The sky was blanketed with clouds so I couldn’t see the devastation as I looked down from the window of my plane. I wondered what it would look like in person. Would it look like the images I had seen on television and the Internet? Circumstances had prevented us from getting there earlier and I thought that a lot of the damage would be hidden or at least cleaned up by now since it had been about two months since Typhoon Yolanda had struck.
Once the plane broke through the clouds I saw the ocean, the edge of Leyte Island and mountains covered in tropical forest. As our aircraft banked left, parts of the city came into view. We descended lower and I began to see some signs of damage. Palm trees that looked as if they had been licked by the wind. Piles of twisted metal and damaged homes began to emerge. Because the airport was on the edge of the town, this was only a glimpse of what was to come.
Pastor Rey Farol, Chad Dexter and I (Sean Ransom) landed at the Tacloban airport in the early afternoon. After taken dozens of flights over the last 25 years of my life, this landing was the roughest I had ever experienced. When the plane touched down, it made several loud jarring noises and then came to an abrupt stop. I had to put my hand on the seat in front of me to stop my forward momentum. Once we reached the end of the runway’s single landing strip, we made a U-turn. As we taxied back to the terminal I could see what had cause the hard landing. Even thought the Tacloban airport had been cleaned up and re-opened, the scares from the Typhoon remained. First I noticed a few pieces of sea wall that must have weighed several tons lying broken along side of the runway. It appeared that they had been tossed like a child’s toy as they rested several yards away from their places in the sea wall. After this, the potholes in the runway became visible; this explained our rough landing.
|Bagage claim at the Tacloban airport|
As we deplaned I saw that most of the walls of the terminal were gone and that in some places, you could see through the terminal to the parking lot and reception area. The metal roof was repaired and reinforced, but a lot of work was left to be done in rebuilding the Tacloban airport. We all gathered around the remnants of the baggage carousel and waited for our bags. With no walls, we could see the plane being unloaded and small carts bringing our possession over to us.
We went straight from the airport to a restaurant that had 21 pastors waiting to meet us and tell us their stories.
|Our first meeting with pastors in Tacloban|
As the pastors began to share what they had gone through I began to realize how great their needs are and how great our need would be for God’s wisdom as to best help minister to these men and their churches.
Of the many stories we heard that day, Pastor Reymond’s story touched my heart the most. As His family and other church members sought refuge from Yolanda, they thought it best to ride it out in their church building because it was made of cement blocks, reinforced by steel. I’m sure they reasoned that this would be safer than their less fortified homes. Their thinking was right when it came to the almost 200mph winds, but they did not anticipate that the sea it self would rise up and attack the shore. Someone said that the water was higher than the palm trees, which stretch 3-4 stories high.
As the water rushed into their church the people scrambled to get above the water. They climbed into the rafters to get away, but many were not fast enough or strong enough. I can only image the horror that Pastor Reymond witnessed as the storm surge carried off his two daughters, his wife, mother in-law, father and two brothers. I asked one pastor if they were carried out to sea.
He said that they do not know if their bodies are at rest in the ocean, one of the cities mass graves or under one of the thousands of piles of debris throughout Tacloban. I was told that Pastor Reymond was silent for several days, probably in shock as he processed what had happened. As he shared his story with us, he smiled and thanked God. He had a peace that surpassed understanding. A peace that is impossible to have without the gracious and comforting hand of God upon you. My mind shifted as he spoke, what would I have done if I were in the situation? How would I handle it afterwards? Could I? Pastor Reymond shared that he thanks God that He is still alive to make Him known.
He went on to describe how he and his members began to pick up the pieces of their lives by rebuilding the church and each other. He and several other pastors repeated what became a theme, the Typhoon was causing many people to turn to God and their destroyed churches were actually growing.
Another common story that we heard from these pastors was that their homes were destroyed so they, their families and many of their members were living in what remained of their church buildings, with many of them having to sleep on the floor.
Others pastors shared how it was their churches that had been destroyed and that now, their homes served as the places where their churches gather together to worship the Lord. Still for others, their homes and churches were destroyed and they either meet in the homes of members, under tarps and temporary structures or have paused corporate worship altogether until they can rebuild a place to gather. ...To be continued.