MANILA, Philippines — “It took me four hours to swim home,” says Mac Reyes, youth pastor at International Baptist Church of Manila.
He and Derick Jacinto, the church administrator, were at a church meeting Sept. 26 when Typhoon Ketsana began pouring out its wrath on Metro Manila.
As news spread of widespread flooding throughout the Asian megacity, the group was advised to stay put. But a few hours later, Reyes received a frantic text message from his wife that the water was rising rapidly in their home. He set out for home — on foot.
The way home for him was down Marcos Highway, a four-lane expressway that runs through northeast Manila, where the flooding was at its worst. Along with hundreds of others, Reyes pushed toward home. As night fell, water was up to his chest.
“I became a sort of traffic cop on Marcos Highway,” Reyes said. “There was no electricity, and I used the light from my cell phone to help direct people to the safest path.”
He reached his neighborhood but found he couldn’t reach his house. He was able to reach them by cell phone.
“My wife and son abandoned the house and moved to a Catholic church in our neighborhood,” Reyes said. “From there, they moved to another church where they waited out the storm.”
Reyes swam against the current to reach the church where his wife and son were waiting. Days passed before they could return home.
Jacinto chose to spend that Saturday night at the church after learning his family was safe on the second floor of his sister’s townhouse. He, his wife and three children live in the first floor of the townhouse. He headed out early Sunday and was reunited with his family members a few hours later. On Tuesday, with water still standing in the bottom level of his home, Jacinto found tire inner tubes and floated his family to safety.
“My kids thought it was fun,” Jacinto smiled. “They said, ‘Oh, Daddy, let’s go swimming!’“
Two weeks later, Jacinto and his family were still living in a classroom at their church. The floodwaters in the streets of their neighborhood were still knee-deep.
Local residents are transporting neighbors to their homes via canoes. Several Kentucky Baptist disaster relief volunteers reached Jacinto’s home that way and spent a day cleaning out the mud. The group from Kentucky was among 30 trained state convention disaster relief volunteers whose efforts were coordinated through Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization.
Dovie Smallwood, the only woman in the group of volunteers, took great care to salvage as many of the Jacinto family’s mementos as possible.
“I see the treasures that need to be saved,” Smallwood said. “That’s why I think women are a vital part of a disaster relief team.” Then she joked, “These men just want to go in and throw everything away. But you take them into a tool shed, and they’ll save every rusty old screwdriver.”
However, few of Jacinto’s possessions were salvageable, including an overstuffed couch and loveseat. With homeowner’s insurance a rare luxury in the Philippines, the family may not be able to easily replace the furniture. The team carefully explained the health dangers of keeping the pieces, which were covered in mold and mud.
Jacinto merely hung his head and nodded.
“We can’t tell him to throw them away,” said Coy Webb, state director for Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief. “It has to be his decision.”
Jacinto symbolizes countless Filipinos who lost most or all of their possessions in the flood.
Even in the midst of tragedy, however, glimmers of hope abound. Rosalina De Guzman, 70, lives among one of Metro Manila’s many neighborhood alleyways. As Reyes passed by her home two weeks after the storm, she sat on her front step, washing clothes in a plastic tub.
“Are you a pastor?” she called to him.
Reyes stopped to reply, “Yes, ma’am.”
“What is your religion?”
“I am a Southern Baptist.”
“Are you born again?”
“I knew you were born again when I first saw you here two weeks ago,” she smiled.
In the midst of trying to recover from their own personal disasters, both Reyes and Jacinto continue to assess their community’s needs and look for ways their church can best meet those needs in the name of Jesus.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Rivers is a writer for the International Mission Board.)