We had known the storm was coming already for a few days. Philip had been up on our roof sealing things as best possible for the strong winds that we were expecting. But, other than that life continued as normal. Friday morning I even managed to get laundry done and dried outside. Phil continued to caution our neighbors to insure their houses were secure, but over all people seemed very casual about the incoming storm. It was only when I was reading the internet that day that I began to feel a little unsettled. Terms like “Worst storm of the century” and “strongest winds to ever hit landfall” did not do much to make me feel better.
By 4pm winds had dramatically increased and the town generator only managed to supply power for 3 mins before winds tore down the powerlines. The rain was getting heavier, but still we were not too concerned as we have already exprienced worse in the last few months. A policeman drove passed the house cautioning people to secure their goats and pigs. By 6pm Philip and I got ready for our weekly Friday family evening and I can remember thinking how cosy it would be with the howling winds and darkness outside. But no sooner had I thought this, an awful bang preceded by incredibly loud banging filled the house. It was so loud that we could almost not hear each other.
Philip climbed into the gap between the ceiling and the roof to see what was happening on the roof. He didn’t come back down for several hours as he held onto the loose zinc panels that the wind had lifted. He knew that once the wind lifted those panels, all the rest would go too. Meanwhile downstairs the kids and I were dealing with our own chaos. Water was coming through the closed windows and even through the cement walls. It was coming in at such a rate that I couldnt keep up with mopping and getting rid of the water. All 12 towels of ours were soaked and every bucket we have (and even the kids toy tea cups) were collecting water that came in through the ceiling. The lifted roof panels were allowing water into the house too. Im not sure if rain water was coming into the house or splashes of sea water was bashing against the windows. It was dark outside and impossible to see what was happening. Later I discovered the bathroom was under 2 inches of water that came through the closed window there.
The kids were really scared too. The two youngest both cried and Val was quiet but admitted later that she was shocked by it all. I couldnt help but worry about our neighbors whose houses are so flimsy in comparison to ours. It was too dark and dangerous to risk going outside. Trees were falling down and winds were screaming through the night. We kept our dogs inside the house and they hid under the table through it all. Our bodega flooded with water and with water streaming into the sockets we decided to turn off our generator. I was worried about Claudi too and wondered how she was doing on her own.
During the storm we were being updated on the movement of the storm by our friend and pilots wife, Candy Dalton. Many were praying for us across the world and our Pastor even managed to call us. He told us that he was praying that the Lord would send a row if angels across the ocean to protect us. Around 9pm we lost all contact with outside world as internet and cellphone signals were down.
Winds died down a little around 10pm enough for Phil to attempt to climb on the roof and lay bricks over the lifted panels. The winds were still strong and it was slippery. While climbing up the 19 foot tower to get onto the roof, the bamboo ladder snapped on one side. Phil managed to still hold on one side and get up to the roof. It was terrifying to watch. At this point I looked at some of the damage around us. It was then that I realised my washing machine had been lifted and thrown across the porch, taking the water pipe with it. Phil managed to lay bricks on the roof and when he came down winds picked up again.
The storm raged through the night and at 4 am it seemed really loud. By 6am everything was calm and people were outside picking up fallen trees, debris, roof panels. They were cutting our banana trees that had all fallen blocking the small street infront of our house. It looked like a war zone outside. Everyone seemed a bit dazed. I felt dazed as I looked around at the destruction around us. Phil and decided to walk around the island to see if we could help anyone.
It was shocking to see the huge trees with 1/2 meter wide bases knocked over across houses and roads. But what an encouragement to hear story after story of trees narrowly missing houses and people. God is so good! Not one life lost on our island. Infact one of neighbours gave birth to a baby boy during the storm. Little Yolando was born in the community centre as winds raged through their little grass house. It was so clear to us how God has protected every life on that island! Claudi was shocked to hear of the chaos at our house. Turns out that she had only some water through her windows and slept through the storm! Her house is protected quite well as it lies behind ours and has a hill behind it.
Later that afternoon we managed to get a hold of our NTMA people and let them know we were okay. It was only then that we were told of the devastation in many areas of the Philippines. So many had lost not only their homes but their loved ones too. As time passed we heard more of the devastation on surrounding islands. We truly were devinely protected! God had answered the prayer of many and placed angels across our path! So humbling to see Gods love in such a personal way.
As we heard about the desperate situation on the surrounding islands that belong to Agutaya, their lack of food and shelter, it was clear to us we needed to help somehow. Over the past 2 years Claudi (our partner) and us have put aside a monthly amount of money from our personal support to be used on the Agutaynen people for emergencies. After praying about things we felt we wanted to give it all to help. We asked the Lord to use it to His Glory and since then He has blessed this effort in miraculous ways!
Once we knew we would help with the fund we were confronted with two issues. Firstly getting the money and secondly, how could we get the food? No boats were travelling because of the weather and boats were damaged and in need of repair. Our pilot then informed us that some funds had come in and that they would buy the food and fly it to Cuyo for us! We were amazed. God has already made a way for us. Little did we know that Gods plan was so much bigger than we could ever imagine!
As Josh was buying food and flying it in, Phil was hard at work organising for the food to be collected at the airstrip on Cuyo, taken to the local church, packaged there, taken to the pier where it would bypass port authorities, and then coordinating with the boats to get it to Agutaya where it would be distributed to various islands. He coordinated with the Mayor of Agutaya and Cuyo, police, coast guard, pastors, tricycle drivers, truck drivers, boat owners and captains. It was no small task to get the food to the people! But as this was happening God was doing big things.
The mayor of Agutaya came to see us and was in tears as she described the situation on the other islands. Our hearts ached to hear from friends on the other islands struggling without food and shelter. Our NTM aviation people had flown to Tacloban to try be of assistance there, but because of red tape and dangerous circumstances they were unable to enter. We believe God was opening the doors for us to assist the people who we work with. It was with tears that we received the news that both our NTM 6 seater planes and the helicopter with our 4 pilots would fly up to help us assist the Agutaynen people! Now food could be bought and flown in directly to the people!
These islands who had still received no aid, would now be helped! While the world focused on bigger areas, the Lord showed the people of Agutaya that He has not forgotten them. It still touches me deeply when I think of our small offering to the the Lord that he has multiplied to feed the masses. What started as P100 000 pesos has been increased to over a million pesos already! We serve a great God!
Now that we had all the planes and pilots flying for us, we knew that we needed to get enough supplies to send up. We had been planning to go for our break to Manila and decided to still leave and put things in place to send food in. 10 days after the typhoon we left the island on a little boat borrowed to us by the mayor. We had hardly left the island when rough seas began tossing the boat side to side. What a stressful boat ride! Boeta was really scared and cried during the ride from fear. Both our girls were sick. I was really scared and prayed the whole way. While the sea tossed the boat around Boeta said to me, “Mom, if we sink, I hope we rather die and the boat operators survive. Because they don’t know Jesus yet, and at least we know where we are going.” It really encouraged me to know that His hope was in the Lord,and even in the midst of her fear he was concerned for the lost!
On arrival in Cuyo the girls and Claudi flew out while Phil, Boeta and I bought relief supplies and packaged them with help from the local Baptist church and Criminology students. Boeta and I flew out but Phil stayed behind to show the helicopter pilot the various islands we would be providing aid to. During our flight back home we noticed a heart shaped gap in the clouds which we could fly through. Another reminder of Gods love.
The next day we went to buy supplies to send in. Many back home may not realise that things are not that simple here. To get the amounts of money we needed takes special effort. The banks here run out of money and need to be given notice when big amounts are drawn. Buying supplies takes hours of waiting as supplies are brought down from warehouses. We have to go to more than one shop to buy what is needed. Once everything was bought we needed to get packing. It took us until 5pm to get packs completed and then had to deliver them to the plane hanger. This was our daily routine as we rushed to remain ahead of what the planes can deliver.
God has blessed us with many hands to help. Fellow church planting missionaries are helping us with the buying of the food packs and getting them to the hangar. Local church members volunteer daily to pack relief packages. Missionary friends in Manila helped get fuel for planes, our guest house manager arranged finances and helped with packages. Office personnel sent donations from Manila down by boat. Friends in the finance office in Manila keep records, opened relief accounts and ensure we have enough money. Phils friends who fly fish planes helped deliver oil for planes to Cuyo. Police on Cuyo delivered goods to the pier. Volunteers on Cuyo packed food to send in.. There are so many who have helped that Im sure I have forgotten some along the way. Its taken an army of people to get food to these dear people. Im sure if they truly understood the magnitude of all of this, they would be awestruck.
Everyday at the crack of dawn our pilots load their planes with food and supplies and fly them to Cuyo. Often they make two trips daily dropping of supplies for the helicopter to fly in. Our helicopter pilot flies as many trips as he can, landing in very windy conditions. He has been staying on Cuyo all this time. Their wives spend the day flight following to ensure that they are safe and in course. Others spend the day buying and packing food to supply the planes. Philip coordinates everything with the people on the islands, the police, mayors, pastors etc. Its a labor of love and everyone has been so blessed to be involved.
Many touching stories of peoples gratefulness keeps us humble. Its a constant reminder of how big this all really is. Although we rejoice in the knowledge that their bodies will be fed, its their souls that we care about more. We pray that God will open their hearts through all He is doing and that someday they will be ready to hear His truth. But for now we are thankful for an opportunity to give them a glimpse of His love.
Thank you to everyone that has tirelessly given of their time, money and prayers. Please continue to pray for the Philippines. Pray that through this terrible tragedy many will come to know our precious Lord and Savior.