By Linda Bloom*
The 50th anniversary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines originally was planned as a jubilee celebration.
But the council, whose members include the United Methodist Church there, took a more somber tone Nov. 15 in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.
“Instead of a grand celebration, we have transformed our commemoration into an act of solidarity with those who are suffering,” said the Rev. Rex RB Reyes, Jr. in a statement.
As with previous disasters, United Methodists in the Philippines also are working ecumenically with other faith partners to respond to survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as TyphoonYolanda. The United Nations estimates that more than 13 million people overall have been affected.
Volunteers and staff of the United Methodist Committee on Relief loaded a cargo truck with bright yellow bags filled with relief goods Nov. 17, ready to begin a 26-hour trek to typhoon-stricken communities in the central Philippines.
The van will be part of a caravan of three UMCOR vehicles carrying the vital supplies, staff, and a handful of the dozens of volunteers who showed up at the UMCOR Philippines office to load the truck.
UMCOR has granted a total of more than $180,000 US to its field operations in the Philippines to provide both fast relief assistance and long-term recovery and rehabilitation aid. To date, online donations to UMCOR through International Disaster Response Advance #982450 have totaled $820,000.
Relationship with UCCP
The United Church of Christ in the Philippines, a 1948 union of various denominations including the former Philippine Methodist Church, is the largest Protestant denomination in Visayas, the area affected by the typhoon.
As an affiliated autonomous church with The United Methodist Church, the UCCP sends delegates to meetings of the United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body.
In a Nov. 14 conference call with representatives from various denominations in the U.S. and Canada, Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza, UCCP’s top executive, said two major relief centers had been opened in Cebu City and Maasin as distribution points. He confirmed that many of their churches in the affected area had been destroyed.
“Tacloban remains the center of world media attention, but many areas are still unreached, especially on the West Visayas side,” he said. In Maasin, for example, “the food supply is getting scarce. There is massive hoarding. Even gasoline is getting scarce.”
On Nov. 17, when United Methodist Bishop Ciriaco Francisco preached at Cosmopolitan United Church in Melrose Park, Ill., concern arose over the number of UCCP congregations that had been affected by the typhoon. Some of the church’s members formerly belonged to that denomination, noted Aquilino “Pong” Javier Jr., a Cosmopolitan member and president of the National Federation of Asian-American United Methodists.
Francisco said he would continue to talk with the UCCP area bishop, Jaime Morilles, about general assistance for typhoon relief, Javier reported. The two bishops were seminary classmates.
NCCP and ACT Alliance
At the NCCP compound in Manila, volunteers “are working day and night to repack goods to be transported to the affected areas.” The council is distributing food and water in Samar, one of the areas hit by the typhoon.
The NCCP is a member of ACT Alliance, a global network of churches and related organizations engaged in humanitarian work. The ACT Philippine Forum includes the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Christian Aid, Lutheran World Relief, Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation and Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz.
ACT has set up a coordination center at the NCCP offices in Manila. The organization reported Nov. 15 that 10 members are delivering emergency food, shelter, water and sanitation facilities in the central Visayas region.
Originally built by the Presbyterian Church, Bethany Hospital in Tacloban is owned and operated by the UCCP.
Marigza said Nov. 14 that the hospital basically had ceased to operate. Seawater entered the hospital, along with mud “and destroyed most of the equipment.” Patients were moved to another hospital or went home.
He was hoping for a delivery of cleaning equipment, such as axes, shovels and saws, so Bethany could at least erect an emergency space and a roof to begin to readmit patients.
The Rev. Liberato Bautista, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, said he expects a “remarkable collaboration” among the various partners for typhoon relief.
The NCCP has been very active in disaster relief and many United Methodist young people have signed up for volunteer teams, he noted.
Recovery from some of those other disasters, including flooding and an earthquake, are continuing. Bautista pointed out that his sister, who lives in Manila, had just finished repairs on her roof in October from the typhoon that hit the capital city in July.
“You’re talking of news now where people are saying the rehabilitation of the Visayas area will take years,” he pointed out. “That is the same thing they said in July when there was a massive flooding in Manila and northern Philippines.
”It’s really the entire country, if you’re talking about the last 12 months, that’s reeling from disasters.”
Support UMCOR’s relief and recovery work in the Philippines by contributing to International Disaster Response, Advance #982450.