So many times, I have started to type these words only to erase them as I have worked to describe what the past week and half of our lives have been like. My husband will arrive home tomorrow, after being away in Cambodia for the past seventeen days. I truly think the only other time I have been anticipating seeing his face like I am was on our wedding day. Seventeen days is along time to be apart…..but, it’s been like an eternity for me here in the Philippines. Teddy left on a Tuesday. Parker, Lukas and I spent the next week puttzing around Olongapo, watching movies on the computer at night and running to the markets during the day. I had the two weeks off of the clinic since Teddy would be gone. Then the following Tuesday hit us. The rain came and kept coming. It was just too much too fast. The streets couldn’t hold it all.
For us, it started early in the morning. We filled sandbags with our neighbors to try to block off the water. I packed furiously the most important things in our backpacks, knowing we might be leaving the house at some point. And leave we did. But not before my neighbors all came into my house to put everything up. Yes, we put up our refrigerator, our couches, our oven etc… Last year it had flooded too…but only a small bit. But soon, we knew this year was different. Slowly, the water had been rising, but at some cosmic moment, within a matter of minutes, the water went from just above my ankles to my waist. As the boys helped fills sandbags outside, I ran in to try to fit any last shred of belongings I could into our backpacks, secured the remainder of what I could in the upper bedrooms and closed the doors. That was a hard moment. Knowing I had to leave everything. But there was no time to spare as I had two boys with me and we needed to get to safety. Across the street it was. The Barungay Captain, the leader of the neighborhood, had a three story house in which the people could gather in times like these. And gather we did. My neighbors and I waded through the street to shelter. As soon as I could get my kids settled and know they were safe, I went back out to check on the midwives at the clinic. The water wasn’t rising as fast there and they were working hard to get things up. They had a lot of people helping so I turned to start helping other neighbors try to save their things. It occurred to me quickly that for them, this was all they had. Maybe, knowing their family like I did, I knew that they live paycheck to pay check and it might be hard to replace anything they lose. So I joined in with the community to help out. Once we got them to safety, I went back to the clinic. By then, the waters were rising lightning fast. Cecille and I walked hand in hand in to try to save whatever we could. There were rescuer officers and neighbors all working in an assembly line. We worked until we couldn’t work anymore. The waters had risen too high and we had to make the decision to leave. Another agonizing moment…..but, when you reach the place where you calculate that staying could cost you your life, the decision becomes easy.
We joined my children and neighbors in the Captains house. By this time the water in the streets was up to our chest. There was no going back to our houses. The Captain gave us warm coffee, rice and fish.
Then we waited…..looking out the windows, reaching for people’s hands when they arrived and trying calm the people as they entered. The midwives, myself and my boys prayed…we prayed for the peace of the of God that surpasses all understanding to be upon us all. We prayed fervently for safety and for rescue. As time went on, I had to decide what I was going to do. Should we stay there for the night? Were we safe? Earlier in the day as the waters began to rise, Parker and I walked down the street to ask the rescuers if they knew if it was safe for us to try to walk up the land at the end of the street. They discouraged it because the river had washed out the road. So we turned around and went back. But now, Jason Ehler, who lives on the land that Mercy In Action owns and is developing, was saying he could walk down to get us and bring us back up to his families house. On a mountain. Away from the water. But it would mean the boys and I packing up our heavy backpacks and trekking it up to the end of the road and through the forest to get there. I talked with the boys, let them know I thought this was the best decision, packed up our things started out with Jason. We walked…and walked…and walked. The flood had not had its way with the parts of our street that were on a hill. But then we faced another danger, mud. And, let me just say it now, my flipflops became my greatest liability on that mountainside. But, as Jason led us with Lukas on his shoulders, Parker ahead of me and I bringing up the rear, I could not help but have a moment of clarity and begin to praise God. I praised Him for our rescue, for the bravery He gave me to do exactly what I needed to save my family, for the strength I was seeing in my boys as they had to rise to the occasion quickly, for the kindness of so many people, for the fact that God’s presence was so heavy on me at that moment. In that half hour hike to safety, I knew that God was real more than I have ever known it before.
The next day, I returned to the house, without my kids, as they played with the girls at the Ehlers house. I returned with five Aeta friends who worked tirelessly for six hours to clean and restore what we could. I have never been so humbled before as I was that day. I could feel something in me changing. As I wept over the memories torn from our family, over the books that we brought to teach our kids that were ruined and as it tore my heart to see the destruction of the house we called home in a foreign land, I was also filled with a sense of peace as I was so laid bare before my Maker. I was well aware that we had no home. I was deeply acknowledging in my spirit and in my soul that the God of the universe, the one who proclaims He is ALL I need in this life, had just made that known to me.
As I walked back up to the land that evening, with dirt in our hair and the stench of flood on our clothes, I observed myself, a white frail woman walking with a tribe of people. I fell behind the group as I was exhausted and hadn’t eaten and quite frankly, was not an Aeta woman…strong. They glanced back at me and smiled large smiles and tried not show me they were laughing at me…. I acknowledged their laughter saying “I’m o.k., just a weak white woman…..” And we all laughed. It was good to laugh. And that was when I realized that the Filipino people are amazing people. In crisis, they take seriously being their “brother’s keeper” but as soon as it’s good to laugh again, they do. Their smiles get me through the hard days. I also know that I am a part of the whole here. And it’s hard to be isolated and deserted when everybody is looking out for each other. So, I made the decision early on in the disaster and told myself to remember this in the aftermath, I will choose joy and community. I will not let myself be overtaken by adversity. I will let myself grieve and cry and feel what I feel when I feel it, but I will not stay there. There is too much good to get back to.
In fact, the very next day after the flood, we had a mom give birth to a beautiful baby girl. And in the short week after, we’ve had other births, two of which needed our lifesaving measures. There were two lives that were saved even in the midst of destroyed furniture, walls and ceilings. The midwives created a clean and safe place for these moms to deliver…. We were able to shelter them from the storm…the storm of death that knocks on the door too many times here.
In the bible, in Jeremiah 43, this is what God speaks to His people:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
These words have carried me through.
Which brings me to today.
Teddy and I have so much to reassess. We lost a lot and a lot has changed, but we know for sure that we are not deterred in any way from the focus of why we are here. This upcoming week we will get back to his work at school and my work at the clinic. It will be good for our whole family. No, in fact we feel more determined to continue.
But we know that to continue, we will need help. We are asking for donations to help us recoup what we’ve lost. Please consider helping us!
To make a donation, you can go to our “DONATE” page to pay through PayPal or send a check to our P. O. Box.
Please spread the word and if you pray, pray for all these things!
We truly believe that when God gives you work to do, He is the one who provides the way. Partner with us so that we can continue our work here in the Philippines.