Last Friday we flew back from the Philippines after a two week vacation; the next day typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) made landfall, carving a path of destruction across the Visayan region and particularly devastating the islands of Leyte and Samar. The scale of the disaster (an estimated 10,000 dead) has brought it to the attention of the world’s media and the international community. The UK has pledged £6m of immediate assistance and other nations are offering similar amounts to what is going to be a massive rescue mission, followed by an even larger period of reconstruction. The UN has estimated that 600,000 people have been displaced by the storm; many of them have no homes to return to.
The imminent arrival of Haiyan/Yolanda had dominated the news in the Philippines throughout the second week we were there, with the government determined to do all it could in terms of preparedness. Emergency supplies were flown in before the typhoon struck and attempts made to evacuate areas considered to be particularly vulnerable. Warnings were even made about the likely ‘storm surge'; however no one seems to have anticipated its tsunami-like effect. This seems to have been one of the major causes of death in the town of Tacloban and surrounding areas. Before the typhoon struck, President Aquino had suggested that with sufficient preparedness, they were aiming for zero casualties; in retrospect this seems sadly misguided.
Since we arrived back from the Philippines many friends have asked about us, and whether Mary Ann’s family are safe. In fact the typhoon passed well south of her home province of Pampanga. We do, however, have many friends who come from the Western Visayas and who have reported damage to property, though nothing on the scale of the eastern islands of Leyte and Samar.
On Sunday I was back leading worship and of course it was Remembrance Sunday. At the evening service at Caledonian Road Methodist Church I read Psalm 46, which because of verses 9-10 is very much associated with this day. But it was verses 2-3 that caught my attention:
…we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of sea;
though its waters roar and foam…
In this time the faith of the Filipino people, and particularly those in the regions most effected by the typhoon, will be shaken to its very core. Disasters on this scale do raise serious questions for people of faith, especially those Christians who believe that God micro-manages the world and that ‘everything happens for a purpose’. I have to admit that I can see no purpose at all in the loss of 10,000 lives, but that has not stopped some speculating that this is a punishment visited upon the Filipino people, some sort of divine warning.
In fact Haiyan/Yolanda may well be a warning – of increasingly extreme weather brought about by climate change and in particular the warming of the oceans. Ocean warming is already causing irreparable damage to the coral reefs that lie off the shores of the Philippine islands; now it is possible that warmer water is intensifying the typhoons that so frequently sweep over the Philippines (it is the heat of the water that provides the energy that fuels the typhoon). If this is correct, Haiyan may be the most devastating typhoon to hit the Philippines in modern times, but it will, alas, not be the last.
With that rather lengthy introduction, here is my prayer for the Philippines:
God, our shelter and strength
and ever-present help in times of trouble,
we pray for the people of the Philippines,
living in a land of such natural abundance and diversity
yet so vulnerable to the devastating effects of volcano, earthquake and storm.
Lord, we have seen pictures of the destruction brought by typhoon Haiyan
and heard stories told by the survivors that move us to tears.
We find it hard to comprehend that nature has such dreadful power,
breaking trees like matchsticks,
sweeping away homes and shattering lives
and bringing such desolation to cities and villages alike.
And so, Father,
we weep with those who weep,
praying for those who survived and those who did not;
for those who lost everything
and those who saw their homes and livelihoods destroyed.
We pray for relief workers, aid organisations and government agencies
as they attempt to meet people’s present needs
and for the longer term restoration of buildings and communities
that will take place in the coming weeks, months and years.
And, Creator God, we recognise our own role in such ‘natural’ disasters;
the impact of our wasteful lifestyles on this fragile planet
and our contribution to the warming of the world’s oceans.
We pray that the nations of the world
would take heed of the warning signs of climate change
and make greater efforts to decisive action
and sustainable ways of living.
Lord, bless the Philippines;
save her people;
in the name of Jesus,
whom even wind and waves obey.