MANILA, Philippines — Mud. Hunger. Garbage. Mud. Poverty. Sewage. Mud.
These were the sights and smells that greeted 30 disaster relief volunteers from Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas in mid-October when they arrived in an area of Manila, Philippines, hard-hit by two typhoons.
The group worked with local church members and Southern Baptist missionaries serving in the Philippines to help residents of metro Manila recover from the flooding that covered nearly 80 percent of the city when Typhoon Ketsana struck Sept. 26. Weeks later, parts of the area that weren’t still underwater were covered in mud.
“This is Katrina times four,” said Larry Shine, who directed the team’s efforts. Shine serves as the Southern Baptists of Texas task force director for cleanup and recovery.
According to reports, more rain fell in six hours than the city normally receives in the entire month of September. As the water began to rise at an alarming rate, residents began scrambling for safety.
At the height of the rains, floodwaters reached the top floor of a three-story building that houses Nangka High School. The building is situated in an area of squatter homes and shanties along the banks of the major river system in eastern Manila.
“We were not prepared for this disaster,” said Angie Tan, director of a vocational school for youth and adults that holds classes in the building’s basement. “Usually when the river overflows, it only rises to table level. My staff was working to move the small items in the baking classroom onto the big oven. But when the water reached their necks, they had to escape.”
In the week following the disaster, 42 families sought temporary shelter on the building’s third floor. As the water began to recede, the second and third floors were cleaned for some classes to resume. Meanwhile, the basement remained full of mud.
The Southern Baptist volunteers helped city workers clean up those basement classrooms after the volunteers mudded out the homes of two Filipino pastors and assisted with food distribution the week before.
“I am very glad to say thank you,” said Vilma Rollado, a Nangka community leader and staff member at the vocational school.
Rollado learned the Baptist disaster relief teams were available through Mac Reyes, youth pastor at International Baptist Church of Manila.
The Nangka community has no evangelical church presence. Just three days after the flood, Reyes worked with Southern Baptist missionary Shirley Seale to distribute food purchased with Southern Baptist world hunger funds to 300 people in a three-alley section of Nangka. Church members helped clean the vocational school and plan to provide medical clinics and post-traumatic counseling for flood victims.
“Our goal is to empower the local church to minister to the local people,” Shine said.
Because of the efforts of disaster relief volunteers, Luzon Baptist Convention is interested in starting its own disaster relief program, and International Baptist Church is leading the way. Shine and Reyes visited a basketball court serving as home to 500 people who lost their homes in the flooding. Shine helped Reyes assess additional needs that can be met by local churches and additional BGR volunteer teams over the coming weeks. International Baptist Church leadership also hosted a disaster relief training program for area churches.
“We bring leadership, equipment and know-how,” said Miguel Tello, a Baptist Men’s disaster relief volunteer. “We want to leave the equipment and the knowledge with the nationals. If we just come and clean up, that’s not as effective.”
By training nationals to set up their own programs, Tello believes local churches will be better prepared to respond when the next disaster strikes.
But training programs are not the only positive results from the teams’ visit to Manila.
“The highlight of the trip for me was the six professions of faith in Pastor Rico’s church,” said Jimmie Eisenhower from Oklahoma’s disaster relief team. Eisenhower was part of the team that mudded out the home of Roger and Rosie Rico.
“Rosie had been praying for them for a while, and the disaster brought them to the church,” Eisenhower said. “It was just so good to see the Lord at work in the midst of adversity and to know that these six will be discipled by Roger and Rosie and will grow in their faith.”
Dovie Smallwood, a Kentucky disaster relief volunteer, had the opportunity to share Christ with one of her roommates.
“I rented bed space in the hotel, so there were about six others sharing the room,” Smallwood explained.
A Filipina who works in a Middle Eastern country was in the bed beside Smallwood. Although she claimed to be a believer, the woman said Christ could not accept her because of her lifestyle.
“I told her that God loved her and that He could release her from her bondage,” Smallwood said, “and I led her in a sinner’s prayer.”
Within days after Typhoon Ketsana struck, International Mission Board workers Greg and Jill Harvell and their house church had distributed 400 bags of food purchased with Southern Baptist world hunger funds. Four volunteers from Texas helped pack and distribute an additional 400 bags. In total, the house church has distributed 3,600 bags of food.
House church member Priscilla Divas received a text message from her cousin, a doctor who is providing medical services to people suffering from the flooding in the Bulacan community. She expressed appreciation for her pastor and the relief team, noting that seven people had accepted Jesus as an offshoot of their generosity.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Rivers is a writer for the International Mission Board. Donations to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund help make relief efforts like this possible. For information about donating, visit worldhungerfund.com.)