Seeking God’s Wrath?

Do some desire God’s wrathful judgment? It seems like it. Let me give you a case study and then discuss a few possibilities.

Amazing Lightning

Back in 2013, a devastating storm (Typhoon Yolanda— aka, Haiyan) struck the Visayas region of the Philippines, and across to Palawan. Thousands died. Shortly after, the “prophecies” of a Christian “prophet” (I apologize for the quotation marks… but I don’t like to use terms such as this for people who I feel don’t deserve them) were brought up as demonstration that:

  1.  This particular person, named Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj, had apparently predicted the storm as well as the Bohol earthquake, and thus must be a legitimate messenger of God’s revelation.
  2. The typhoon was not simply a meteorological event, but an act of God’s wrath— and there is more to come against the Philippines, and the world in general.

Anyway, a whole industry sprang up here in the Philippines, attempting to promote the prophecy as being true, as well as trying to argue that the other prophecies of this man were also true and will occur.

I did a post before that attempted to come up with a Score for the accuracy of his predictions. You can Click on it Here. I gave him a score of about 35%. Truthfully, that was a bit generous,  since I was giving him positive scores for predicting storms and earthquakes in the Philippines (you can hardly go wrong with that, especially since he gave no timeframe). Two years later, the prophecies appear to be no better than before.

But what I found strange, and still am challenged to accept, was the wild, and yes a bit gullible, acceptance of these prophecies by Filipinos, in particular. That is not to say that I expect Filipino Christians to be less than gullible than, say, American Christians (who certainly have a proven track record to be gullible at times). But since the prophecies were done to say that the Philippines is being uniquely judged by God, and then from there to the world, one might suspect that Filipinos, a great seemingly less deserving of God’s vengeance than many other groups worldwide, might be offended. 

Point of fact, though, was that there were so many who really wanted it to be true. This desire for these prophecies to be true grew to where people were spreading false reports on the Internet of more fulfillment of this prophecy. This was especially seen in reports of fulfillment of a prophecy that a flesh eating disease would spring up in Pangasinan (a province in the Northern Philippines, just down the mountain from where I live) and then spread throughout the world. These false reports grew and grew until finally a major news carrier put out a short report on TV that the disease was, indeed, happening in Pangasinan.

Within minutes of the report, the Internet was swarming with people looking up this event.  I got thousands of hits in one day from people trying to figure out what is going on (I consider myself blessed if I get dozens of hits in one day). The report was false. Even though flesh eating bacteria is a real thing, there was no epidemic in Pangasinan, and it hasn’t spread to the rest of the world. Presumably, the prediction that a disease will spring up in Cebu and turn people black, is likewise erroneous.

BUT WHY WOULD PEOPLE WANT TO BELIEVE A HATEFUL JUDGMENT FROM GOD?

I don’t really know— I have more interest in God’s mercy than His judgment myself— but I can try to make a few guesses. Perhaps some are true.

  1.  Evangelicals (and I am lumping most Pentecostals and Charismatics as well into this poorly defined conglomerate) are commonly taught to, almost desperately, desire the return of Christ. I cannot relate to this. I am in Mission work, and there is so much to do that I can hardly see the desire to have even less time to get things done. If your neighbor is not a follower of Christ, do you really desire that Christ come back before he has responded? Really? Some might say that it is simply a desire to be with God… but all of us are only a couple of heartbeats away from being with God… so why desperately seek for others to be before God before they are ready? Regardless, for many, this is taught as a doctrinal truth— “Christ is returning any day, and the sooner the better.” By the way, as an Evangelical, I do believe in the return of Christ, but I would prefer the statement— “Christ is returning any day, and may I be found faithful when He comes for me” regardless if He comes to me in life or in death.
  2. Some Christians are addicted to Signs and Wonders. I believe that God can do and does miracles, and may still at times do them as a sign (particularly, I believe, in places that first gain access to the gospel). However, miracles have always been rare. Even Jesus often did not do miracles. Luke 5 notes that for Jesus on a certain day the power of the Lord was upon Him to heal, suggesting that on some days it was not. That suggestion was reinforced by the extent certain men went to to bring a paralytic man to Jesus on that particular day despite the fact that other days would probably be less difficult. Later in the Gospels, Jesus refused to do any more miraculous signs to convince the skeptics. But some have an addiction to signs and wonders. Some, like Charles Kraft, even try to argue that the challenge to follow Christ should (must?) start with an encounter of God’s power (typically miraculously). Others seem to have no interest in what God normally does (in Nature), or can do through his faithful servants acting according to God’s will to act with faithful compassion. For some, the interest is in miraculous acts. Sadly, this has tended to create an industry of chicanery with a Christian label slapped on. It has also devolved into people going away from praying worshipfully to God asking for His mercy, to people “declaring” to God what He must do and thanking Him that he “already” has done it.
  3. Some are More Comfortable with God’s Judgment than His Mercy. It has become a cliche’ to say that “Christians are mean-spirited, judgmental, hypocrites” But sometimes it is true. It doesn’t take much looking around social media to discover a lot of really man, nasty, judgmental Christians. They may mouth “the Love of Christ” but they find more resonance in a envisioning “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Some of the responses to Typhoon Yolanda from self-styled “prophets of God” was that the typhoon came because of homosexuality in the Philippines. Apparently, if Christians (over 90% of Filipinos would describe themselves as Christian) mistreated LGBTQ folk more, than God would be pleased and not have dumped all that wind and rain on the Philippines. Is that possible? I suppose it is— but I really suspect that pronouncements such as this dig deeper into the psyche of these “prophets” than into the mind of God. Schadenfreude (feeling good about the misfortunes of others) can affect Christians as much as anyone else.
  4. For some, perhaps bad news is better than no news. We live life walking backwards. We can see the past, and the present, but we can’t see the future. Curiously, We can’t change the past, but can only (potentially at least) change the future. Only perceiving the past but only being able to affect the future, not surprisingly, gives us a fair amount of angst. No wonder people spend so much money on books about the future, horoscopes, personal readings from various types of fortunetellers. Christians are not immune from this— books, radio and TV programming, and sermons are filled with end-time prophecies. When I was young, the Antichrist headed the European Common Market, and the Kingdom of the North was the Soviet Union. Since bother of these have gone, these “prophets” of today, change their stories. Today, the mark of the beast is a blacklight tatoo identifer, or perhaps an RFID. Next year? Who knows? Some Christian groups even put apocalyptic language into their names. What does this mean? I am not sure, but I wonder if for some the fear of the unknown is greater than the fear of a bad things ahead. In the movie White Noise, the three mysterious beings in the movie became less scary, to me at least, once we discovered what they really were— even though what they really were was pretty nasty. Of course, many Christians believe in the Rapture (I am holding to a “wait and see” position on that doctrine) so perhaps the bad news becomes interpreted as good news for themselves and a bit of schadenfreude (as I noted before) regarding others.

For me, at least, I would rather focus on hope and God’s mercy. I am not advocating a “pollyanna” denial of hurt and suffering, but there is certainly enough bad things in this world, without hoping and praying for more. I also feel that God has given us enough information to live by without knowing very much about the future.

  • Reason for ultimate hope
  • Warning to endure
  • Call to faithful service— regardless of what happens.

We have no control over God’s wrath since we have no control over God. But we can pray for His mercy— for all.

 

 

Our E-Journal

I decided to link to our ministry’s e-journal (2013 journal). I feel pretty good about it… and it includes some of the work we have done with disaster relief in response to Typhoon Yolanda. I was the editor of it… but perhaps I shouldn’t admit it. There are probably a lot of errors. I really should not be an editor since I hate reading something more than once. Still, for a little pastoral care group in the Philippines, I think it turned out pretty good.

Disaster Response Volunteer Guide

Getting lots of hits on my blog about some alleged prophecies here in the Philippines. I suppose I can understand the idle curiosity. Still, I hope that idle curiosity about what is going on in the Philippines can be rechannelled toward righteous action for what is going on in the Philippines and the world. Our group (Bukal Life Care & Counseling Center) has being doing training and stress defusing (along with relief goods and such) in struggling parts of the Philippines. Getting ready for another trip next week (to Bohol). Here is a volunteer guide that hopefully would be of value to people (not just in the Philippines) concerned with helping those who suffer from traumatic events.

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/bmunson3/disaster-response-volunteer-guide&#8221; title=”Disaster Response Volunteer Guide” target=”_blank”>Disaster Response Volunteer Guide</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/bmunson3&#8243; target=”_blank”>Bob Munson</a></strong> </div>

Redeeming Disaster. Or How God Works.

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). Bukal Logo Small New

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?

Prophecies and Typhoons and Plagues (in no particular order), Part II

The Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj “prophecy” regarding the Philippines (where he described shocking curses that God would rain down on the Philippines) keeps morphing. Given in April 2013 at the 24th National Prayer Gathering at Cuneta Astrodome, the predictions have become viral as being fulfilled by Typhoon Yolanda (aka Haiyan) and some blogger posts alleging diseases in the Philippines. I posted a review of a previous version of the “prophecy.” Since this is a longer version, I will give a more detailed review. I am hoping the one I am using for this blogpost comes closer to the original. The following is the list of predictions based on the blog www.localpulse.net/technology/prophecy-sadhu-sundar-selvaraj-pangasinan-philippines-goes-viral-207/

I will give a letter grade for each “prophetic” utterance based on the best of my knowledge in December 2013. I will use the following criteria:

Grade “A”: Prediction appears to have been fulfilled in an accurate way.

Grade “B”: Prediction appears to have been fulfilled in a general way.

Grade “C”: Prediction has not been fulfilled partly but in a far lesser way.

Grade “D”: Prediction has not been fulfilled yet as far as can be reasonablly ascertained.

Grade “N”: Prediction is not really predictive. For example, predicting that it will rain in 2014 may prove true, but it demonstrates no special ability to predict/prophecy.

1.  Compostela and Tagum. Typhoon, foundations shaken, people scattered. big lesson to the rest of the world. Grade “D”. Hasn’t happened yet. Flooding happened a couple of years ago in this area, but presumably, the prophecy wasn’t for the past.

English: A map of Visayas color-coded by regio...
English: A map of Visayas color-coded by regions. The Palawan Islands on the west part are not part of Region 6 nor part of the Visayas Island Group. Palawan is part of Region 4-B also known as MIMAROPA (Mindoro,Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan) and is part of the Luzon Island Group. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2.  Samar and Leyte:  Big typhoon against “6 lands.” Disasters through floods. Grade B. This one comes the closest to having been fulfilled. There was a big typhoon. However, very little of the damage (and very little of Samar and Leyte) came from flooding. Even if one views storm surge as flooding (perhaps a reasonable assumption), storm surge was fairly limited. Some might feel that Grade B is low. Perhaps one could justify a B+, but since most of Samar and Leyte was damaged by winds not flooding (except in Tacloban and a bit elsewhere), the prediction was a bit weak. You decide.

3.  Palawan:  Great flood and great typhoon. Many will die. Great grievous death. Grade C. Typhoon did hit the northern end of Palawan, especially the islands at the north end of Palawan province. Flooding and greivous death did not happen… yet. Since the prophecy did not really happen as described, perhaps a Grade D would be more appropriate… but I will allow for considerable hyperbole here. Again, you decide.

4.  Pangasinan and Cebu:  Grievous disease (flesh eating) will become an epidemic and spread to Cebu from there. It will become pandemic (spread all over the world and create much fear). Grade D. Hasn’t happened. Lots of diseases of all types in Pangasinan and elsewhere (I remember quite a few cases of leptospirosis sprang up after Typhoon Pepeng in 2009) but nothing as here described. At least not yet.

5.  Bohol and Cebu: A different disease (apparently) will spring from Bohol and Cebu. Turns people’s skin black and make their bodies burst open. Will spread wildly and spread to many other countries. People will be afraid to bury the dead. Grade D. Hasn’t happened.

6.  Luzon and Cebu:  Floods and winds like never seen before will hit Luzon and Cebu. Loss of all irrigable lands. Massive begging and starving. Grade D.  I could have given this a Grade N as not being predictive. After all floods and winds are normal to most of the Philippines including Luzon and Cebu Islands. Begging is fairly common and starving does happen on occasion. Irrigable lands do at times cease to produce crops. But the phrase “like never seen before” clearly limits this prediction greatly. Loss of all irrigable lands limits it far further. Neither Luzon nor Cebu have suffered anything like what is here described… at least not yet

7.  70 Islands. 70 islands will cease to be, overwhelmed by the ocean. Grade N. Unfortunately, this statement has no predictive value. The number of islands in the Philippines does change as some rise up and some go underwater by erosion or other means. Since there is no timeframe, there is no way to call this a prediction. Presumably if one tracks things long enough, 70 islands could be identified that lose their status as islands.

8.  Coastal Cities. Coastal Cities will be flooded. Many people will lose property. “Many people will fade away in sunlight and land” (what does that mean?). Grade B. In a few limited spots damage as described here could be said to have happened. Obviously, in Tacloban. Hard to come up with another place that has the designation “city.”

9.  Miscellany

a. “Earthquakes will come in your land.” Grade N. Pacific Ring of Fire… the Philippines always has earthquakes. No timeframe, frequency, or magnitude given. It is not predictive.

b. “Volcanoes will erupt in many places.” Grade N. Ring of Fire again. The Philippines has regular eruptions. No timeframe, frequency or magnitude given. It is not predictive.

c.  “There will be cries and troubles in the land.” Grade N. Not enough information to have any predictive value.

d. “Your young people will become captive. The hunters and the captors will increase in your land.” Grade N. Not at all clear what is meant here. Human traffickers perhaps? If so, too late. They have been here as long as the Philippines has been around. The wording is too vague to provide a metric.

e. “Wicked people will walk on the streets in your land. They will kill many people in broad daylight and throw their bodies in the streets.” Overall, I would give this a Grade D. Certainly there are wicked people walking the streets, but that is true everywhere on earth. As far as killing and throwing bodies in the streets. Generally, this is not the case. Occasional troubles in Mindanao approach this… rarely, but doesn’t seem to be more so since the prophecy was made. Just have to wait on that one.

f.  “There will even come a dangerous time when people will kill each other for food.” Grade N. Killing for food is no new thing. Perhaps this is describing some systematic increase in this behavior… but not enough information is given.

g.  “The Lord says many buildings will catch fire. God will set many buildings with fire and shakenings.” I guess I would have to give this a Grade D. Some village burnings around Zamboanga… but these were human caused while the prophecy says that God will set the buildings ablaze. Guess we will have to wait on this one.

h. “God will cause dangers to come through lightnings and thunders.” Grade D. No major increase in lightning-caused damage that I know of. Not even sure what dangers are being suggested here by thunders.

i. “Many people will be drowned. Maybe you have faced many times such dangers, but these coming dangers will be great in the eyes of the world.” Hmmm…. this one is a tough one. Major flooding is common in the Philippines and often does get world attention. In the 10 years I have been here, this has happened several times. I am tempted to say this has no predictive value, but maybe I should be generous. I will give it a Grade A. Many did drown, after all.

j. “Hundreds and thousands of people will be scattered.” Again, not very predictive, but I will seek to be consistent and give it a Grade A.

k. “Many houses will be ravaged.” Like i and j… not very predictive, but I will still give it a Grade A.

l. “Many people will be refugees in their own land.” Since I have been generous on the last three, I will give this a Grade B. Putting people into evacuation centers for a few days to a few weeks does not really reach the designation of “refugee.” The number of long-term evacuees looks like will be rather small. I think “B” is more than fair.

m. “A very pitiful state will come upon you when you will have to depend on other people to help you.” I am feeling generous again. I will give this a Grade A. The pitiful state is more due to governmental incompetence than national capacity… but the prophecy is too vague to attack it for that reason.

n.  “Children will die of hunger, of pain and of waters. Many children’s bodies will be thrown in the streets.” Hmmm… what should I do with this one. Really vague… children dying. Some have. Thrown in the streets? Not really. Unless something changes, I probably can give no better than a Grade C.

o. “Many areas will become muddy and swampy.” Come on, this is the Philippines. Of course places will become muddy and swampy. Like saying it will rain sometimes and sometimes be sunny. Grade N.

p. “The Lord says your rivers will come upon the land.” Not since the prophecy, but of course, rivers overlowing their banks are common (in places like Pampanga… expected). This has no predictive value. Grade N.

So I counted 24 predictions. Let’s see how they add up.

Grade A. Occurrences fit the prediction.                         4

Grade B. Occurrences fit in general way.                         3

Grade C.  Occurrences fit in a limited fashion.              2

Grade D. Occurences don’t fit predictions so far.         7

Grade N. No predictive value.                                             8

So what are the conclusions? Not much. The strongest arguments for fulfilment are actually the Grade B predictions. The Grade A predictions may have been relatively accurate but they have low predictive value. Major devastation from typhoons comes every few years. Our group has dealt with Tropical Storm Ondoy, Typhoon Pepeng, and Typhoon Sendong, all 2009 and beyond. The Grade A predictions would almost have to become fulfilled if one waited long enough. Grade C predictions are just too weak to take particularly seriously.

So what about an overall grade? For the Grade B predictions I will give 100% weighting. Sounds odd, but they were the best ones even if they weren’t detailed enough to be particularly compelling. I will give 50% weighting to Grade A predictions. Their predictive value is low, but could be viewed as essentially accurate. Grade C predictions? I will give 33% weighting. I guess I am feeling generous. I will give 0% weighting to Grade D predictions. Haven’t happened… don’t know if they will ever happen. I will throw out all Grade N predictions. They have no value to anyone.

What do we get when we do this? 5-2/3 out of 16. That is 35%. I realize I am being generous… but it is less than a year from the predictions. Ten years from now, one should be able to make a much better judgment. The longer range view should help. If the prophecies are true, the percentage should increase dramatically. If they are false, and the self-described prophet proves false, the number should range between perhaps 20% and 50%.

Certainly way to early to take seriously now. I still say, we need to go back to the Bible… not to people who tickle and terrorize the ears.

NOTE: Why am I reviewing alleged prophecies on a blogsite about missions? Because people are using these prophecies “missiologically.” They are trying to argue that events verify the prophecy, that the prophecy verifies the prophet, and that the prophet verifies the message of the prophet. I am not in a position to judge the “prophet” but I think we all are in a position judge the alleged prophecy. The Bible makes it very clear that we should expect numerous (not just one) anti-Christs. We should “test the spirits.” We should have the ability to study the words of ministers in the light of Scripture. We should challenge self-described prophets and root out what is false. I would assume that any true servant of God would value and welcome such Spirit-led caution on our parts.

Quote of William James, and the Search for the Divine

“‘Love your enemies!’ Mark you, not simply those who happen not to be your friends, but your enemies, your positive and active enemies. Either this is a mere Oriental hyperbole, a bit of verbal extravagance meaning only that we should, as far as we can, abate our animosities, or else it is sincere and literal. Outside of certain cases of intimate individual relation, it seldom has been taken literally. Yet it makes one ask the question: Can there in general be a level of emotion so unifying, so obliterative of differences between man and man, that even enmity may come to an irrelevant circumstance and fail to inhibit the friendlier interests aroused?  …

Psychologically and in principle, the precept ‘Love your enemies’ is not self-contradictory. It is merely the extreme limit of a kind of magnanimity with which, in the shape of pitying tolerance of our oppressors, we are fairly familiar. Yet, if radically followed, it would involve such a breach with our instinctive springs of action as a whole, and with the present world’s arrangements, that a critical point would practically be passed, and we should be born into another kingdom of being. Religious emotion makes us feel that other kingdom to be close at hand, within our reach.”                   

  –William James, “The Varieties of Religious Experience“, under “Saintliness”

Cover of "The Varieties of Religious Expe...
Cover of The Varieties of Religious Experience

I put an blogpost on a couple of days ago about some prophecies regarding the Philippines… prophecies that allegedly predicted Typhoon Yolanda (although the predictions vary wildly from the actual calamity) and allegedly predicted flesh-eating bacteria plague from Pangasinan (although nothing like a plague (yet?) exists).

I was surprised at how many read this blogpost. Looking at the search terms, it was clear that this was no accident. So many wanted to read about these alleged prophecies.

It led me to wonder why. Why would people be desperately searching these alleged prophecies… many apparently in hopes that they are true? Do we really want God to be cursing a country with floods and plagues because they did not accept a blessing (another alleged thing that they apparently haven’t even been given yet)?

I suppose some people were curious but do not want to believe… but looking at some of the other blogposts, there definitely are a large number of people that have unwarranted (and uncritical) exuberance with regards to the prophecies. They want them to be true it appears.

Maybe I have a guess why. People want to feel… to touch… to experience the Divine. They go to practitioners of “divine magic” (some clearly charlatans… some, who knows?) in hopes of a visceral experience of God. The desperation is so great that people will even seek out a fairly hateful prophecy. After all, if it can be said to have come true, perhaps that is a bit of divinity that one can build one’s faith upon.

I guess I would go back to the quote from William James. Love, as Jesus directed, is a bit of the Divine worth seeking out and living out. Better than trying to make some “prophecies” seem real. Divine love is certainly truer evidence of God than predicting bad weather in the typhoon belt, or diseases in a  tropical country.

Instead of looking for the evidence of the divine… why don’t we seek to BE the evidence of the Divine.

A Tiny Refuge in a Big Storm

<I expressed in my last blogpost a LOT of skepticism regarding some so called prophecies that are marketed here in the Philippines, especially as it relates to the the recent typhoon here. Just so I don’t sound completely like a grumpy cynic, here is a very different tale.> Baliguian IslandBaliguian Island(After the Typhoon)

Last week, our group trained and sent off a disaster response team. We called it the Iloklan Team— short for Iloilo and Aklan, two provinces in the Philippine Island of Panay. My wife and I did not join the trip, but we helped train, fund (through supporters), and organize the disaster response trip. The Iloklan team (six members: Angie, Ptr. Ysrael, Fhey, Joylene, Lea, and Raymark) worked at two sites. One was in Kalibo, Aklan. The other was Concepcion, Iloilo. In both places they gave relief goods, and provided crisis stress defusing, and child art therapy. Additionally, they provided dozens of galvanized iron roofing sheets for church repair in Kalibo, and they did a Rapid Community Assessment in Concepcion. This is normal stuff in disaster response. But the site in Concepcion was quite exceptional.

Concecion is a part of the province of Iloilo, on the large island of Panay and some outlying islands. One of those islands is the tiny island of Baliguian. It is hard to find. You can find it on Google Earth if you know where to look. There is even a picture available of the beach… it is a beautiful place. Some other characteristics:

  • It is tiny. Only about 50 acres of land. A one mile stroll will take one all the way around the circumference of the island.
  • It is remote. It is pretty much in the middle of the Visayan Sea. Small outrigger boats go back and forth from Panay to Baliguian, taking about 2.5 hours each way.
  • It is flat. The island is a flat bit of land just poking up above the surface of a coral atoll.
  • It is populated. Approximately 800 people live on this tiny island.
  • It was directly in the path of possibly the strongest storm ever to hit dry land– Typhoon Haiyan (aka Yolanda) in November of 2013.

Frankly, it seemed doomed. One would be hard pressed to think of a worse place to be on that day than on a tiny flat atoll island directly in the path of Typhoon Yolanda. And, in fact, they did suffer physical damage, and many of their boats were destroyed. But it would hardly be surprising to have discovered that the island was completely washed out with the residents drowned in the Visayan Sea. That sort of thing has certainly happened before. Apparently, the mayor of Concepcion rode a helicopter soon after typhoon had passed. He was pleasantly surprised, perhaps even shocked, to find the island’s population doing relatively well.

This is their story (this is what I was told by our teammembers who spoke to the residents of the island… filtered from Illongo, to Tagalog, to English). The residents of the island saw the dire situation at the height of the storm, the waves were increasing and a giant wave reared up appearing able to wash over the tiny island destroying everything. They prayed to God (the residents are Catholic or Baptist– the two groups peacefully sharing this tiny island). They said that at that time a bright light shone (they did not know the source) and the wave subsided. They said that people in the distant hilly islands of Concepcion related they also saw a distant light in the direction of Baliguian Island. The island and the residents were saved.

So what was this really that happened? If the story was on the National Geographic Channel here in the Philippines, I suppose it would have been explained as ball lightning and a coincidental cancelling of amplitude by out-of-phase waves. If it was reported on the History Channel, perhaps the explanation would be aliens in a flying saucer that saved the day. If it was reported on Biography here, I suppose it would be viewed in terms of paranormal phenomena. It it was reported on 700 Club Asia, I suppose it would be reported uncritically as a miraculous event.

For me… I don’t know. I wasn’t there. And it doesn’t matter what I believe. What matters is what it means to the people on this tiny island. To them, they would say that they prayed to God and God calmed the storm, saving them and their tiny island. Some now say they live on “Miracle Island.”

This story does not negate the huge tragedies suffered by so many in the Visayas of the Philippines in the recent weeks. It doesn’t even negate the damage sustained physically and economically to the community on Baliguian Island. But it must be a great comfort to the people of this tiny island so removed from the rest of the world, when they were so utterably vulnerable, to be convinced that God remembered them, loved them, listened to them, and protected them. They focus on God’s mercy, rather than temporal losses.

How might we be different if we (not just mouthing such sentiments) had such a deep down certainty of these truths?

Iloklan Team Members With Some Young Residents of the Island After the Storm
Iloklan Team Members With Some Young Residents of the Island After the Storm