Sunday, January 26, 2014

Distribution of Benevolence — Bogo, Cebu & Northern Negros

01/25/14

We had a little later start Saturday morning with a 6:30am start for the two and a half hour drive to the north end of Cebu Island where we met our brethren in Bogo. Our van driver was another of the NASCAR audition variety. We went on the wrong side of the road, off the road, within inches of other vehicles (on every side), riding bumpers, playing chicken and a host of other terrorizing feats that left me close to several coronaries. Nevertheless, we made it safely. On the way, we again saw the great devastation that Yolanda brought to the area. The damage done was roughly comparable to Ormoc, but northern Cebu has not gotten the attention from the international media like Leyte. Just as in Leyte, however, the assistance of the Philippine government is non-existent.

The brethren from four different churches in the Bogo area had gathered at a hotel where we have held lectures several times. The church in central Bogo City also meets in one of its function rooms each Lord’s Day. We found a corner of the lobby where we could get aside and discuss the needs present. Not all of the members of the Libertad and Libjo churches were able to come due to the distance, but the benevolent help was put into the hands of faithful brethren from those churches for delivery to each member. The recipients signed for the amount given and the purposes for which it was intended. The same was also done with those from the other congregations within Bogo receiving benevolence where most of the members were present.

The average in the Bogo area was that about two thirds of the homes were either destroyed or damaged, the majority being damage rather than destruction. In Leyte, virtually every house was affected, with the vast majority being destroyed. Yet, the benevolent funds needed were not that different due to the much larger number of brethren in and around Bogo. The church in Libjo alone has 72 members, with a much larger attendance due to the number of smaller children who have not yet obeyed the gospel. The need for food continues to be great in the area as well. The brethren expressed great gratitude to all of those brethren in the U.S. who had sacrificed so much to help them.

One quick point might be good to add here. One of the brethren with whom we spoke today was immediately familiar to me, but not as a brother in Christ. When I came to Cebu last August for some lectures with denominational people, Fredricko was a Baptist preacher very vocal in his opposition to our teaching on the necessity of water baptism for the remission of sins. In the question/answer session, I pressed him after reading 1 Peter 3:21 as to whether he could say "Amen" to the passage. He said that he could not and we suggested to him that there is something wrong in our beliefs if we cannot say "Amen" to the reading of any passage. When I saw him this time, he told me that he was so disturbed by what he heard in that one day that he could not sleep and did not return the next day. It bothered him so much that he could not escape the clear teaching of Scripture and its refutation of his belief in the "faith only" doctrine. Within a few days, Jonathan Carino baptized him into Christ at the beginning of September! Praise God for the power and clarity of His word!

We returned straight from Bogo to the airport in Cebu City where we caught a flight to Bacolod. Jack Jaco and Shem Tagapan met us there. We crammed all of our bags and all 4 of us (plus the driver) into a small taxi, then proceeded to the hotel.  The other brethren and I then went our separate ways so we could all finish work that had to be done and preparations for the work on the Lord’s Day.


1/26/14

We left the hotel at 7:30am on Sunday so we could be at Victorias City by the 8:30am start of their services. They usually begin the worship at 7am, but delayed to make things easier on us. I preached the lesson for this morning on “Breaking Temptation’s Hold” and the local brethren led in the remainder of the worship.

After services, we left immediately for Escalante City to meet with the brethren of several congregations about their needs. This is where things got interesting. Jack had not understood my question when I asked how many churches had needs in that area which we needed to address. He said there were three, but thought I was asking about only those in Escalante City itself. After a couple of hours where we discussed and provided for the needs of those congregations, I thought we were ready to go, but it was obvious several others were waiting to talk with me. As it turned out, those from15 different churches had needs to present as a result of much damage done to our brethren on
northern Negros. So, I sat in the same chair for 8 hours straight, without a break of any kind, in order to discuss the needs presented and attempt to meet the essential cases that we could meet. I was not aware of the extent of damage done in this region until I came here today. We could not meet all of the needs presented, but did what we could to discern the cases of the most pressing actual ones. Again, the brethren left with much gratitude for the benevolent help extended. We were so late leaving Escalante that we could not get to Bacolod in time to address the needs of two congregations there. Since I had had nothing to eat since the 6am breakfast and no break from the work, my mind was exhausted and I could not have continued anyway. Brethren from those churches will meet us tomorrow morning.

As happened on my November trip, the internet connection at the hotel in Bacolod is weak and sometimes totally down. Such was the case last night when I could not get it to stay connected long enough to send the emailed report. All attempts to do anything with posting on the blog were totally hopeless. So, I am attempting to send two reports at the same time tonight.

Thank you again for your very loving help sent to these brethren in need. May God bless your every effort in His service.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Distribution of Benevolence - Tacloban


Our morning again started very early at 4:30am which meant a wake-up time of about 3am. The short night left Jonathan with only one hour of sleep and me with about three hours. Our 6am departure on the flight to Tacloban meant we had to be at the airport at 5am. We have decided these are not the hours for a couple of old men!

The flight to Tacloban was on a prop plane and was only about 45 minutes in length. Upon arrival, the level of damage was immediately obvious. The hangers that were at the airport are no longer present. The terminal building is missing a whole wall of glass that used to enclose it on the side towards the gates. The inside is gutted of all walls, ceiling and fixtures. Temporary plywood dividers mark off the various areas. Before leaving the airport, I fell off an unmarked step that was cracked and took a tumble onto the pavement. My left hand was scrapped and my left ankle turned. As I got up and started walking, I just had to laugh at how I must look walking with a bad right hip and a strained left ankle, limping on both legs in blood-stained pants. No serious damage, but a graceful entrance it was not!

Driving out of the airport towards the meeting place of the Scandinavian Village congregation in Tacloban took us by a large part of the total destruction of this city. Though I have visited and preached in Tacloban numerous times, I could not recognize the city at all. There are tents, bare modular units, military-looking shelters and other temporary dwellings provided by the U.S. and the U.N. — which actually means the U.S. has provided the vast bulk of all of it. Various nations from around the world have sent in heavy equipment to help with cleanup, so progress is apparent, but very slow due to the vast devastation.

There is truly no way to describe in words or even in pictures the level of destruction in this city. When you see a full-size ship sitting where buildings were, a good distance from the water, it makes clear the power of the storm surge that leveled much of the city. Though Ormoc was the worst destruction I had ever seen to that point, what I saw in Tacloban made Ormoc look good. As we went through what used to be a densely populated area in the city with the sea in view, we could not help but think how many thousands died in that very area.

There is far more construction activity apparent in Tacloban than was evident in Ormoc. At first, you see there are very flimsy structures of aged material that you see and wonder how it could have survived. But on closer look, it becomes clear that they have been recently put together from remnants of buildings destroyed in the typhoon.

When we got to the village where Nilo Zabala lives and labors (across a bridge of coconut trunks), brethren from that congregation as well as those from Abuyog and several churches on Samar had gathered. We got right to work trying to find out the needs that existed since we only had about 3 or 4 hours before we had to leave and fly back to Cebu.

Most families in the church at Tacloban had totally lost their houses. Some are now living in places providing little to no protection from the elements. We were able to relate assistance from the generous gifts of many brethren in America. As in San Vicente the previous day,funds were given to buy construction materials to start building shelters where homes were destroyed and to do essential repairs to houses badly damaged. Let me be clear that we did not provide funds sufficient to fully rebuild a finished house. Our purpose was pure benevolence — helping with materials to provide a shell structure to protect from the element with the brethren doing the necessary labor. There was also a continuing need for food. The same process was repeated to address the needs of the smaller congregation in Abuyog.

The homes of the brethren in Samar were not severely damaged, but they were in great need of food since their needs had not been addressed in any way since the typhoon. There is a large number of brethren on Samar and we recognized that their need for food was very serious, needing to be addressed immediately. All of the brothers and sisters in these places were overflowing with thanks to their American brethren who had provided these things. They asked me to express their deep gratitude!

When we got back to Cebu, we went to the bank where we redeemed the remainder of the MoneyGrams. By my rough computations, the funds provided by many of you will be sufficient to meet the needs that can be addressed at this time on Leyte, Samar, northern Cebu and northern Negros. This is where the bulk of the destruction was done by Yolanda. In some of those areas, there are a large number of our brethren, while in other areas the number is much smaller as the work there is very new.

After many years of little results on Leyte, the Lord’s work has grown at a very fast pace over the last two years. Much of the reason for that has to do with three preachers who are earnestly spreading the gospel — Nilo Zabala, Juanito Esquadra and Willie Pelino. The work of a very zealous man, Manuel Epilogo, converted about two years ago has also been extremely fruitful. Beyond the benevolent need, there is a great need for support of Nilo Zabala, Juanito Esquadra and Willie Pelino who are effectively doing the work, though not receiving enough support to adequately provide for their families. With the recent calamity and its illustration the temporary nature of this life, it is an ideal time to further press the saving gospel of Christ and the eternal salvation available by His grace to those who obey His will.

Thanks again for all of your help in material and spiritual assistance. I wish you could all see firsthand the faces of these brethren who are in great need, but made to rejoice and feel the love of brethren who have reached across the globe to help them because of the bond we all share in Christ Jesus. May God bless you richly for making this all possible!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Distribution at Ormoc and Baybay on Leyte


Our morning started very early today with a 3:15am wake-up call and 4am departure from the hotel. Nanette and Kristine Carino took Jonathan, Jack and me to the dock where we caught the fast-craft going to Ormoc City on Leyte. It departed at 5am. The trip was about 3 hours in length with the roughest seas I have ever experienced. It pitched and rolled the entire way with no smoother water for the entire trip. Many got sick, but the three of us were okay.

When we arrived Ormoc, some changes were obvious while many other things looked virtually unchanged from the last time I was here — about one week after Typhoon Yolanda. There was electricity at the port and throughout the downtown area. Some clean-up was under way and we could see the starts of
some repair work. However, the bulk of the city still looked devastated. The port area still had no covering on any of the docks. The market area and bus terminal still had no roofs. Some places were clearing debris to roadside piles while individual Filipinos were coming to carry off and use what others were throwing away.

Our drive for the day took us both north, south and east of the city. The further south we went towards Baybay, the less damage we saw. In Baybay itself, the damage was fairly light to moderate comparatively. Outside of Baybay in several seaside villages, the damage was much more, but not as great as from Ormoc. Going north and northeast (towards Tacloban) the damage was much more severe than in Ormoc City itself. By the time we got towards San Vicente, totally demolished homes were very common if not the norm. The vast majority of the trees in the region were either blown down or badly damaged. However, it was interesting to me that in the very most devastated areas in rural areas going towards San Vicente, the rice fields were either already replanted or in the process of replanting. The farming areas definitely showed the most evidence of restoration. 

My policy has always been to give a truthful report of what has happened — whether good or bad. That is what I will do in this case, though I must report some things that are not good. It is a fact that things happen which should not among the people of God — both in the Philippines and in the U.S. When difficult things have to be reported, I do so not meaning to make a decision for anyone else, but merely to inform accurately as best as I can. I want to make it clear that I am leaving it with other brethren to act as they decide for themselves. This report is given in order of the places visited during the day. It begins with the negative experience, so please keep reading to get an accurate account of the full day. It is my experience and belief that the latter part of the day more accurately depicts the bulk of action by our brothers and sisters in the Philippines.

The first congregation visited was the Baybay church of Christ. In years past, two congregations met outside of Baybay that now have “merged” with this group meeting in the city. Albert Vivero previously preached for the congregation, but now his son-in-law, Cirilo Sumabal, preaches there. I had received requests from brethren in the U.S. to look into reports coming from this location, so I did that with no preconceived ideas as to the true facts. First, when we went to Leyte about one week after Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013, faithful brethren reported there were 11 families in the congregation and a total of 33 saints meeting regularly there. We delivered an amount of 5000 pesos per family and an additional 500 per baptized believer in each family to provide for immediate needs of survival. After leaving, others delivering benevolence reported that the number of members was claimed at 80-100 people. When we arrived today, we were presented with a list claiming 46 families and over 100 (my understanding was 117 was the initial number given for members). When I pressed as to the weekly attendance, the preacher and his wife gave no direct answer to my question. Later, the wife began to do almost all of the talking and said there were 60-63 in attendance weekly, but continued to insist there were 46 families. It is obvious that if there are 46 faithful families, there would have to be less than 2 people per family in attendance — a situation far from any I have ever seen in the Philippines. I then pressed the preacher to explain the discrepancy and he gave no direct answer. Second, I was asked to verify a claim that brother Vivero’s house (which is affixed to the building) was “destroyed” in the typhoon. I found it to be without apparent damage and with no signs of any significant recent repair. There were also photographs taken of the house just after the typhoon which were much different than photographs taken on a more recent visit where damaged items had obviously been put over the actual structure. My conclusion was that I did not believe the claims made and I told the preacher and his wife that is what I would report. However, there were obvious cases of great need — especially with damage to houses of those living outside the city. We left an amount to help with that need and did not make a general distribution of benevolence there.

The next place we visited was the meeting place of the Candadam church of Christ where Juanito Esquadra preaches. Members of two other congregations where brother Juanito preaches also came to that place so that we could distribute to them at the same time. The need of brethren in these 3 groups was far greater. The predominate means of livelihood there was through fishing. The typhoon and its after effects have devastated the fishing. Due to widespread reports of the pollution that remains after the storm, any catch could not be sold at market. We distributed a much greater amount to these groups based upon the needs presented.

After eating a granola bar and some fruit in the van while Jonathan and Jack went to eat at the street vendor places, we proceeded on to San Vicente. (My past experience with such vendors have fully convinced me that my granola bar, fruit and gatorade are to be preferred to the inevitable hospital trip which accompanies the other fare.) Since Willie not only preaches at San Vicente, but also for the Linao congregation meeting in Ormoc City, we addressed the needs of both congregations. Previous distributions had met the needs for food, but the housing remained a critical problem. Many brethren were still living in makeshift lean-tos made of scraps that could be found. With the rains and storms common in this region, there is a critical need to start addressing this need. Of the 24 families meeting at San Vicente, the homes of 18 families were completely destroyed while the remaining 6 all had significant damage. We gave an amount to get shelter started for the 18 families whose homes were totally destroyed. After the frame is built, we have an amount to be used towards basic roofs and enclosures necessary to survive. The exact needs for repairing the homes damaged was not available, so I requested Willie to get that to us by Sunday. This would allow us to see if funds remained to help with that effort. The same process was started for the 20 families of the Linao congregation where 10 houses were totally destroyed and 10 others significantly damaged. Though I doubt we will have enough funds to fully complete all of this need, I think the funds given should make a very large difference in helping to provide the basic essentials.

At 5pm, we caught the fast-craft for the trip back to Cebu City. The trip took about 2 hours. The seas were much less rough for the first half with only the normal amount of rocking and rolling. The fact that I was able to write much of this report on that part of the voyage evidenced a great difference as that would have been impossible on this morning’s passage. The last half was again extremely rough.

Let me also convey the deep gratitude of our Filipino brethren who received the great help given by your generosity. The love and concern it manifested to them was evident in their words and expressions. They were deeply appreciative! Thank you all so much for your great generosity in this benevolent effort.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Last Two Days of This Trip (Nov 18-19, 2013)

11/18

On Monday, we had an all-day preachers’ study at the meeting place of the Pasay congregation and it was packed. Rody was  teaching when I arrived. Not long after my arrival, there was a brown-out that lasted about 15 minutes. After Rody finish his material, I started an extensive examination of Premillenialism. The study started before the lunch break and then continued all afternoon until about 4pm. There were several visitors that were deaf. They had been at previous studies held at Pasay as well. One made known her desire to be baptized into Christ and we were happy for that response.

At the end of the study, Rody wanted me to talk on the conditions of our brethren in the Visayas affected by Typhoon Yolanda. I gave a brief summary of what we had seen and the situation of the brethren. Rody followed with an exhortation for the Filipino brethren present to share something in meeting the benevolent need of their brothers and sisters in need. Rody mentioned that brethren in the area around Tuguegarao had given a significant amount and he would be taking that to the Visayas in a few days. Many of the brethren there gave Rody some funds to take on their behalf as well.

At the end of the study, I met a brother from Samar that had come to seek help from brethren in Manila as that island was also badly damaged by the typhoon. In fact, the first landfall of Yolanda was on Samar. He said the brethren were hungry and had no rice. I asked him what was needed and he said even one sack of rice they could share. I gave him enough for three sacks of rice which would be enough to last for a few weeks until we could get more in to them. All of the funds received had already been put to the needs we knew about plus several additional needs that came to our attention after I left Cebu, so this was borrowed funds again leaving me only a very small amount to meet needs until I was to leave on Wednesday.

11/19

Under normal circumstances, I am usually so tired by the end of my Philippine trips that I have started taking one day off in Manila before flying home. This has made a big difference in getting rest at that time. Unfortunately, that was not possible on this trip. With several more MoneyGrams sent that needed to be redeemed, I set off this morning to accomplish that. After going to two different branches of the bank and several hours of problems in locating and redeeming the MoneyGrams, I was able to get them. These funds will make it possible to meet some of the needs as they arise before Ron Halbrook and Keith Greer arrive in the country in about two weeks. They will be bringing additional funds that will surely be needed.


When I got back to the hotel, I again started with correspondence that was once more mounting. As of this moment (2:30am on Wednesday morning), I have answered every email or Facebook message that I know about. It is very possible that I missed one, so if I have not answered one from you, please send it again and I will do my best to answer as soon as I can after getting home. Since it is only two hours before I leave for the airport and my flight home, I need to finish packing and get on the road. Thanks again for the outpouring of love and concern for our brothers and sisters in the Philippines who have endured an unbelievable catastrophe. God bless!

Sunday in Manila (Nov 17, 2013)

On Sunday, I took a taxi to join the relatively new congregation in Pasay started by the work of Rody Gumpad. Rody and Tessie have obviously been working hard with the brethren in this new work. The attendance was considerably higher than the last time I was with them in August of this year. Virtually all of the number are people of that community that have been converted out various denominations. Rody was preaching in Tuguegarao that day, so I joined two of Rody’s sons, Rody Jr. and Jay, as well as Mark, one of Rody’s sons-in-law. Rody Jr. taught the Bible class on answering some denominational doctrines. At the end of the class, several asked questions and I ended up being the one to field the questions. In the assembly, I preached on “N.T. Baptism vs. Denominational Baptism.” There were no responses to the invitation.


With the correspondence mounting, I went back to the hotel and started answering over 100 posts that had come to my yahoo account that I use to communicate with Filipino brethren. However, I found numerous brethren from the States were asking about the typhoon’s effects and the benevolent help needed. I stayed up until 2am answering all that I had at that time. It has been great to see so many brethren concerned and wanting to help relieve the suffering of our Filipino brethren.

Distribution of Benevolent Help for Yolanda Victims

11/14/13

Following the eleven baptisms of the previous day and great optimism about the new work in Masbate, Jonathan and I got to the airport in Masbate very early for our flight back to Cebu. The first indication of a problem was with the Cebu Pacific counter agents who wanted us to sign a waiver on our one bag, an indestructible, soft-sided duffle bag, clearing them of responsibility for it. The next sign of trouble was the delay of the flight due to the plane being loaded and unloaded five times! (That is no exaggeration — I counted it.) Needless to say, the flight was very delayed. It was scheduled to leave a little after 7am and get to Cebu about 8am. We finally got to Cebu less than an hour before our fastcraft was to leave at 11am for Ormoc City on Leyte. You may have already guessed this, but the bag was lost :-). That left Jonathan with no clothes for the trip and me with no toiletries or food items that were intended for the trip.

Though we knew there was a high probability that we would miss the fastcraft, we rushed to the port and found it was also delayed and we were able to catch it with plenty of time to spare. The ride to Ormoc was rough at times as we repeatedly went through squalls of rain and wind. It was still raining when we arrived at Ormoc City.

There are no words to describe the level of devastation I saw when we disembarked onto the dock. I have been on that same dock many times through the years since my first time preaching on Leyte in 2002. The sight I saw bore no resemblance to the Ormoc City that I knew. The terminal building of the port was in shambles and water was pouring into it. The roof covering the open market across the street was gone. The Don Felipe Hotel at the port had every window that I saw broken and was blocked at the front door with no admittance allowed. Seeking shelter, we stood under the covered entrance (one of the few roofs left) with a crew broadcasting from Britain’s Sky News as a driving rain fell. The look on the average person’s face was one of shock — almost numb and expressionless. The same expression was on the face of the three brethren who met us: Willie Pelino, Juanito Escuadra and Nilo Zabala (preachers on Leyte).

Nilo had already informed us that his brother was killed by the storm as well as the fact that he and his family had to flee their home (badly damaged) in Tacloban. The “NPA” (New People’s Army - Communist guerrillas fighting the Philippine government) came into their village and demanded the residents give them something. They killed one family and many fled with only the clothes on their back. This was the case with Nilo and his family. With nothing to eat, no home, no clothing and no other possessions, they were sleeping at the bus terminal which had its roof taken away by the typhoon. There was no protection from the driving rains that came repeatedly each day. He urged us not to go to Tacloban as originally intended. All government and media sources were giving the same very dire warnings, so we agreed to stay in Ormoc as a base to do our work.

Juanito Escuadra informed us that his mother was killed in the typhoon. (That made the fifth Christian on Leyte that we know to have been killed in the typhoon.) Juanito and his family had nothing to eat either. His anguish and sorrow were so evident on his face and in his body language that I could no help shedding tears as I hugged him and assured him that, while we were there to help all we could, God knew his trials and would surely be with him. His great faith was evident in that he was there to help us bring assistance to all of the brethren on Leyte though he had such personal tragedy in his own family as his mother’s body was to be buried immediately.

Willie Pelino had also suffered a great deal of loss. Willie has done his best to provide for his family be working hard to plant fruit trees and lumber trees, build a tilapia fish pond, build a place to raise hogs and several other small efforts to assure food for his family and some small amount through sale of the few things he can. All of it is gone, having been taken away by the typhoon. He also had nothing. All three men as well as the rest of brethren on Leyte had almost nothing of any household goods and absolutely no food.

We immediately set out to find what was needed. The three preachers discussed the matter in their dialect, occasionally asking Jonathan’s assistance. After about 2 hours of them putting down their immediate needs, we discussed what could be done with the funds we had on hand at the time. It was determined that each family needed money for household goods necessary for their immediate existence plus the rice necessary to feed each person for about two weeks. When the funds needed for those provisions were totaled, it would have required well beyond what we had. After figuring what could be done, I counted the remaining pesos that I had and added all of that except for a few hundred needed for getting back to Cebu, and we agreed on an equitable plan to distribute all that we had at that time, noting that we would send more in when more funds were acquired from funds being sent.

11/15/13

The next day, we met with brethren in two different congregation in Ormoc to distribute the funds. Some were not present in each group and we had funds for brethren in five other congregations. Willie, Juanito and Nilo agreed to work together in taking the funds to those brethren and serving the purpose of a plurality of witnesses to assure all be done with honesty and openness.

While distributing the funds, I related the love and sacrifice this showed from their brothers and sisters across the globe, but a part of the same spiritual family. I told them of one case, related to me about a sister who gave to help.
The sister had lost her job, was in need herself, yet gave $200 to help and was crying that she could not send more. When that case was related to me, I broke down crying at a modern “widow with two mites” who exemplified the kind of heart our Lord commended. (I am so thankful to call such loving, caring, generous and sacrificial people my brothers and sisters in Christ!) When I told those gathered to receive the help this story to emphasize the degree of love it showed, they also shed many tears and expressed their great thanks. Though they had nothing and were hungry, the love and concern shown towards them was such a great encouragement, knowing others were with them in heart. I don't think I will ever be the same after seeing the things I have seen the last few days — from the suffering people here and the sacrificial love shown by my brethren back home. May God bless you all! 

Knowing from Leslie that more funds had been sent since our receiving  the ones available two days before, we were able to get information on those MoneyGrams while still in Ormoc and sent it to Kristine Carino, Jonathan Carino's daughter, who works for a major Philippine bank, a branch of which we used in Masbate, to see if she could help. We were able to send by text the information needed to redeem the funds. With the approval of the bank officials, they got the paperwork done and had the funds waiting for us when we got back to Cebu about midnight! I cannot say enough about how much Kristine helped and how sacrificial she was with her time and effort!

11/16/13

Saturday morning, Jonathan and I worked together and were able to provide for more funds to be sent directly to some in affected areas. We remembered that one congregation in Leyte was not included in the number helped while another was not sent sufficient funds to meet the needs of a greater number of Christians than accounted for in the previous day’s distribution. (That failure to correctly account for the number was my fault as I was present when those Christians had obeyed the gospel in two recent efforts that the brethren in Leyte were not present for and had not heard about.) We also sent an initial amount to help with needs from the typhoon’s destruction on northern Negros and northern Panay islands. Though we know the need will be greater than the amount sent, we believe it will meet the needs for food over the next two weeks or so.

With part of the second redemption amount from MoneyGrams, I had to restore the funds temporarily diverted from the evangelistic purpose for which they were given so that I could have the pesos needed to pay costs still outstanding. Jonathan had fronted a great deal of those costs for travel within the Philippines and other things by putting it on his Philippine charge card and using some of his own cash. Though I knew by that time of still more MoneyGrams that had been sent, I could not redeem those as I was running very close on time to catch the flight to Manila. The Lord willing, I will redeem the remaining MoneyGrams on Tuesday. I plan to convert any amount into pesos that are needed for immediate relief where they can be sent for a plurality to oversee and witness to proper distribution. The remaining amount will be left in U.S. dollars and I will continue sending to known needs until that amount is entirely exhausted. Given the needs that I know to exist beyond needs for immediate existence, the remainder will be completely used with the next week or two, the Lord willing.

Thanksgiving dinner will be bitter sweet this year. In our land of plenty, it is easy for us to forget that people suffer until we see a disaster like a tornado, hurricane, flood or some other destructive event. In Oklahoma, we were the recipients of a huge outpouring of love from brethren across our country after the May 19-20 tornados that caused much loss. I saw that damage immediately after the tornado and have seen the ongoing recovery in the months since. It was devastating and traumatic, and totally so to those directly hit. Yet, most had relatives or friends who could meet their immediate housing and food needs.

Imagine what it would have been if those tornados were over 100 miles wide (Yolanda had sustained F5 level winds over that area) together with a 20-foot wall of water at the same time. I can honestly say that I have never seen anything that comes close to matching this level of destruction! Throughout Leyte, in the space of a few hours, it destroyed the vast majority of homes (over 80% is the present estimate), destroyed the stocks of food as well as the crops and animals to be used for food, put an end to almost all sources for employment over the foreseeable future, started a devastating disease process through the effects of widespread raw sewage and a massive increase of malaria-bearing mosquitos, all in addition to causing thousands upon thousands of deaths. We distributed every peso we could while there and are meeting other immediate needs as they become known, but there is a huge need that continues. The funds provided will meet the immediate, survival needs of brethren for the next month or more, but the need will continue. We are beginning to find out that more devastation than we knew took place on other islands where we simply have no knowledge of what needs are present because communication with those brethren has not yet been restored. This is a calamity of historic proportions!


In closing, I want to again thank everyone for your tremendous outpouring of love and concern!!! And thank you for letting me have a place to see that love among God’s people is alive and well!!! May God’s richest blessings be with each and every one of you!

Work in Masbate (Nov 12-13, 2013)

11/12/13

The past few days were extremely busy as we first established communication with brethren in the areas hardest hit by Typhoon Yolanda and corresponded with brethren from the U.S. wanting to help. The first has been heart-wrenching beyond measure while the other has been encouraging and joyful beyond measure. With so much to do in assessing the need and preparing to distribute the help, Jonathan and I have gotten very little sleep. Since we had to be away from my hotel at 4:30am this morning, last night was another very short one with little sleep. We are looking forward to a full night’s sleep tonight here in Masbate.

The lectures here started a little earlier than we thought possible because our drive from Masbate City to the venue took less than an hour, while we were expecting it to take twice as long. After setting up, we started with an introduction from 1 Peter 1:22-25 on “Salvation and the Seed, God’s word” emphasizing the need to go back to the original gospel as the seed if we seek the salvation received at that time. From that, we went immediately to “God’s Use of the Prophets,” a lesson on the verbal inspiration of Scripture and its implications.

After the lunch break, we started the study on “Authority” by looking at the need for it and the source of it. At that point, Jonathan gave a summary of the lessons to that point in their dialect. We then concluded the lectures for the day with the remainder of the material on “Authority” dealing with how the will of Christ is expressed and understood. The audience seemed very attentive and thoughtful. Many seemed to be giving serious thought to the things presented, taking notes and turning to read the passages cited. It was a very good first day for the lectures.

Throughout the day, we had rain varying from light to very heavy. The reason is that this country is now experiencing its 26th typhoon of this year. (Yolanda was number 25.) Thankfully, this typhoon is relatively weak, but it is bringing heavy rains which are hampering recovery efforts from Yolanda. This storm should move out of the country by late in the day on Wednesday, according to forecasts.

We received word that the brother in the flesh of Nilo Zabala was also killed in the storm. Juanito Escuadra from Baybay also reports that one brother in that congregation was killed by the storm. That makes two brothers and one sister in the Lord who are known dead at this time. Our brethren in Ormoc report that many homes of the brethren there were destroyed. (The count we received is 26, but we will try to verify the number tomorrow.) We have yet to hear from two areas where we know there are faithful brethren. All report that there is little food to be had anywhere on Leyte and their supplies are running out. Since we know and have worked with all of these churches, the reality of the suffering is striking to us. However, it also makes us more determined to use the funds provided in an effective way to do all that we can in helping them.

Though it does not seem possible, the reality of the horrors in the aftermath of Yolanda get worse by the day as the search and rescue efforts are underway. The U.S. military seems to be taking the heaviest load in those efforts as other sources still appear disorganized and ineffective. U.S. military helicopters seem to be transporting the only significant amounts of food to Tacloban and the surrounding region. As the efforts increase, the reports coming out are that there are corpses everywhere. The rioting and anarchy are still not under control, but it seems to be getting better. Please continue to pray for our brethren and all who are undergoing these very difficult times.

11/13/13

Please excuse the delay of this report. I normal send them out before supper or at least before going to bed, but I did not get it out last night. There is no wifi in our rooms here in Masbate, so I meant to get the report ready in my room, and then send it from the cafe. However, I feel asleep while writing and woke up to find the cafe already closed. The good news is that I got 9 hours of sleep and am feeling great! After three or four cups of coffee, I felt fully revived. As it turned out, it would not have helped me to go to the cafe anyway, because the internet connection is down.

After talking with Leslie early this morning, she confirmed what I could not by my email as I could not get online to read it. She said several had called saying they had already sent funds through MoneyGram while others were having problem with sending them. When I talked with Jonathan about the situation, I told him that I planned to get all of those funds when we got back to Cebu as we had discussed earlier. However, a little later, he raised a problem with my plan that I did not realize. It turns out that it takes several hours to receive the funds sent by MoneyGram. Since there were already several MoneyGrams to receive, that process was certain to take us longer than we had between landing in Cebu at 8am on Friday and leaving by fast craft at 11am that day.

So, we left as early as possible in search of a place to redeem to MoneyGrams and then convert them to Philippine pesos. We found out that the bank for which Jonathan’s daughter, Christine, works would handle both ends of that transaction for us and at a much more favorable rate since it was for relief being brought to the typhoon victims. The bad news is that it took us tree hours to get those funds. This put us very late for the lectures, but there was no choice, we had to get the funds for which I had already received the information needed for redemption. Having an established exchange, John called Christine and asked that she assist us to receive the funds that are still coming. So, we will check early in the morning for the information to receive any remaining MoneyGrams and get that information to Christine by email hoping that she can help cut through the red tape and help us get the cash within an hour so we can get to the fast craft on time.

Jonathan called ahead to Greg Jumao-as, our host, and ask them to take their lunch early and be ready to start when we came. We arrived at almost noon and began immediately with the lesson on “Salvation and Saul.” Some material, regarding the differences between baptism in the name of Christ and denominational baptism, was added to the end of that lesson so as to consolidate two lessons into one. Jonathan gave an extend summary of the lesson and then taught on “The Church in the Eternal Purpose of God.” After that, we considered a lesson on “Counting the Cost.” An invitation to obey the gospel of Christ was extended by Greg and nine made known their desire to be baptized into Christ. By the time we drove some distance to the ocean where the baptisms could take place, another two decide to be baptized, so a total of 11 were immersed into Christ for the remission of sins. After a week of such horrible news from the typhoon, it was especially sweet to see eleven come to the new life with a living hope!


After this report, it will probably be late Friday night our time before I will have access to an internet connection making another report possible. At that point, I will have returned from Tacloban and Ormoc City, the Lord willing. Please remember us in your prayers as we will be distributing the benevolent help sent by brethren in the U.S. God bless!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Day of Planning in Cebu

The reality of the conditions in the aftermath of Yolanda is setting in across the nation. The situation grows worse on Leyte as time goes on. After four days without food, water or significant relief efforts, it devolved into basic anarchy today. The President is reportedly considering the imposition of martial law. Given the country’s background, that news is received with mixed feelings. However, with the circumstances as they are, it appears the country would accept it as the best option available at this time.

We had our trip canceled to Ormoc today as transportation schedules are changing without notice. Computer systems are down making ticket purchasing almost impossible. Long lines are present to buy whatever tickets are available on site and the modes of transportation themselves are not very dependable. It is being reported that the international news media is coming to Cebu and buying up tickets on the fastcrafts and ferries to Leyte because that is the only way in right now. All airline service into Tacloban is suspended indefinitely.

Since we did not go to Ormoc today, we used the time to prepare for the delivery of funds to brethren on Leyte after we return from Masbate. Jonathan and I have both been moved by the generous outpouring of brethren on this mailing list. Funds are being sent via MoneyGram that will enable us to help brethren who have nothing at this point. We are in contact with brethren in Tacloban where the situation is dire beyond belief and we are able to transfer smaller amounts in several ways making it possible for them to have some food and water for the next few days. Finding food to buy there is now becoming a problem by all accounts and we may need to buy rice here and find a means of transport to get it to them. We will be trying to work that out over the next few days. Right now, logistics are keeping us (especially Jonathan) busy as daily commerce and transportation are a nightmare. Every time we think we have found a way around problems, new ones crop up. As the day wore on, we began to focus on a couple of ways we believe the problems of getting food to the brethren can be resolved.

The Lord willing, tomorrow (Tuesday) we will go to Masbate Island for the rescheduled lectures there. Those studies will end on Wednesday night. We fly out on a 6:00am flight tomorrow and come back to Cebu at 7:45am on Thursday. We have tickets in hand to go to Ormoc at 11am on Thursday, stay the night wherever possible and hopefully come back on Friday night to Cebu. I say "hopefully" because we cannot confirm tickets due to computer systems being down and schedules being unsure. However, I do not have to fly to Manila until Saturday, so we have an extra day to fall back on should departure be impossible on Friday.

Since it will be Thursday before we can start to distribute the benevolence on Leyte where need is the greatest, the funds already committed for sending via MoneyGram should be available before we leave from Cebu going to Leyte on Friday. The need here is so enormous that we have had to focus on meeting immediate needs for survival at this time and leave longer term efforts of rebuilding and other needs to be met at a later date. My plan is too also bring a bag of first-aid and sanitation supplies with us to Leyte. With the massive death toll and release of open sewage from the floods, the danger of disease taking another large toll is a very real and present danger. From what we hear, our brethren are in great need of such supplies.

To give you a sense of the enormity of the disaster, the major international rescue and relief organizations were saying the death toll may exceed 10,000! There is some speculation that number may be very low and may go much higher. The Philippine government said just yesterday that the number might exceed 1200. In other words, no one knows the magnitude of this disaster at this point, but time a new area receiving a direct hit is surveyed, the numbers keep going up. Today, U.S. military helicopters and air support began an aerial assessment of the damage and they are saying the damage is unprecedented. One of the crews likened it to an F4 or F5 tornado, except it is 100 miles wide and several hundred miles long. There are hundreds of small, inhabited islands that the full force of the storm impacted. Each one presents a new challenge to reach, assess and get relief efforts going.



In our travels yesterday, we did not see a single national Philippine government vehicle or relief effort of any kind, nor did we see any international relief organization presence. If what we saw was the lesser problem compared to other places, I shudder to think what the situation is in such places. When people in the streets of Bogo saw me as a white American, it was obvious that they were looking at me in hopes that I would help. I don't know if I will ever be able to forget the utter helplessness I felt on that occasion to see so many people in such dire need, looking for help, yet knowing that I had no way to help. Our brethren now have food to eat for several weeks, the masses of humanity I saw have nothing and no hope in sight. May God in His providence make a way to ease the tremendous suffering of these very poor and hopeless people -- ultimately bringing them to seek for a way of hope that leaves the calamities of this life to forever rejoice in a heavenly hope that knows no sorrow and no end! God bless!