UMCOR Philippines staff and volunteers bring food supplies to typhoon survivors earlier this year.
By Ciony Ayo-Eduarte*
Today, a category-4 typhoon named Bopha (or Pablo, locally) is approaching the Philippines. As it draws near, we of UMCOR Philippines build up our contacts with local people in the areas where the typhoon is expected to hit. Our staff and volunteers are called to monitor and plan ahead.We wait, and hope, and pray that Bopha will not cause a disaster.
Because we get so many storms in the Philippines, very often our work here can be likened to Advent—the waiting for a “coming,” for an “arrival.” But are we waiting for the arrival of catastrophe? No. We await the opportunity to respond to needs, to extend a helping hand, to offer hope.
We pray that disaster will not strike, but we know that sometimes it will. So we work to reduce its impact. We organize communities and leaders, and train them in disaster risk reduction and management, a proactive approach in humanitarian work, which builds capacity and resilience.
As we contemplate the Advent season, we remember that the heart of this celebration is the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus came when people were hopeless and violence abounded. Not long after his birth, the empire of the day, its power threatened, killed many young children—a reminder then and now that disasters are also human-made.
Jesus’ birth was announced to the most marginalized sectors of his society: to a woman named Mary, to the Shepherds. Like Mary and the Shepherds, we wait in hope, and we become channels of hope for all who experience need or despair.
In Advent, we affirm that Christ has come, is present, and will come again. We affirm that the reign of God should be a present reality, that people can experience heaven on earth in caring for one another and the world. As we work with communities to build their resiliency and their capacity, and to advocate for their rights, we are instruments of building the reign of God in the present.
Recently, I visited the communities of the southernmost island of the Philippines, Mindanao, which has long been the scene of tribal and religious conflict. In every community, I had to pass through military checkpoints. I was even shocked to see armored personnel carriers at several of the checkpoints. But, along the way, I also saw painted slogans that said: “We dream of peace. We hope for peace. We work for peace.” Indeed, our message should not be a slogan only; it should be manifested in work and deed.
Advent is an action word, and UMCOR—in the Philippines and all over the world—seeks to be present to people in the midst of natural and human-caused disasters, offering hope and a glimpse of that just reign of heaven on earth.
*Ciony Ayo-Eduarte is the director of UMCOR’s office in the Philippines. She wrote this reflection just before Typhoon Bopha made landfall on the island of Mindanao and is now returning there to assess the damages caused by the storm. Reports today indicate that at least 475 people have died and many more are missing.