From Ruin to Restoration: Micro-Grants Enliven Rebuilding Efforts of Philippine Typhoon Survivors

May 22, 2014

Pastor Dimitrio, holding a Bible, received a $500 grant to complete the rebuilding of his church. The original structure was destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013.

Filipino staff member Ivy Sanchez Bray and her husband Bill, the president of Overseas Students Mission in Charlottesville, Va., traveled to the Central Philippines this month to visit rebuilding projects initiated by several Christian Aid Mission-assisted ministries. They are encouraged by the resilience of typhoon survivors, but caution that the road to recovery has only just begun.

Bill and Ivy share their observations in the following report:

Every little bit counts. Even small cash grants are lifting discouraged hearts in the wake of super Typhoon Haiyan here in the Philippines. It has been nearly eight months since the biggest hurricane in recorded history devastated these southeastern islands. Yet, for many living at the grass-roots level, aid has still not reached their rural barrios. The storm left 6,268 dead and 1.9 million homeless in the Philippines alone.

Many local pastors and indigenous missionaries continue worshiping in the open air, unable to replace the thatch roofs or walls of their ruined church buildings. Others are still living under tarps and “lean-to” shelters. For native missionaries here, who often subsist on 50 cents or a dollar a day, despair can set in only too easily–and that´s where small matching funds and seed grants from donors in the United States are making a tremendous difference.

Micro-grants of $300 to $1,000 can give just the push needed to get the rebuilding going. Once the lumber, bricks or sheet metal is delivered, it is amazing how the pastors are able to round up men to donate labor and raise more local funding to finish the task. Often just the promise of aid gets the building going.

You could see the light of hope and faith returning to the faces of these missionaries as they received relief packets!

During our 10-day visit, we were able to see 19 of the 29 rebuilding projects local ministries are overseeing in the remote and forgotten areas of Bugtong, Conception, Panlaitan, Sagrada and Salvation. Haiyan affected 11 million Filipinos, displacing over 6 million people.

Local pastors and missionaries received the cash grants during a luncheon at the Love of Christ Church in downtown Busuanga. A concrete block structure, it survived the storm undamaged and has been the unofficial center of relief work.

Pastor Pinagpala is the elected chair of the local ministerial association and has voluntarily coordinated the relief efforts, using funds American donors sent to Christian Aid to assist these mission agencies. There is wide consensus among the pastors regarding which are the most needy churches and widows, so the aid has been distributed carefully to several rural areas – spreading the impact of the help and encouragement.

The pastor´s wife, Leticia, stands in front of the bamboo shanty that serves as the couple´s current home.

My family comes from Cavite, on the northern island of Luzon. I was born and raised in Manila, but have family in this region and know the situation in Palawan intimately. Bill and I have made several previous visits to Palawan and participated in evangelistic meetings among the many tribal groups that make up the population.

Many of the pastors were visibly moved when we told them the typhoon aid being distributed was collected mostly from retired people in the United States, who are themselves living on limited incomes. Many of the widows are receiving help from other poor widows in the United States.

“Tell our American friends that it is with a heart full of thanks that we appreciate the support of those who are helping our work here,” Rev. Dimitrio Balbutaun said to us. Rev. Dimitrio pastors the Kiwitt Bible Church in Sitio Sagrada, Busuanga. Services for the church-plant are held in a jungle clearing about 50 yards off the main coastal highway.

Pastor Dimitrio speaks the national language, Tagalog, as well as English and the local dialect of Cuyunin. He and his wife are pioneer church planters in a village which has no other congregation. His wife, Leticia, is from Kiwitt and speaks Cuyunin as her mother tongue, so they are especially suitable for this pioneer work. After raising 12 children together in the provincial capital of Coron, they retired and moved here to start a pioneer church just before the storm struck last year. Their home was destroyed, so they started over in a better location.

Already they have three families coming, with an average attendance of 20 on Sunday. An initial grant of 10,000 pesos (approx. $230) helped them construct bench-like pews, a pulpit, and a 10x10 foot “nipa hut.” In this shed they live, cook, sleep and store all their earthly goods! Their parsonage is a raised bamboo platform about the size of a standard exhibit booth you would see at American conventions or trade shows. There is no electricity or running water. Without a fire or lantern, they are in total darkness after sundown.

“Our children are all gone so we can afford to live like this,” he explained without apology.

The couple has already framed out the structure of a larger nipa-walled church building. They hope to roof and side it with a new $500 grant from a local ministry before the rainy season starts at the end of August. “Nipa” refers to a woven thatch made from bamboo or anahaw – flimsy and easily destroyed in tropical cyclones, but cheap to construct and cool in the blazing heat. When affordable, it is being replaced by concrete block and sheet metal construction.

Palawan is a cluster of 1,700 islands west of the city of Tacloban, Leyte. Tacloban itself was almost wiped off the map by the giant storm on November 8, 2013. The city and surrounding province grabbed most of the news media coverage and the lion´s share of the aid which poured into the Philippines. Aid came from overseas Filipinos, charities and government agencies around the world. Americans were especially generous, but little of the aid trickled out to the hundreds of tiny islands affected by the storm.

These rolls of woven thatch will be used to construct the walls of the new Kiwitt Bible Church.

Poverty in the Philippines is endemic and severe. Although the mandated minimum wage is a little less than $10 a day, most people in the rural islands subsist on under $1 a day. The majority still live off of fishing, the yield from tiny gardens, and a bread-winner´s salary, which is shared among their extended family. Electricity, medical care and even rice, are not in the family budget.

Missionaries, church planters, and pioneer pastors who labor among these poor masses usually live at the same level as the villagers they serve. It is normal for these pastors to supplement their income with money earned from back-breaking fishing and agriculture. However, this “bi-vocational” outreach exhausts their energy and leaves little time for visitation and discipleship work. As a result, the churches in Palawan have been slow-growing and stagnant, despite much successful evangelism and periodic revivals.

“Discouragement is the main problem here,” Pastor Pinigpala shared with us. “The younger pastors often give up their call when it comes time to send their children to school, feeling they must choose between the Lord´s work and their duty to family.

Christian Aid´s help is making a huge difference,” Pastor Pinigpala said.