need. In no time, all building expenses were met and sent immediately. “There is no lack. All financial needs were met,” said Pastor Wee.
If typhoon Yolanda claimed lives, it also ushered in rebirth. “It caused me to be more serious on living a life that’s dedicated to serve God because our days are numbered. Anything unexpected can happen,” said Pastor Jessie. “We must hasten our church planting wherever there is any open door, no matter how small.
“The long-term plan that I’m thinking is, if possible, our churches would be made of concrete materials and the roofs have to be tighten up and designed to withstand stronger winds up to 350kph. During my student days, I could still remember that our allowance for roofs was for only 240kph. Aside from that, flash lights, emergency lamps, cell phone chargers or power banks would be most helpful in times like these on top of the basic medical kits,” Pastor Jessie added.
Pastor Chuck believes that the pain of Yolanda’s aftermath is an opportune time for the Church to shine in righteousness and justice. “We must maintain the balance of proclaiming God’s Word and demonstrating good works so that all men may glorify God and have the opportunity to respond to the claims of Christ.
On that day he would never forget, Pastor Nelson was found with nothing, except for the clothes and tsinelas (slippers) he’s wearing, yet seeing his family safe beside him, he stood his ground. A month after that fateful day in Tacloban, he and his family are now preparing for Catbalogan, Samar where they will plant a new church. EFC-Tacloban will continue to operate as a cell church.
With the Tacloban church building crushed by Yolanda’s 315kph winds and some members dead, the flock he loved and labored for, Pastor Nelson’s and JECPP’s call to rescue others from eternal catastrophe remains steadfast. It cannot be blown away.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,
II Corinthians 4:16-17 NKJV