Monday, September 28, 2009

A months worth of rain in six hours

I can still see the faces of our friends from the bridge as they huddled in the dark under a tarp, trying to keep the rain off of them. They were now on higher ground between the rail of the bridge and the hollow block wall of their neighbor. They had carried out as many of their possessions from their homes and piled them up under the tarp before the floodwaters swept away five of their homes and submerged the rest. Sleeping in my own bed and being in our house reminds me of God's kindness, but I can't help but feel a sense of guilt to know that so many others have no bed and are sleeping on the wet ground.

Getting home wasn't easy. It all started on Saturday morning when we left for Christian's volleyball game. It was only drizzling at the time and there didn't seem to be any reason for concern. By the time Christian's games were over the rain was coming down in sheets and were driven by winds. We got texts that traffic was heavy and that the varsity volleyball team was stuck on the road and didn't even make it to their game. We decided to wait it out at the mall across the street till the traffic died down. Our last communication with our other four kids in the early afternoon was that they were all at home safe, but that our power went out. Anxious to get home to our kids, we set out at about 4 p.m. to drive home - I was thinking to get home while there was still light. We were amazed at how clear the roads were. I figured a lot of people were just staying home because of the heavy rains. Well that didn't last long. We hit a wall of traffic and moved very slowly for about an hour, only traveling about a mile till they opened up the opposite side of the street. We joined hundreds of cars driving on the other side of the street and quickly moved down the road to some short cuts that I often like to use. Leaving that mess behind, we tried taking another way home, but when I saw lots of cars piled up on that road we tried an alternate route. Since that took us near Manalo Bridge we decided to take a detour and check in on our friends there.


After the typhoon

To our surprise, I saw that all their homes were either gone or under water. We had been texting back and forth with them earlier and knew that those in the lower houses moved to higher ground to stay with their neighbors, but I didn't expect to see everything covered in water. The river which was usually about 25 feet below the bridge was getting close to the level of the road on the bridge. I walked up the street looking for our friends and I found them under the tarp. Everyone was safe. Around 20 adults stayed behind while the rest of them, along with about 40 children, went to a local covered basketball court to wait out the storm.

My first thought was to pile all of them into my van and take them to our house, but they were worried about leaving their things and we still didn't know if we could even make it to our house or not. We decided that if we could make it to our place, we would leave a few of them behind to watch their things, but then take the rest - especially the kids. But first, Jessica, Christian and I would go ahead of them to make sure that we could get through. I gave them all the cash I had so that they could all buy some food and candles. Then we drove down the road for about a mile only to find the road covered in water.

I drove till the water was about knee deep and then turned around (much to the relief of Jessica). We tried four other ways which were also flooded out in front of thousands of stranded cars. One of them near the Marikina River was flooded about two stories high. We returned to the bridge and told them that we couldn't make it home and then began to look for a place for us to sleep. By the time we arrived at a familiar missionary guest house, the first leg of our adventure lasted about six hours.

Early the next morning, we attempted to make it home again. The news report on the radio said that we got a months worth of rain in 6 hours. However, by this time, a lot of the flood waters had gone down and we were moving along pretty good, but once we hit the main road going to our place the traffic began again. We weren't the only ones trying to get back home
We inched along for more than three hours, in which we traveled for only about one mile. Part of the problem was that there were a lot of abandoned cars scattered all over the road. We had to drive around them and the thousands of people who were walking on the streets.
Finally, we could go no further because the water got too deep so we pulled out. We found some high ground, parked our van, and decided to walk the rest of the way home. I'm guessing that we were about 5 miles from home and we didn't know if the roads were passable, but we were determined to get to rest of our family.
After that first step in to ankle high water we were no longer timid. We started dredging along like everyone else. The water soon turned to calf, then knee high and then waist high (higher for Jess) :). I couldn't help thinking about Israel's exodus from Egypt as we joined thousands of people who were determined to get home.
When we got to the top of the road, past the flooded portions we found some enterprising tricycles (motor cycles with side cars) waiting for passengers. We were happy to find a ride the other four or so miles to our house. We came home to some little ones who were happy to see mom and dad. Even without power, we were happy to be able to enter a home that was still standing.

Someone made an interesting observation about one of the above pictures of our friends at the bridge while they were under a tarp. Their homes were flooded or destroyed, most of their meager possessions were lost, they were soaked, hungry and did not know what was going to happen; and yet, they were smiling. The woman smiling is a long time attender of one of our bible studies and I would like to think that she is smiling because she now knows that having Jesus, plus nothing, means that she has everything . . . and that even if she did have everything in the world, they would mean nothing without Jesus. Pray for the millions who have been affected by this. For those who are still stranded, those who have lost loved ones, and those who have lost their possessions. More importantly, pray that these hard times would be the beginnings of the best of times for many who respond to God's voice in all of this, see His hand of Grace and see His people showing the love of Christ. Pray also that the saints in the Philippines will boldly proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ wants to save those who don't know Him from their sins in this world so that they can live with Him in the next world, which will never have floods, pain, suffering or death.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Starbucks and Preaching

I jokingly call it my office, but I have spent hundreds of hours in Starbucks for meetings, studying and reading. You just can't beat the deal they offer - free coffee, air conditioning, and a place to work, you just have to rent a table for about 3 dollars a session. Some locations even have free internet. I have a semi regular meeting there every Thursday from about 9 am to noon. It is open to any pastor who wants to get together for fellowship and to discuss preaching. Last Thursday I had a great time with pastors Richard and Pastor Ogie.
After discussing life and ministry issues we got into their upcoming sermons. We started with Pastor Ogie's text from Romans 11, which went well, but it got really interesting when we started discussing Pastor Richard's text. He was preparing to preach on 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 which says...

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. 8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

We always start out by reading the text and then answering the question, "What is the main point of this text? What is it saying?" We discovered that 2 Cor. 1:1-11 talks about how God allows us to suffer and go through hardships so that we can learn compassion and be a comfort to others as well as our suffering leading some to salvation and teaching us to depend on Jesus. Then we discussed how to outline and preach the passage.

What made this text especially interesting was that Pastor Ogie had just lost two young children in a fire. I said to him, "Pastor you can preach this passage better than both of us. You know what it is to suffer despair at a level that most will never know, and through it God is giving you compassion and the ability to comfort others beyond what most are able." It was hard to discuss the passage because my heart breaks for this dear humble brother. I thank the Lord that even after this tragedy, Pastor Ogie has been able to see God's grace in it all and continues to find joy in serving Him. He is also very eager to learn how to handle and preach God's Word better. Richard and I were able to encourage him, but I'm sure the pain of his loses will always be with him. I told him that there is a family reunion waiting for him in heaven. Please pray for Pastor Ogie and his family as they faithfully serve the Lord and also pray that my regular office hours at Starbucks will be a fruitful blessing to pastors and those they minister to.