The warning came on Wednesday. I got a text from Isaac, a YWAM missionary in Tacloban. His dad has a tropical storm app, so he is my most trusted source of information. The forecast is that it will arrive on Saturday. Waiting for a super-typhoon is a strange experience. The weather is calm. The sun is shining. Nothing suggests that we are about to suffer a major catastrophe. That’s exactly how it was before Yolanda. Many people were unprepared, despite the warnings, because they didn’t listen. No-one is making that mistake this time. We are counting down the days. It’s good that they have time. It’s just a shame that most people lack the resources to adequately prepare. Yesterday I rode from Burauen back to Palo. People use the road as a place to dry their rice harvest in the sun. Yesterday the road was busy with people laying out their rice. I was wondering why people appeared so unconcerned. But then I realised that wet rice is worthless. They were getting as much in as possible before the storm comes. The queue of farmers at the rice mill is the only tell-tale sign of a crisis. People panic quietly in the Philippines.
Forewarned is forearmed. It’s also foreworried. The hardest thing to deal with is the fear. Packing up my most essential items into a plastic box, I’m hit by the reality of how much I could lose. I’m wondering where to put my stuff to best protect it if the building collapses. The church has a huge cooking pot, which I’ve put my books in. The Waray-Waray textbooks I’m using have survived every storm since they were published in 1967, so I feel it’s my duty to preserve them as best I can. In the cooking pot I think they’ll survive even if the storm comes with an earthquake. Worst-case scenario is that the rain gets into everything and I’m left with the clothes I stand up in. Although I’m not expecting that, I’ve gone from faith to despair and back again. Last night, I sat alone in the church, looking at the walls and wondering if they will still be here on Sunday, wondering for the millionth time if I’m really doing the right thing. But God has demonstrated time and again that He is right here with me.
I’m upset about the things I might lose, but I can replace them. This is not my house. If I’m homeless after this storm, I will have a choice of offers from resourceful friends for a place to stay. But for my neighbours, they will wait for a tarpaulin from the relief agencies. They will lose precious things that they have painstakingly collected and which have cost them a lot. They have no idea how they will replace what they are about to lose.
As I write, some of the local kids wander past and give me a wave, just like they always do. There is no trace of concern on their faces. As I return their smiles I am thinking about how they will feel tomorrow, as they go through possibly the most harrowing experience of their lives. Again. It’s incredible that barely one year after Yolanda, it’s happening again.
This is what I say to God. Since the warning came, I’ve been telling everyone I can about the story of Jehosephat in 2 Chronicles 20, as he faced disaster in the form of a massive enemy attack. Before doing anything else, he and his entire nation looked to God for help. Full of faith, Jehosephat prayed, reminding God of His promises, saying “we will stand in Your presence before this temple that bears Your Name and will cry out to You in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.” God replied with another promise, fulfilling that promise with one of His most amazing miracles. I’m still believing for a miracle. God has promised me too. But as I prepare for the worst, I realise that my preparations are not acts of faith. As I do the things I ‘need’ to do, I can actually feel my faith ebbing away. It’s wrong to be complacent or presumptuous, but I need to find a way to put my faith into action rather than my fear. It’s not enough to believe for the best. Faith without deeds is useless. I have to balance my preparations for disaster with preparation for a miracle. I look around at a village of vulnerable people, multiplied thousands of times in barangay all around this province. The pressure is immense.
But I know I’m not alone. Thousands more are praying with me. God promised Abraham that for the sake of ten righteous people, He would not destroy the town of Sodom. I’m reminding Him of that conversation, just as Jehosaphat reminded God of all the things He had promised even generations before. Hard as it is to stay here, it’s a privilege to stand before God on behalf of a people needing a miracle. It’s exactly what He sent His son to do. It’s exactly what He wants me to do. “Just as the Father sent me, I am sending you.” How about you? Will you stand with me?
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things. Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
God is faithful.