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The Philippines: How Do You Find Hope When The Storm Comes?

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Thoughts on faith and life at Friendship Church

The Philippines: How Do You Find Hope When The Storm Comes?

Dennis Brown

Philippians-hoops.jpg

This Sunday we have another opportunity to give a special offering to Taiwan World Vision who are assisting the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. And also don't forget to pray for Karen Yates who is on a team doing relief in one of the devastated areas.

It prompted some reflections on how do you find hope when the storm hits? We've been looking at Ephesians 6 where Paul says to "Put on the armor of God... so you can stand in the evil day." Well, the evil day comes with fair regularity in the Philippines. It's not unusual for the Philippines to have 20 typhoons every year along with earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, armed insurgencies and political upheaval. So I was interested when someone sent me the following report from Yahoo News. I've extracted some of the main paragraphs from the article:

They found the hoop in the ruins of their obliterated neighborhood. They propped up the backboard with broken wood beams and rusty nails scavenged from vast mounds of storm-blasted homes. A crowd gathered around. And on one of the few stretches of road here that wasn't overflowing with debris, they played basketball. I didn't know what to think at first when I stumbled upon six teenagers shooting hoops over the weekend in a wrecked neighborhood of Tacloban, a city that Typhoon Haiyan reduced to rubble, bodies and uprooted trees when it slammed into the Philippines Nov. 8.

As a foreign correspondent working in the middle of a horrendous disaster zone, I didn't expect to see people having a good time — or asking me to play ball. I was even more stunned when I learned that the basketball goal was one of the first things this neighborhood rebuilt. It took a moment for me to realize that it made all the sense in the world. The kids wanted to play so they can take their minds off what happened, said Elanie Saranillo, one of the spectators. "And we want to watch so we, too, can forget."Saranillo, 22, now lives in a church after her own home was leveled by the storm.

I covered the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami in Japan, and cannot recall a single laugh. Every nation is resilient in its own way, but there is something different in the Philippines that I have not yet put my finger on. While walking through Tacloban's ruins, I and my colleagues were almost always greeted by kind words. When I asked how people were doing, people who had lost everything said, "Good." Superficial words, of course, but combined with the smiles, and with hearing "Hey, Joe" again and again (an old World War II reference to G.I. Joe), they helped form a picture I have not encountered in other disaster zones.Perhaps it has something to do with an expression Filipinos have: "Bahala Na." It essentially means: Whatever happens, leave it to God. 

So where does the resilience come from? I can't say with certainty, and don't want to give a superficial answer. There is common grace that God gives all kinds of people (Christian and non-Christian) to weather storms. The Philippines have a long standing Catholic tradition and a growing evangelical and charismatic presence. I would like to think that some of the hope and determination is rooted in something more than a kind of phlegmatic stoicism, but in the hope that Jesus promises. The author seems to leave the door open to that interpretation.

Of course the happy story doesn't in any way take away from the large question of why there is so much misery in the world? Maybe an even bigger question is, "Why is there so much joy in the world?" and "How can a bunch of boys play basketball with such joy after a disaster?" The problem of good is as large as the problem of suffering. I can't answer all the questions, but I do know that we have a God who entered into human suffering in the person of His Son Jesus. I hope and pray that everyone in the Philippines and here gets a vision of that.

In any case it's a time for all of us to reflect on our lives if we are putting the armor of God on today, so that when the evil day comes we are able to stand. A parallel passage is in Matthew 7 where Jesus says, "Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock." Putting on the armor of God, building on the rock. It's saying the same thing--just different imagery. I hope those images describe all of us.