My family and I live in the Philippines. We are involve in disaster response… especially pertaining to crisis defusing and crisis debriefing. This year, our team, and two partnering groups (CPSP-Philippines, and PBTS) have been doing numerous trips to Leyte, Panay, and Cebu Islands for disaster response care. It is an honor to be able to help those who have suffered from Typhoon Yolanda (as well as the Bohol earthquake).
But for us, this is not where things started. It started with a disaster 4 years ago. In 2009, the Philippines suffered twin disasters of Tropical Storm Ondoy, and Typhoon Pepeng. Celia and I were working with Dakilang Pag-Ibig DIADEM Ministries (a medical mission ministry) back then. But we were considering starting our own separate ministry, Bukal Life Ministries because we wanted to deal with longer-term issues than medical missions could provide.
At that time, Tropical Storm Ondoy came through Manila and Pampanga. My wife joined with the team from DPDM to do disaster response in Pampanga. This area had been ignored by most groups, focusing on places such as Marikina. While my wife and the team were in Pampanga, Typhoon Pepeng was going over the Cordilleras, where we live. It passed heading North by Northwest. Stalled, backtracked and sat right on top of our mountain range dumping water for over four days. On the last day, major landslides started. Hundreds died. The Pampanga team were trapped in Tarlac, and then made it to La Union after the flooding from the San Roque dam subsided. However, they had to wait a few more days before coming up to Baguio since all roads connecting the lowlands to our city were destroyed.
When we were all together again, my wife and I, Joey and Gracia Mercedes, and Angie Gomez joined together to help those specifically hurt by the tropical storm and typhoon. We decided to do so under the name “Bukal Life Ministries.” We worked with the trainees at CARTS, the training school for police officers in the Cordillears. The trainees were conscripted to dig, clean up, and seek bodies in Puguis, La Trinidad.
Chaplain Charlie Benton of the Virginia Baptist Disaster Response came over to Baguio to train the team in crisis care. He trained and assisted in crisis care. We were able to do medical missions with stress defusing in Pampanga, Tublay, and CARTS. Charlie was able to rejoin us a few months later to do additional training with us.
Out of all of this, we have grown as a group, and have been able to help people with counseling, Clinical Pastoral Education, and training. We have been able to help out with other disasters in the Philipipnes, including, the present disasters.
Sometimes in disasters we focus on the wrong things. When a disaster comes along some people:
- Focus on issues of Divine Judgment. Did we do something so bad and God is getting back at us. Perhaps this could be valuable if there are substantive changes that could be made… but often the focus is more on judgment than on growth.
- Look for prophecies or predictions. Again, often more emphasis is on trying to prove someone “knew it was coming” than on what and where we go from here.
- Focus on stories of massive destruction or of human depravity. Fascination with the suffering or bad behavior of others in times of crisis can be little more than “schadenfreude” (secret glee over the misfortunes of others) mixed with voyeurism (desire to see peoplein their private, personal moments).
But is it possible that disasters are an opportunity for redemption? Consider the crucifixion of Christ… a tragedy that was turned into a redemptive moment. One can add the Babylonian captivity, the Egyptian plagues, and more as redemptive moments associated with disasters. Frankly, it is often times of crisis where we learn and grow the most.
The redemptive moments do not necessary negate the trauma. I think it is too much to ask for people to say, “Oh good! Another disaster to learn and grow from!” But since some aspects of the tragedy are irreversible, it is worth considering what good can be created in times of turmoil. Certainly beats learning nothing.
What beauty can we create out of the tragedies of today?