On Dec. 4, Typhoon Pablo made landfall on the Philippines' eastern coast of Mindanao. Equal to a Category 5 hurricane, the storm has affected 5.5 million people, leaving at least 1,020 dead and nearly 900 more missing. Through its ongoing partnership with the United Church of Christ Philippines, the UCC's Minnesota Conference is taking action by encouraging donations for relief efforts.
"The most important things are keeping our partners in our prayers and making sure that all help given to them is what they need, not what we perceive they need," said Renee Pfenning, member of the Minnesota Conference's Global Partnership Team. "They have requested help but it's not entirely clear what they need yet."
The UCC National Offices are spearheading donation efforts. One Great Hour of Sharing funds have already been sent to the UCCP to support their initial relief work. Disaster Response Committees from UCCP Northeast Davao District Conference and the Southern Mindanao District Conference, in cooperation with government agencies, are now conducting relief operations in 10 affected areas, providing food, water, medicine and warm clothing. Relief operations are expected to extend into February 2013 and will be followed by rebuilding. For more information on ways to help or to make a donation, visit the OGHS webpage.
"The UCC is grateful for the opportunity to support the disaster response committees of the UCCP in their relief and recovery work," said Susan Sanders, UCC National Office's minister and team leader administrator of OGHS.
In addition to the death toll, Typhoon Pablo has left 3,000 people injured and nearly 850,000 displaced or homeless. According to Michael Salem, UCCP program coordinator of the Southeast Mindanao Jurisdictional Area, many evacuees from affected communities are temporarily sheltered in some UCCP local churches, although 10 churches have been completely destroyed and 13 others severely damaged. Communication has been difficult not only because of the devastation and the language barriers, but also because people have "been busy surviving," Pfenning said.
The Minnesota Conference and the Southeast Mindanao Jurisdiction of the UCCP have been partners for about 20 years. According to Pfenning, the partnership is "less financial than it is in prayer, sprit, communication, and learning and understanding about each other's culture and spiritual needs." She adds that the country has seen a significant increase in UCC churches and members in the past few years that are very active in missionary ministry to un-churched and under-churched communities. However, she is concerned that, like the typhoon itself, many people may not be aware of this connection and the reasons to reach out and help.
"Our biggest objective is to spread the information and to keep it in front of people," Pfenning said. "It's a hugely devastating typhoon, but it's not making U.S. news. We want to keep it in front of people so they know what's happening. Funding is important, but so is the information."