Indonesia and the Philippines are so far from North Carolina that to many, the countries might as well be in another universe.
Not to John Adams, pastor of Salemburg Baptist Church and Jack Frazier, a battalion chief for the Cary Fire Department. The men returned Oct. 8 from disaster relief trips to the countries, and their memories will be with them a very long time.
Adams, married 34 years to his wife Carol, is a team leader and point of contact between North Carolina Baptist Men and Baptist World Aid’s Rescue 24, an international search-and-rescue ministry. He was in Indonesia Oct. 1, just a day after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck the country’s West Sumatra district, killing 1,200 people and leaving as many as a half million homeless.
“It was a contrast, in that you had a destroyed building (with) catastrophic destruction, but then the building next to it, (there) might be nothing wrong with it and business is going on as usual,” Adams said Oct. 15.
“Everything is destruction and it’s catastrophic, but then the city is still going about its business.”
A 1975 graduate of West Point Military Academy, Adams made the trip with the full support of his church family.
“They’re mission minded,” Adams continued. “They’re some of the most generous, giving folks I’ve ever met.
We go into our Jerusalem focusing on the community here in Salemburg, but we also are very supportive of Judea and Samaria, where we go on disaster recovery with North Carolina Baptist Men. We have a lot of folks involved in that.”
Once Indonesian government and United Nations officials felt the situation was under control, Adams headed to the Philippines, where Frazier had been working with Rescue 24 since Oct. 1. A member of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Frazier worked in several areas in and around the capital city of Manila that had been hard hit.
Nearly 400,000 sought emergency shelter after 16 inches of rain fell in the area in just half a day. Approximately 500 lost their lives.
Those who had the least, the so-called “informal settlers,” were hit hardest, according to Frazier, a paramedic.
Asked to describe the situation on the ground in the Philippines, Frazier took a moment.
“First, you have to understand how poor the Philippines are to start with,” Frazier began. “The housing situation for many is just very minimal. They lived in homes built from just leftover scraps, whatever they can find … Those were the ones whose homes were usually either wiped completely away or their possessions were lost in the flooding.”
For all the losses the Filipino people suffered, however, Frazier found them to be stunningly adaptable. Those whose huts were still standing along the river were still living in them, sleeping on blocks with pallets, inches above the water. They washed clothes in buckets, “going on about life like nothing ever really happened.”
Even more incredible was the demeanor of the people Frazier served.
“It was amazing that they were such a happy, friendly group considering what had just happened to them,” said Frazier, who was also deployed to Thailand last year in hopes of making it into Myanmar. “They didn’t have much to start with, and then they go through this. But when we showed up, they were just excited and appeared happy to see us. We saw a lot of smiles and happy children, but many of them had just lost everything except the clothes they were wearing.”
Payatas is a town built, literally, on a dump site. Rescue 24 operated a clinic out of a school and church in the town, and two incidents in particular stand out for Frazier.
One sick infant was brought into the clinic with no clothes, wrapped only in a blanket, by a neighbor. The child’s mother was at work … scavenging through the dump.
An elderly man with tuberculosis had to discontinue his treatments because he could afford neither the trip to the doctor, nor the medicine itself.
Frazier’s team hopes to be able to find financial support to assist that school and church.
“My wife (Paula) is a school teacher and I have kids (daughters Katie and Jessica) in school,” Frazier said.
“When I think about the blessings that we have in this country, and then you look at that little school … all the windows didn’t even have all the panes of glass in them. So when the storm came, they couldn’t shut out the weather. In one bathroom, it was just literally a hole in the ground.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Houston is a writer in Yadkinville.)