Less than three weeks after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, killing or injuring thousands of people and displacing millions, relief workers on the ground — including partners of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — continue to assess and meet basic needs.

In a webinar hosted by Presbyterian World Mission yesterday (Nov. 20), participants heard from Presbyterian leaders and partners in the Philippines about the current situation and what can be done to help.

The PC(USA)’s denominational partner in the Philippines, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), has been affected by the typhoon, with at least 18 churches either damaged or destroyed. The UCCP is still waiting to hear from all of its churches, many of which still lack electricity, making communication difficult.

Inside Bethany Hospital in Tacloban, after about three inches of mud were removed.

Inside Bethany Hospital in Tacloban, after about three inches of mud were removed. —Bruce Reyes-Chow

Bethany Hospital, a UCCP-supported hospital in Tacloban ― the typhoon’s epicenter ― has been severely damaged, with water reaching four feet deep inside the hospital, damaging equipment and medical records and leaving a heavy layer of mud inside the building.

“In times like these it is very heartening to know that we are not alone, that we are sisters and brothers in many places in the world,” said Bishop Reuel Marigza, UCCP general secretary and vice-chairperson of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. He delivered a pre-recorded message during the webinar.

“The problems are enormous,” Marigza said. “The needs for now are for basic necessities like food and water … We need to reopen soon the hospital.”

The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, moderator of the PC(USA)’s 218th General Assembly, arrived in the Philippines a few days before the typhoon to begin a guest teaching role at the Silliman University Divinity School, a partner of the PC(USA) and UCCP.

After the typhoon, Reyes-Chow and leaders from the UCCP traveled to Tacloban, about three hours away from Silliman University.

“The power of the storm was clear,” he said, adding that upon entering the city, he saw people with signs asking for food and water.

His group delivered some food and medicine and was initially worried about being mobbed by residents. But “there was not this ‘Wild West war zone’ kind of place that has been portrayed in the media, he added.

“It is bad. The destruction is breathtaking. But some of the negativity around the people is not true,” Reyes-Chow said.

View of Tacloban from the roof of Bethany Hospital.

View of Tacloban from the roof of Bethany Hospital. —Bruce Reyes-Chow

Leaders from World Mission and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) acknowledged that many Presbyterians feel called to help after natural disasters. But they agreed that it is best to listen to our partners on the ground to learn their needs before sending items or planning a trip.

Sending unneeded items or items that have nowhere to be stored can add to the difficulty of disaster response, the leaders said. And traveling to a disaster-stricken area puts a burden of hospitality on partners who are already struggling. Instead, it’s better to give money that can be used in ways that best help those affected.

PDA has set up an account for donations for disaster relief in the Philippines. Click here to learn more.

Those who wish to give physical items are encouraged to send “gifts of the heart” to Church World Service (CWS). These gifts include baby care kits, school kits and cleanup buckets and are used to restock CWS’s warehouses after disasters. More information on these gifts is available from CWS.

Several months from now, after the initial relief has progressed, disaster response groups will begin the longer process of recovery and rebuilding.

“There is still long hard work in terms of preoccupation of helping people who are being served, of helping people who are in their homes and rebuild the churches that have been destroyed, as well as help people deal with the trauma that they have been through,” Marigza said.

“But we are very grateful that God’s love is made more concrete through your concern and help, and that we hope it means we will be able to bounce back as a people, by the grace of God.”