Ohio pastor marks Thanksgiving part of Philippines relief mission
Written by Connie N. Larkman November 28, 2013
An elderly woman in the Philippines stands in the middle of her fallen house. Photo by the Rev. Steve Korn.
While most Americans are spending the week of Thanksgiving gathered in celebration with family and friends, the Rev. Steven Korn has been making new friends, assisting families in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. The UCC pastor left Ohio last week as part of a 10-day mission trip to a small island community of Panay.
"A good friend is the director of International Services of Hope (often shortened to ISOH) out of the Toledo area," said Korn, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Elliston, Ohio. "I was asked to go as 'spiritual' support and to assess what we [ISOH] as an organization could do in the aftermath of the 'calamity' as the Filipino people call it."
Korn's congregation helped raised the money he needed to take the trip, and he and the ISOH group left for Manila Nov. 19 on what Korn called a "recon" mission, to offer assistance to the people on the northern portion of the island. Panay, which sits northwest of the areas of the country most decimated by the typhoon, didn't escape the destruction of the storm's high winds and water.
"Our medical team working in cooperation with the local medical personnel saw 3,000 people in 5 days," he said. "While we don't see a need for any more 'emergency' help, we will be raising money to add on to the existing medical clinic to take care of the normal medical care of the area."
The ISOH team was surprised to find that while power is out, water is surprisingly not an issue. Food and shelter remain the biggest challenges.
"We had sent food from the states before the typhoon hit, which arrived and is now being distributed," Korn said. "We are working with people in Manila to get rice and protein into the area, which has arrived and is being distributed, and we are now working with the workers in the fishing industry to get them back up and running."
As the mission winds down, the biggest concern is living conditions. Korn and his colleagues had taken tents to sleep in, but ended up distributing them to the people in the area whose homes collapsed around them. They even went back to Manila for additional supplies. The ISOH group now hopes to connect civil engineers from the states with local builders and construction material suppliers to design new housing structures that are more able to withstand severe weather.
Rose, holding daughter Genevieve, with her boys Louis and Luke. Photo by the Rev. Steve Korn.
"Since nearly 85 percent of the nipa huts were damaged or destroyed, reconstruction will be one of our more long term projects," Korn said. "We are trying to do most of this work through the local churches to encourage people to look to the body of Christ for assistance. I realize that this is much to ask of pastors and congregations who are already hurting, but our hope is that they will respond as the hands and feet of Christ and allow [God's] light to shine in an otherwise dark circumstance."
United Church of Christ Disaster Ministries, which immediately wired initial aid from One Great Hour of Sharing to ecumenical partners in the region, issued a $250,000 appeal Nov. 11 to further assist the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the ACT Alliance, and Church World Service in long term relief work. In response, almost $200,000 in gifts have already come in.
"I think that it is great that the UCC issued that appeal," Korn said. "I often feel that the North American church isolates itself from the wider church, especially the international parts. These days, the North American church represents less and less of the entire body of Christ, but we often don't realize that we are the minority."
"I've been a non-denominational pastor for 20 years and a UCC pastor for 15 months," Korn said. "I love the value of the UCC denomination championing the needs of the marginalized, under-resourced and hurting. These are issues Christ valued and that I have come to value in the last 8-to-10 years of my ministry."