Philippines Response: Applying Lessons from Indonesia to Haiyan

Many will remember the tsunami on December 26, 2004, that wiped out large parts of Indonesia and Thailand. The final death toll was more than 230,000 people, with millions more left homeless.

At the time, it spurred the largest humanitarian response in history. When news began to trickle in about the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines earlier this month, it brought back vivid memories of similar circumstances from the preceding Asian disaster.

But while we all shudder, and lament “not again!” God has called us as concerned and compassionate Christians to respond.

When Paul stated his proofs for “pure and undefiled religion,” he said, “to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). The Filipino people are in distress. And this is our opportunity to show them love in a way that Jesus would be proud of.

The cause was similar in 2004 and 2005 as the Church mobilized to respond to the tsunami.

Upon graduating college in 2007, I had the amazing opportunity to intern with Food for the Hungry (FH) in Aceh, Indonesia. While I was not on the ground immediately following the disaster, I had a chance to see the impact of two and half years of humanitarian response in the region.

While much had been done to help the Indonesian people thrive again, there were also glaring lessons to be learned for how a major humanitarian response could be better conducted. In thinking about the long road of recovery that we are inevitably embarking upon with our Filipino brothers and sisters, here are three observations to think about after reflecting on the 2004 Indonesia Tsunami response:

1. Relationships Matter

Filipino culture is relational. And key to the success of both the short-term emergency response, as well as long-term recovery, is the need to root all activities in healthy relationships. It is the most important ingredient for effective and sustainable impact.

In Indonesia, FH worked closely with the local government and religious leaders to implement life-saving initiatives. Years later, those relationships were noticeably invaluable as FH was one of the only organizations asked by the local authorities to stay and continue activities that were helping the region thrive again.

In the Philippines, FH is already connecting with large networks of influential church leaders and local authorities, and building relationships, so that the work FH does is done in partnership with communities. Relationships are core to the FH response in the Philippines. And I have no doubt that these efforts will have lasting and exponential impact.

2. Prayer is Essential

Often stated, but under estimated, prayer is a powerful element in responding to God’s call to help those in need. One of the most challenging parts of the tsunami response in Indonesia was the unknown dynamic of working in a conservative Muslim culture.

From the very beginning, FH and it’s partners were dedicated to praying for the people of Indonesia, asking God to open up their hearts to be willing to receive the love of their Christian friends.

In looking back, anyone associated with the response would point out that the main reason for the cordial relationships with the Muslim community (government authorities and religious leaders alike) was the dedication to prayer by FH and it’s partners.

I am convinced that God is working miracles in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Disasters like this bring up the question: “Why does God allow this?” …It is our job to be obedient to what God is calling us to do. Please continue to pray for the Filipino people, and for the work God is doing through all relief efforts.

3. It’s a Marathon, and a Sprint

This is going to take a while. Homes have been lost, streets washed away, and livelihoods destroyed. While we must focus on the dire and essential needs of the Filipino people today… food, shelter, medicine… if we wish to truly walk with them through this catastrophe, we must be prepared to make a long-term commitment.

When I arrived in Aceh, Indonesia, it was 28 months following the tsunami. Families were still moving from temporary shelter to more permanent housing. Local commerce was just beginning to regain it’s former vigor. And children were benefiting from a consistent and more secure lifestyle.

FH is in it for the long haul. When the reporters leave, and the attention of the world moves on, FH has just begun. When you partner with FH, you will not only be providing critical, life-saving supplies for those struggling to survive today, but you will also be investing in their future.

It is important to learn from the past. FH isn’t going to just swoop in, drop off millions of dollars of supplies, and then leave a few months later. We have learned that the best game-plan for the immediate response is to help communities begin to envision a future where they can thrive again.

Through relationships, showered in prayer, and committed to a long-term partnership, FH is geared for lasting impact. With these lessons in mind, please consider partnering with FH as we care for the Filipino people in their distress.

About David Curtis

David is passionate about two things: Walking with the poor, and the New England Patriots. His interest in understanding and advocating for the poor began while spending the summer in rural South Africa, where he worked alongside a fellow 19 year old at an orphanage. The juxtaposition of life as a privileged American, with that of a determined yet struggling friend and peer from the Global South, began the trajectory of a calling to walk with the poor. Since then he has spent time working in South Africa, Indonesia and Haiti. David graduated from Calvin College as a Social Studies Teacher, combining a passion to teach with that of learning. A potent combination that strives to bring "Mutual Transformation" to the world. Go Pats!

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