After a deadly earthquake struck the towns of Porac and Floridablanca in northern Philippines this spring, United Methodists were among those picking up the pieces.
Faith kept them going.
The Rev. Jestril Alvarado, superintendent of the church’s West Pampanga District on the main island of Luzon, remembered the fear that more tremors would follow in the quake’s immediate aftermath. The April 22 earthquake registered a magnitude of 6.1 and killed at least 16 people. Local churches and homes were among the buildings damaged.
"But we were flooded by help, encouragement, prayers and support from different churches and conferences," Alvarado said.
The love and prayers sent to the region were transformative, he added. "The earthquake was an overwhelming experience from fear to faith."
For more than a month now, the earthquake-stricken community has continued its life and mission, as demonstrated by Camachile United Methodist Church in Nabuclod, Floridablanca, whose congregation members are all Aeta families. The Aeta are an indigenous people who live in isolated mountainous parts of Luzon.
Despite the devastation, the Camachile church resumed its summer vacation church school, which started the day of the earthquake. United Methodists also have been rebuilding their damaged houses, using donated wide tarpaulins and sets of concrete nails and wire.
The Rev. Leslie Casupanan Dela Cruz, administrative pastor of Camachile United Methodist Church, said she was “amazed” that 70 children finished the vacation program.
“At first, they were all scared of the aftershocks," she explained. "The vacation church school started on the day when the earthquake hit so it was moved to the following week.
"Instead of fixing their minds on the tremors of the aftershocks, I thought it would be better to keep busy with church things like that of vacation church school."
Dela Cruz said members of the congregation also paid visits to other villages to do assessments and later helped engage the children and adults of the community through fellowship, games and raffles at the basketball court near the church.
"We really had fun in doing a lot of games,” she said. “Prizes were kitchen utensils, water dippers and pitchers. Then we prayed for them and shared the Gospel."
God’s Helping and Healing Hands Ministry Inc. and With Grace Ministry, partners in mission with the church for nine years, helped make the events possible.
“Every February they come and we, in Camachile UMC, join them in doing medical and humanitarian mission together," Dela Cruz explained.
With the help of those mission partners, the church also distributed school bags to 1,500 students at Camachile Elementary School.
Recently, Ruth Ann Franco-Recile, a faculty member from Philippine Christian University-Mary Johnston College of Nursing, conducted a post-stress debriefing for the children at Camachile church.
The mission program was sponsored by the university, the nursing school and East Texas Baptist University.
Juliet Santos, chairperson of nurture at the church, said its members kept moving forward after the earthquake, “because I firmly believe that God will never forsake us. Whatever may come our way, whatever trials, these are opportunities to strengthen our faith in God. Each has become more mindful of each other, and more empathetic."
Santos said that the deadly earthquake has shaken them, but those tremors have enabled them to transcend the situation.
Diana Apang-Santos, head of the vacation church school, agreed. "We are inspired to rise up, despite the damages. It is through this disaster that I saw how vast the world is, and how big peoples' hearts are."
Apang-Santos said that she has witnessed how people selflessly offered their service in order to help others and to restore damaged homes.
"I won't forget that this disaster has brought us together to be one in rising up to rebuild, transcend the trauma and move on," she added.
Mangiduyos is a communicator from the Philippines.
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