UMs help communities rise up on the frontline in the Philippines
By the Rev. David V. Valera


I’m Rev. David Valera and I serve as Executive Director of Connectional Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference.

Last November, I was with a small immersion team that went to the Philippines to find out how we could partner with boards, agencies, and communities. We represented three groups: United Methodist Communications (UMCom), PNWUMC Connecting in Missions ministry group, and the non-profit company Invenio that supports United Methodist Communications. Our goal was to find ways we can be in ministry with folks in the Philippines.

During the last three days of our visit, Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) had touched down on the islands. At the time, we were visiting the office and depot of The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in the Philippines. We watched the news unravel showing how bad this typhoon was. For our team, this triggered a high urgency to come back to the US to tell this story and why we needed to be in ministry in response to this devastation.

UMCOR brought relief to places that were devastated. UMCom provided resources like battery chargers, wireless communications, and satellite phones. As UMCOR was on the frontline, we began talking about how we in the PNW could support the relief efforts. For us, we began asking about our values and the things we do best – we could use our gifts and talents and make them relevant in the Philippines.

That is what prompted the second trip with a new goal.

As dean of Christmas Institute here in the Pacific Northwest, I asked ‘What about CI?’ in those places that were devastated in the Davao Area. How were they going to gather at their annual event when the whole community has been destroyed and many lives have been lost in this catastrophe?

When I spoke with Bishop Grant Hagiya and Bishop Cerrie Francisco they were both excited. We figured out how both Episcopal areas, The Greater Northwest Area and The Davao Area, could work together to support this community. They gave the greenlight to begin work on supporting Christmas Institute in the Philippines.
We had two weeks to raise money – enough money for the cost of a camper to go to CI. Many were coming from different islands in the Visayas – they were not just driving or coming by bus. They were going to transport from island to island to island. A lot of kids weren’t going to go to CI because of this typhoon- this was a call we were given to respond to.

IDEAS_RiseUp_OpenMic1We figured that the average cost per camper is $75 dollars US. So we had a goal of roughly $22,500 so we could accommodate 300 campers. The initial supporters of Rise Up! CI were those who knew Christmas Institute: local people in the Philippines, those in the US, and those in the PNW. Even in the Conference Office, Jesse Love (a former Camp Director for CI in Northern California) created a wonderful graphic poster that served as an inspiration for many of the things we did thereafter. We ended up raising $13,000+ for Rise Up! CI.

There was so much destruction, they were still on curfew, there was still no electricity, and there were so many things not in place. We saw a bank that was barely open with lines about a quarter-mile long with a limit on how much money you could get. Schools were gone, homes were destroyed, and the driver we were working with said “It smells better now.” The bodies of typhoon victims had been removed.

It was hard not to cry. When I went to CI and listened to stories of young people, some of them shared their most horrific experiences – sharing how they survived, how they would meet their relatives on the street and they would say “Your uncle is gone, your auntie is gone, they are all gone. I am the only one left.” I can’t imagine going through that.

Many people attribute this super typhoon Haiyan to global warming – global change in the way we are stewards of the community and we don’t seem to have been able to do our part in being good stewards of God’s creation. And guess what? The frontline people to this kind of destruction are Filipinos.

Filipinos are a very resilient community. We are very resilient people, we are adaptive, and we are all around the world. Our resilience is necessary for the Filipino to survive. Rise Up! CI was a celebration of that resiliency, that ability for Filipinos to stand up and to come together as a community. In spite of the thousands of deaths, I could see hope.

During one of the days of CI, the campers actually went out to Tacloban and provided ministry to the children – children who lost their homes and everything. They had fun, food, and they shared gifts with them. It was nice to hear children laugh, it was nice to hear children excited to come together and enjoy life again knowing that right around them – not even ten feet from them – is the rubble of their homes, the rubble of the church where they used to meet, or the community that they have grown up in.

The real future lies in how the world will come together in order to help a community, like the Visayas community of the Philippines, rise up. Many countries and communities have pledged to give support. Much of the recovery work will be figuring out what the needs of the community will be. That’s going to be a challenge.

As a global community –it’s up to us to keep reminding others of what is still needed in order to bring this community back to where it was before Typhoon Haiyan. As the church, we can be that prophetic voice that reminds people of what it means to be in ministry with these people who all have suffered through a disaster.
It was a spiritual experience to go back to the Philippines. One morning, we were deploying the young people to the communities in Tacloban to do their service projects. The morning waves were so calm, the sun was rising from the east and it was so beautiful. As we gathered and talked, I reflected on the gospel of Luke 7: 11-17.

They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them. They were quietly worshipful—and then noisily grateful, calling out among themselves, “God is back, looking to the needs of his people!” The news of Jesus spread all through the country.

It’s really fascinating because this verse follows the story of Jesus encountering a widow who was burying her dead son. Jesus was so compassionate: “Young man, I tell you: rise up.” The dead son sat up and began talking. Jesus presented him to his mother.

IDEAS_RiseUp_watersJust the experience of seeing these young people who saw their loved ones die and the backdrop of where we were – these calm waters, the same waters that just a couple of months ago had destroyed what they had, that took out the lives of those close to them – was the same place where we were worshipping God. That juxtaposition of being quiet, being noisy, being afraid, and being assured just really brought back to me the whole essence of what a holy mystery God is. Or what a mystery life is; what it can bring and what it can teach us. I reflect on that everyday realizing there is going to be a surprise today. There are going to be times when God is going to reveal stuff to me. I just need to be open-minded to realize how I can respond.

What is the surprise God wants you to see? In what way are you to be called to live out your life as a Christian today? What is that mystery by which you can live out and understand more about who God is to you?

The Rev. David V. Valera is the executive director of Connectional Ministries for the PNWUMC.

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Channels 70Channels 70, February 2014 (COMING SOON!)
Remembering Bishop Jack M. Tuell • The District Service Center is Open for Business • HFCA Welcomes Rose Mangini as Sponsor Coordinator • Opposition to Iran Nuclear Weapons-Free Act • UMs help communities rise up on the frontline in the Philippines • Finding God in Juvenile Detention • On the Shelf February Resources • Musings & Younger Perspectives: Don’t Feed the Trolls! • An Open Letter to the UMC • Rich Lang: Looking Good on Wood • Adapting to Lead: A Way Forward… • Nurturing Elders: Making Friends with Grief

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