Justice and Mercy

Relief Work and Rehabilitation After Haiyan

According to the recent news, the numbers are close to 4,000. Super Typhoon Haiyan has claimed the lives of about 4,000 lives, people who once lived in Tacloban City and its vicinity, Ormoc City, Guiuan, and other municipalities of the provinces of Leyte and Samar. Many more are injured, and thousands more are homeless, ravaged, and distraught. It will take years for the survivors to rebuild. It will take a lifetime to recover from the loss of love ones and from the trauma of going through a super typhoon with wind speed of up to 195 mph, and gust winds of about 230 mph. Tacloban City will never be the same.

I am here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I am writing this reflection from a distance. I get information from the news about the progress of the relief operations of various groups on the ground. I hear stories of our brothers and sisters of the Free Methodist Church from my pastor friends who are on-hand and physically present in the ravaged areas helping and doing their best. I write from a distance.

However, my personal experience with super typhoons in the Philippines is still very real to me. I have been through many of these kinds of typhoons. I once resided in Surigao Del Norte, and I had the luck of going under the eye of a super typhoon--twice. They were not fun experiences. In all of these experiences, the greatest challenge is the time of rehabilitation. When people start rebuilding their lives and picking up the pieces, that is when the real trouble begins. I do not mean to belittle the loss of lives of many at the height of Haiyan's visit last week, but more lives will be lost if we do not give the same money and energy to the work of rehabilitation.

One of the biggest problems in rehabilitation work in the Philippines is corruption. Once money comes in to financed recovery efforts and reconstruction of small communities, corrupt government officials will come in and take their cuts. There are many United Nations studies that corroborate this dire phenomenon. You would be fortunate if the local people, the recipients of these financial aid, get only one fourth of the intended funds. I have seen it happen. Every Filipino can tell you despicable stories of corrupt local officials and greedy national leaders carting away most of the funds.

I applaud the efforts of international groups. In the area of relief work, they are doing a tremendous job. It is such a shame, a slap on the face of our national leaders, who could not get their acts together to be there in Tacloban City and other affected areas when the people needed them. 

However, in the area of rehabilitation, small local groups are still the best way to go to help typhoon victims rebuild their lives. Unless big organizations like UNDP, World Vision, and others, do not connect with indigenous groups, then all the efforts will be useless. They will just make some corrupt official happy. 

I am fortunate to belong to an organization that is connected with local groups and indigenous populations. Our pastors of the Free Methodist Church of the Philippines are doing a wonderful job of giving relief work to its members. They maybe small efforts, but they are making a difference. I look forward to the years to come when I can participate in the efforts of rehabilitation and rebuilding the lives of the Filipinos in Leyte and Samar. These projects maybe small but they will go a long way. There will be no corrupt officials to pocket the money "cuts." There will be no red-tape and debilitating procedures and hegemonic organizational rules. There will be no fancy media coverage or big-name people to please. Everything will be for the locals, both Free Methodists and non-Free Methodists. 

Before that day of rehabilitation comes, we all need to support the efforts of giving food, medicines, and other relief and rescue efforts for these Haiyan victims. When you are not giving, you can pause and pray to our God for help. "Be not far from us for trouble is near and there is none to help." (Psalms 22:11)

Freedom Sunday - Pray for the Abolition of Slavery

Today is Freedom Sunday. This is the day we all start mobilizing our local churches to pray and work towards the abolition of modern slavery. Praying . . . .

A few years back, I met Shiaomei here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She was only 12 years old when she was sold by her mother to a brothel owner. Against her will, she was moved from Vietnam, to China, to Taiwan, to work at different brothels, restaurants, and homes. I met her when she came to visit one of our Southeast Asian cultural shows, sponsored by several NGOs in this city of Kaohsiung. I sang Filipino love songs to entertain some of our distinguished guests. She was there to represent the Vietnamese group displaying some of its exotic foods. At that time, she was temporarily under the protection of one of the NGOs. I learned later she was trying to escape a very violent family setting. I talked to her for a short time. I looked deep into her eyes and prayed to my God to intervene on her behalf. Since then, my prayers for victims of human trafficking has never been the same. 

Now, I do not know where Shiaomei is. Last time I heard, she is still in Taiwan, in the vicinity of Taipei, moving from one local family to another, working as a cook, waitress, and most probably other odd jobs that are undesirable. I pray for her. I do not know exactly what to pray for, but I still pray for God's intervention in her life. Praying . . . .

Stop Modern Slavery

Next Sunday, February 26, 2012, is Freedom Sunday, a one day annual event sponsored by Not For Sale seeking the involvement of Christian local churches around the world to put a stop to modern slavery. We encourage everyone to participate. You can raise awareness and pray with your brothers and sisters in your vicinity.

It has been said that prevention is better than cure. There are many ways a local church can help in preventing the occurrence of modern slavery. One is child sponsorship. Sponsoring one child has an empowering effect on the sponsored family. It propels the family members to become productive members of their society. Two is indigenous church planting. A local church administered by indigenous leaders provides local people with opportunities to help the destitute and those who are suffering from social evil such as human trafficking, child labor, and prostitution. Three is helping NGOs (Non Government Organization) in one's city or local area. Find a credible NGO (religious or non-religious) who is making a difference in the fight to end modern slavery. Volunteer your services. You will be surprised at what you can contribute. Encourage your church members to join you. Ask them to pray for you. Let us stop slavery in this century.

Here in Kaohsiung, I try my very best to practice these three things. My family sponsor girls from Burundi, India, and the Philippines. They are all managed by ICCM (International Child Care Sponsorship). Check out its website and see if you can sponsor one child from another country. Sarah and I help different indigenous churches growing in this city. We are involved with Feng Shan FMC. We also assist in the ministries of different Filipino and American churches in the area. Nothing big, but each little effort contributes to the bigger picture of eradicating this global problem of slavery within this generation. Also, from time to time, I volunteer my services for an NGO here in Kaohsiung called Taiwan International Migrants Mission or TIMM. When there is a cultural show, I sing Filipino love songs. When TIMM needs an interpreter, I am there. What ever it takes to help Asian migrant workers in their work place and to better their expatriate life here in Taiwan, I do it. These little things help in preventing migrant workers from becoming victims of sexual abuse and experiencing oppressive labor conditions. Prevention is better than cure.

Next week, I am going to a forum sponsored by the Taiwan Industrial Evangelical Fellowship (TIEF), a ministry that focuses on helping working class people here in Taiwan, and most especially the foreign laborers sector. I do not know what to expect. I only know one or two people from this upcoming meeting. I am not even sure what the nature of the meeting is, but one thing I am very certain is that I am going to meet Taiwanese people who can help in the effort to stop modern slavery.