Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan receive emergency food rations from the United Methodist Committee on Relief in Tacloban, Philippines. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
During this season of Advent, I am sure you will carry on your hearts, as I do, the plight of our sisters and brothers in the Philippines. Images of the impact of Typhoon Haiyan may already have vanished from our television screens and newspapers, but we, as people of faith, remain connected to those whose lives have been so disrupted by this disaster.
When, in this season of deep faith and hope, we contemplate the incarnation of our God, we are reminded how Jesus chose always to go to those on the margins. He went to those who were overlooked and in pain, and brought them into the center of the conversation. That is our task now. Through our actions and prayers may the people of the Philippines who are suffering and in pain become our focus as well, and may we also find joy with them in their resilience.
I write you to tell you about UMCOR’s activities and plans to work with the Filipino people as they seek to recover from this calamity. As you know, Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines on November 8, impacting nearly 15 million people. It tore through some of the most marginalized and vulnerable regions of that country, where already about 37 percent of the population lived in poverty. Thousands of lives were lost, homes were reduced to sticks, and livelihoods were destroyed.
In the days immediately following the storm, I asked UMCOR’s assistant general secretary for International Disaster Response, the Rev. Jack Amick, to travel to the Philippines and, together with our field staff there, to assess the needs and discern how UMCOR might respond most effectively. Through their travels to the hard-hit city of Tacloban and surrounding areas, and in subsequent conversations with United Methodist Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco of the Davao Episcopal Area and with partner organizations, three priority areas of work have emerged.
First, we need to address the immediate need for food. Typhoon Haiyan destroyed harvests, ruined fields, and disrupted the general food supply in the impacted areas. In response, UMCOR has already delivered emergency food packages to some 3,000 families in the towns of Tacloban, Ormoc, Dagami, and Tanauan, all in the province of Leyte. We expect soon to carry out another distribution in the province of Aklan, and will continue to provide emergency food supplies through the end of this year.
We also have identified the need for spiritual and emotional care for survivors and for the provision of safe spaces for children who have been made even more vulnerable by this storm. We are in contact with local and international organizations and expect soon to begin to review proposals from them to meet these needs.
But the largest and lengthiest portion of our work in response to the needs generated by Typhoon Haiyan (which is known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda) will be devoted to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of permanent housing. With 1.2 million homes damaged or destroyed in the storm and as many as 4.13 million people displaced, housing is a critical and urgent need.
Rev. Amick noted this during his travels through Tacloban last month. He told me, “Driving back from a food distribution after dark one evening, I saw the cooking fires of people who were trying to survive in the midst of the rubble. In this season when we recall how Mary and Joseph sought shelter, how fitting it is that UMCOR should focus on this basic need for a home to go to each night—a place to be nurtured by family, a place to be from, and a place to be who God calls each of us to be.”
UMCOR also will send a shipment of relief kits, primarily health kits and school kits, which I expect will reach the Philippines by March. These kits are a very direct way for United Methodists to connect with the people in the Philippines, and I am so grateful to all those who, in congregations, conferences, and communities, continue to support this vital ministry.
Typhoon Haiyan was a category 5 super storm. Recovery will take years. Throughout the nearly 75 years of UMCOR’s history, we have been known to remain with and accompany communities devastated by disaster long after their plight has been chased from the headlines. That is our intention in response to this devastating event. The support of our friends and donors will be so important. For your generosity already expressed, I thank you. And I hope you will abide with us and continue to support UMCOR and the recovery of the Filipino people from this disaster.
As I made my devotions today, I looked out of my office window in New York City and saw there was a dense fog. Ordinarily, the view overlooks the beautiful Hudson River and the palisades beyond. But today, I could not even see the water, the fog was so thick. And I thought how this Advent season is like the time spent waiting for the fog to lift. It is about trusting that there is a reality beyond this moment. When we consider the pervasive destruction in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan, we may be tempted, together with Zechariah (Luke 1:18), to ask, “How can I know this is true?” We know it by faith, and we act accordingly.
Please remember the people of the Philippines in your prayers, conversations, and actions this Advent season. And thank you, as always, for your support.
May God bless you and those you love.
Rev. Dr. J. Denise Honeycutt
Deputy General Secretary
United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)