By Elizabeth M. Truong
The official death toll has climbed to 1,000 people and many are still missing after Tropical Storm Washi struck the Philippine island of Mindanao in the early morning of Dec. 17.
Some 40,000 people have been evacuated from their homes as residents scramble to recover from the severe flooding now affecting more than 120,000 people there.
The Rev. John Mehl, regional director for the LCMS Office of International Missions Asia Pacific region, made contact over the weekend with the Rev. James Cerdeñola, president of The Lutheran Church in the Philippines (LCP), an LCMS partner church. The LCP has congregations in Cagayan de Oro — reported to be one of the hardest-hit areas — and Iligan. Both cities are located on the northern coast of Mindanao.
Cerdeñola wrote, “I contacted our brethren there and was saddened to learn that many of our church members lost their homes and almost everything in them. I asked the district president and the pastors from these cities to give me an update.”
The Rev. Joseph Canoy, an LCP pastor at Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cagayan de Oro, told Cerdeñola that several members’ homes were destroyed in the flooding, and that many more are affected by the water shortage it has caused.
The Rev. Arwyn Ladlad, who serves at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Iligan, reported that four families from that congregation abandoned their homes as they were “engulfed and swallowed up by water and mud. They may have lost their belongings, but praise and glory to God — they still have their lives.”
Plans are developing for an assessment team, including Cerdeñola, to visit the affected areas immediately after Christmas to evaluate how the LCP might carry out relief ministry.
As the news continues to unfold, the LCMS plans to closely monitor the situation and stay in contact with the LCP and LCMS missionaries in Asia. LCMS World Relief and Human Care is providing an initial grant of $25,000 through its emergency disaster relief fund and will be assessing the need for additional funding. The grant will provide for immediate needs including food, water, clothing and shelter.
The LCMS also is working toward a collaborative response with Lutheran World Relief, Baltimore, to offer long-term assistance in the hardest-hit regions.
LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison said the Synod is “committed to walking alongside The Lutheran Church in the Philippines as its leaders and members seek to bring the mercy of Christ to their neighbors in need.”
Help from LCMS members is “urgently needed,” said the Rev. Glenn F. Merritt, director of disaster response for the LCMS, “to bring mercy and witness to those who have been affected.”
Harrison has issued a call to prayer for LCMS congregations, encouraging them to include the following prayer for the LCP and relief work in the Philippines in their congregational prayers this Christmas weekend.
“Most merciful Father, with compassion You hear the cries of Your people in great distress. Be with all who now endure affliction and calamity, especially the members and leaders of The Lutheran Church in the Philippines; bless the work of those who bring rescue and relief, and enable them to aid and comfort those who are suffering that they may find renewed hope and purpose; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever” (Lutheran Service Book Altar Book).
The LCMS began work in the Philippines in 1946. In 1971, The Lutheran Church in the Philippines became an LCMS partner church. As last reported, the LCP had 23,000 baptized members in 190 congregations and preaching stations and a national staff of 301 pastors, evangelists, lay preachers and teachers.
At present, Sean Harlow is the only resident LCMS missionary serving in the Philippines. Harlow communicated over the weekend that he is safe and lives far away from the affected areas. He asks Lutherans to pray for those affected and that the LCP congregations in the area would be lights that point people to the Gospel of Christ in the midst of so much suffering.
To learn more about the situation in the Philippines, visit www.lcms.org/floodrelief/Philippines.
Watch an amateur video taken the morning after the flood here.
View photos from the disaster here.
To make a donation for Lutheran relief efforts in the Philippines:
Any funds not needed for this relief effort will be used for other disaster-response purposes as determined by LCMS World Relief and Human Care. Your gift is tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Elizabeth M. Truong is a staff writer with LCMS Communications.
Posted Dec. 20, 2011/Updated Dec. 21, 2011