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Typhoon hits close to home for Ariz. Filipino churches
As he hit the song's high notes, Associate Pastor Simeon Ferreras' heart weighed heavily, and even as he immersed himself in the song's message, his thoughts carried him to his home country. It was the second Sunday after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the central islands in the Philippines, and the worship leader's heart had sunk, again and again, at the horrific images of the terrible path that the storm had struck.
With his arms stretched to the heavens, Ferreras affirmed what has been constant since before the beginning of the universe -- God is in complete control.
"Despite the chaos around us, we are still called to be God's people. We are still called to worship Him," he shouted. His affirmation was partly a declaration of faith and partly a lamentation -- a cry of sorrow and grief for a country that was plunged into a terrible ordeal, and which is only beginning to grapple with the aftermath of a super typhoon's wrath.
Pastor Ferreras wasn't alone. Many members of the Valley International Christian Church in Peoria have come from the Philippines and most still have relatives there. Thankfully, their families live in islands that did not bear the brunt of Typhoon Haiyan's full force. But at least one family has lost a home, and some also have relatives whose houses were destroyed.
And so in their songs of praise, the faithful pleaded to God -- for mercy, for comfort, for understanding the terrible tragedy that had befallen the country of their birth. More than anything, they prayed that their supplication would also serve as the prayer of those who have lost everything to the storm.
But prayer is only a part of it. Since the full extent of Typhoon Haiyan's wrath came into sharp focus, the Filipino-American community in Arizona sprang into action. Emails and mobile phones had lit up, asking what can be done now and how to coordinate a concerted response to the plea for help from the Philippines.
In the East Valley, Pastor Joel Padilla of the Fil-Am International Baptist Church said his church is collecting goods, which will be sent to the Philippines after Thanksgiving. On Nov. 17, members raised funds by selling meals at church.
Pastor Padilla said the Jewish community has also reached out. He is going to a Jewish temple on Nov. 22, when he expects to also raise funds and collect more goods.
"The response has been overwhelming," he said, adding that calls from friends and others have poured in, promising aid to the typhoon victims.
To find out where to send funds and other donations, Valley International Senior Pastor Allan Gayongala reached out to the Visayas Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in the Philippines, which set up an operations center to channel relief to affected areas.
Pastor Paul Nelson of the Celebration Lutheran Church in Peoria agreed to allow the Valley International youth ministry to hold a hastily organized carwash at his church's parking lot. That Saturday was cloudy and a little chilly, but the youth group managed to raise nearly $700.
Bible study groups also began organizing a fund drive. The plan is for each group to send boxes full of ready-to-eat meals to the central islands.
The drive to help continues as of this writing. On Nov. 23, Valley Internation will be holding a garage sale on the lawn of the South Peoria Baptist Church. Another carwash is also planned that day.
The proceeds from the sale and the carwash will all go to the Philippines. On the Thanksgiving Sunday, the church will also be collecting funds.
Others are thinking ahead and are trying to figure out ways to help on a more permanent basis.
Shirley Miole, a nurse who, along with her husband and children, moved to the U.S. from southern Philippines, suggested adopting a family from one of the devastated islands and providing help for a few months.
"That's more tangible. We're not giving something now and just moving on," she said during a recent gathering of her Bible study group.
Finally, a musical event that is planned for Dec. 6 and 8 quickly shifted its goals. Instead of raising money to later construct a church building, ticket sales will now be sent to the typhoon victims. (Ferreras is directing the musical.)
Gayongala told his congregation that priorities have changed, and the need in the Philippines is so dire that his church is pulling all the stops to collect as much as possible as quickly as possible.
He made the plea after giving a sobering sermon about thanking God -- even in the worst of circumstances.
"With what is going on around us, is there anything to be thankful for?" he asked. He answered his own question -- yes, because God's character is good, because His love endures forever and because His faithfulness never ceases.
Ferreras said he had struggled to select the songs to sing, but in the end, he settled on a message of hope and deliverance.
By the third song, he was wholly immersed in its lyrics:
"Oh, my God, He will not delay
My refuge and strength always."
The typhoon victims in the Philippines desperately need help -- and fast.
Southern Baptists are already on the ground helping in relief efforts. You can give online through the International Mission Board here. Or you can give through Baptist Global Response here. Keep up with how Southern Baptists are helping through the websites of these organizations. Churches may send relief funds through the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, which will forward the designated gifts to the IMB.
The Fil-Am International Baptist Church and the Valley International Christian Church are also actively raising funds. Pastor Allan Gayongala of Valley International can be reached at (602) 821-8400. Pastor Joel Padilla of Fil-Am Baptist Church can be reached (480) 329-9830.