Visiting the Philippines recently, Xiaoling Zhu of Global Ministries — a shared ministry between the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) — witnessed firsthand the destructive power of the typhoon that battered the island nation. But as he worshipped with Filipino churches, Zhu also witnessed their resolve to reclaim and rebuild their land with the help of international aid.
Zhu, Global Ministries' area executive for East Asia and the Pacific, spent three days in mid-January in the Philippines. He recently returned to the UCC's national offices to share his experiences and describe what he saw in the territories of Leyte and the East Visayas.
"I feel sad because I saw the situation there," he said.
On his trip to the Philippines, Zhu would ride daily with partner organizations — the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the ACT Alliance and Church World Service — for 11 hours visiting churches in the area and seeing the destructive power of the early November typhoon. Neighborhoods were wiped out, a cell tower was crumpled, and fishing boats were thrown inland.
The UCC continues to assist the recovery effort — members, congregations and conferences have donated $563,161 to support the people who have been displaced by the disaster. The recovery process has been slow, Zhu explained, with some parts still without electricity more than two months after the storm made landfall.
Zhu also said there's been an emphasis on delivering aid to hard-to-reach regions, which weren't receiving it in the immediate aftermath, and on psychosocial intervention for children who now fear the sound of heavy wind.
"They get scared, because it reminds them of the typhoon," Zhu said.
As part of the relief effort, Filipinos are also being provided with fishing boats and assistance on how to fish so they can gather food and avoid starvation. "They need to support themselves so they can sustain themselves, otherwise we keep feeding them," Zhu said of providing fishing families with boats that were destroyed in the storm.
Organizations in the Philippines have outlined their plan for the coming months and years it will take to rebuild and rehabilitate the country. Currently in the relief period of distributing supplies, they plan to begin a rehab and recovery period in February, followed by a mitigation period beginning in May.
"Disaster relief starts when CNN is on the ground, but it continues through the relationships that are built with our partners there and working together," said Mary Schaller Blaufuss, executive for the UCC's Volunteer Ministries.
UCC member donations have funded early response and initial recovery work of church partners in the region — the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the ACT Alliance and Church World Service — to provide water, food, medicine, clothing, and shelter. Typhoon Haiyan (locally named Yolanda) made landfall on Nov. 8. After immediately sending initial aid from One Great Hour of Sharing, the UCC's Disaster Ministries issued a $250,000 appeal for emergency relief on Nov. 11, and generous donations followed, surpassing the appeal goal in just weeks.
For more information from Disaster Ministries, worship resources and other ways to help, bookmark this page.