My team of 13 incredible teenagers stayed at the Free Methodist Church in downtown Tacloban (where the most damage occurred during Typhoon Haiyan). We arrived eight months after the storm, and families are still living in tents along the beach, drinking bottled water and rebuilding their lives after the storm. The church was one of the few buildings that survived without damage. It was about a mile from the beach, where there is debris everywhere you look. The ships that ran aground haven’t been moved.
The pastor told us about living through the storm. It was toward the end of the rainy season and people took little notice of yet another typhoon passing through. It was morning when the storm surge came through. The water rose quickly and many people came to the church to seek higher ground. The water flooded the first floor and the people moved up to the balcony to stay dry. The water continued to rise. There were cars floating by on the street. As the water approached the second story, the people talked about cutting a hole in the roof if they had to move higher. The water reached nine feet, then it started receding. The water came and went in just three hours. In that time over 30,000 people lost their lives. No church members died in the storm, which is amazing considering almost every one we talked to had lost someone.
We had three typhoons and two tropical storms come through while we were there. Usually the rain came on the weekends so it didn’t affect the work projects much. Sometimes it rained for three days without stopping!
I loved living in the city. There was a bakery across the street, fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs for sale at every corner and an ice cream shop just a block away! Every free moment we would go get a cold drink and walk around the block and discover new shops. We did have electricity, but no fridge or freezer, which is a little rough, but we could buy a small brick of ice to enjoy making cold sweet tea once in a while.
Our project at the church was to reroof the school classrooms. They had just been finished and were ready for the school to open when the storm came through and ripped off the roof and damaged everything inside. The team built trusses and nailed on a tin roof. In addition, our team did a lot of little projects like pouring a sidewalk, building a roof over the water pump and setting up a gathering place with wooden benches and a roof.
The second week we traveled to a village and built a house at the very top of the hill for a needy family. The team poured the floor, put up walls and dug a septic tank. The hardest part was carrying all the supplies up the hill! The third week we traveled to another village to help a small church. The team poured the floor, put up walls and installed a gate.
Every Saturday we had children’s ministry at the church. We split them into groups, taught them English songs and the groups would get up on stage to compete for prizes. Our team fell in love with these kids. Most of them did not go to school and lived on the streets, so they had plenty of time to hang out with us and would sneak in the gate every chance they got. They just wanted to be loved.
We often took trips out to several different villages to meet the people most affected by the storm. We went door to door, listened to their stories of survival and loss, encouraged them and handed out bread and juice to all the hungry children.
We did many presentations, sharing the Gospel in schools (to over 1,000 kids at a time), and taught Sunday School; any time a crowd would gather, we did a presentation.
Every team gets a day of sightseeing, so since there is really not much to see on the island of Leyte, we drove over to another island where we could hire small boats to take us to a tiny uninhabited island. Only one boat flipped over with four team members–it was the boat with the guitar and a pot full of cooked rice. The guitar was ok, the rice floated away and the pot that sank straight to the bottom was recovered on our return trip. I felt like we were on Survivor! We spent the day exploring the caves, cliff jumping, swimming around the island and enjoying a roasted pig.
On our way home, we had two nights in Hong Kong which we all enjoyed.
A very special thank you to my very faithful prayer and financial supporters!