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How Should We Respond?

March 25, 2014

We hold the belief that our God is a loving and caring God, one who listens to our concerns and smiles in our joy and shares in our pain.  When we are undergoing a tragedy, many of us ask the same question that's been asked for centuries, “why?”  Answering why we suffer, why something terrible has happened to us can be speculated and will be until the end of time.  While the question is meaningful, a far better one which allows us to reveal God's love when we're faced with trials is to ask “how should we respond?”

This was the first question asked and answered shortly after Typhoon Yolanda (internationally known as Haiyan) landed.  With all the debate centered around the response, it's important to keep in mind that the prior six weeks had been a particularly difficult one for the Philippines with the earthquake in Bohol just a few weeks before and a battle raging in Zomboanga City weeks before that.  Both events left hundreds of thousands of people homeless, stretching and testing the resolve of Filipinos.  Then the storm came.

I arrived in Cebu City a little over a week after the storm hit.  Together with a medical team from the Visayas Community Medical Center, we responded to those who suffered the earthquake and typhoon in Bohol by running a 3-day medical mission to various communities.  The places we visited were ones where the health centers were leveled by the earthquake and supplies were extremely low due to the demands of disease that had spread after the typhoon.

After that, we returned to Cebu City and I prepared for the next ship heading to the island of Leyte where the typhoon did the most damage.  UCCP was organizing a food and goods distribution mission in Tacloban and Eastern Samar to our hospital and church respectively.  Arriving in Tacloban, the scene was both heart breaking and a testament to how we should respond to suffering.

There were volunteers from all over the world working on different projects.  UCCP's Bethany Hospital became the headquarters for Doctors Without Borders and a central meeting point for the pastors from surrounding provincial churches to seek council.  Many of them had their spirits broken from their experience, haunted by the question “why did this happen?”  The church began holding trauma healing sessions and traveling to the provincial communities and counseling pastors to equip them to lead their churches and respond to their needs.

Now, here we are three months after the storm and new challenges have risen.  Corruption, which already permeates so many different areas in the Philippines, came to a head in Tacloban when bunkhouses to shelter the homeless were built with sub-human standards with extremely bloated price tags.  A declared “no-build zone” 40 meters from the coast is feared to be a policy to push the urban poor away from valuable lands that will be given to businesses.  In spite of this, perseverance remains as church groups and non-governmental organizations begin constructing houses for those who lost theirs.  UCCP's North Luzon Jurisdiction, where I work now, will be sending a team to Leyte in March to begin constructing homes.

Without an answer as to why, however, we can still assume what God wants us to do with these situations.  C.S. Lewis wrote trying to reconcile his struggle concerning pain saying, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

While this won't be the last difficulty as this is a country that experiences six typhoons every year, as long as we provide a Christian response by shedding political rivalry, economic self-interest, and always embrace love, we will be stronger for it.

Romans 5:3-5 “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

In Christ with blessings,

Matthew Fehse
serves with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.  He works with the human rights desk of the United Church of Christ.

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