Presbyterians who want to help with disaster relief in the typhoon-swamped Philippines are being urged to pray and send money, but not for now to send supplies or relief teams or volunteers.
“It is for the people on the ground to determine what their needs are,” said Laurie Kraus, coordinator for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, speaking in a Nov. 20 webinar. Having a swarm of well-meaning volunteers who need to be fed and sheltered can create “a second disaster for people” already struggling to clean up the immediate damage and figure out what to do next.
General Assembly moderator Neal Presa said Typhoon Haiyan displaced 10 million people and caused more than $500 million in damage when it smashed into the archipelago on Nov. 8. He and other church leaders encouraged Presbyterians to keep supporting the relief efforts with prayer and donations, and to understand this will be a long-term effort in which the PC(USA) will follow the lead of its Filipino church partners.
Church partners. “We have just been hit by a double whammy,” first an earthquake and then the typhoon, said Bishop Ruel Mariga, the general secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and vice chairperson of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, speaking in a prerecorded presentation.
“The problems are enormous, Mariga said, with the immediate need for basic necessities such as food, shelter and clean water, and “long hard work” ahead for the task of rebuilding and helping people recover from the psychological trauma of such loss of life, home and sources of livelihood.
“We are very grateful that God’s love is being made more and more concrete through your concern and help,” Mariga said. “Thank you for your help. May God bless the PC(USA).”
On the ground. Former General Assembly moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow described a journey he made recently to see firsthand the devastation in Tacloban in the province of Leyte in the central Philippines. By happenstance, Reyes-Chow has been teaching at Silliman University Divinity School in Dumaguete City this month – and he traveled with leaders of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines to bring relief supplies and witness the damage.
Many of the metal corrugated roofs had been “just wiped away,” he said. “The power of the storm was clear.” Bethany Hospital in Tacloban, founded by Presbyterians, was severely damaged by wind and flooding, with much of its equipment damaged. Reyes-Chow visited a church where the roof had been ripped off and the windows blown out. He also saw people beginning to return to their lives: doing laundry, standing in line for fuel, cleaning away the rubble.
The PC(USA) has five mission co-workers and four young adult volunteers in the Philippines, all of whom have adjusted their responsibilities to help following the storm. Mission co-worker Cobbie Palm, example, is working to get portable water purification systems to damaged areas, and young adult volunteer Duncan Kirk is helping with the cleanup in Leyte.
“For everything, there is a season and an appropriate time,” Palm said. For now, it is providing food, water and medicine. Later, the Presbyterian workers will respond to invitations from local congregations or church leaders who will say where help is and is not needed.
Long-term. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance will coordinate with ACT Alliance, a international coalition of more than 140 church groups and organizations that works cooperatively in providing humanitarian aid, Kraus said. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance already has sent $50,000 in emergency funds raised through One Great Hour of Sharing and has collected $119,000 specifically for aid to the Philippines.
For Presbyterians who want to do something tangible to help, she suggests helping to replenish the supply of Gifts of the Heart kits that are stockpiled to be used in emergencies around the globe.
“Give generously” to the relief effort, Kraus urged Presbyterians. “What is offered here in the United States goes a long way.”