When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November 2013, it not only left a trail of ruined homes, flattened businesses and uprooted trees, it caused emotional trauma for many in the disaster’s path.
This included pastors and other caregivers who would be called upon to help people in their communities and churches as soon as the wind, rain and storm surges subsided.
“I felt so helpless. I didn’t know how to protect my family,” Pastor Janar Ruiz said. “We all went to the church during the typhoon and we couldn’t do anything but cry. I put my children under my shirt next to my skin.”
Peacebuilders Community, Inc., (PBCI) a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner, realized that pastors would need assistance as they met with various church leaders in Ormoc City, Leyte Province, the week after the storm. PBCI is a local Philippines organization with ties to the Integrated Mennonite Church of the Philippines and is a ministry of Mennonite Church Canada Witness.
Based on the assessment, PBCI developed a plan to provide 50 pastors with an opportunity to talk about their experiences and to be trained in psychological first aid, disaster risk reduction and peace and reconciliation. MCC supported the assessment and the plan.
On February 4-6, the first group of pastors from the Philippines Council of Evangelical Churches met in Ormoc City for the first training. Clinical psychologist Bennette Tenecio lead pastors in several rounds of uninterrupted sharing about their feelings during the typhoon and afterward.
Pastor Jonathan Pobadora, who lost his home and whose family is still living in a tent three months after the typhoon, found new meaning in his emotions. “Fear is what allowed us to survive,” he said. “We evacuated and stayed away from danger areas. God made us survivors by giving us fear. I am thankful for these emotions.”
This psychological first aid training also prepared the participants to walk alongside people who are suffering from disaster or tragedy. Tenecio offered specific phrases that can help calm and communicate caring: “Is there anything you want to tell me about what happened?” “How is your family doing?” “Is there anything you need right now?”
The training also helped pastors, who historically have not looked to each other for support, to establish closer personal connections, said Jeanne Jantzi, who attended the training in her role as an MCC area director for Southeast Asia. She and her husband, Dan Jantzi, also an area director, are based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and are from Lowville, N.Y.
“When there are people who care for us, it lightens the pain,” said Pastor Eufemio Surigao.
PBCI facilitator Boyet Ongkiko challenged the pastors to get involved in their village’s disaster response work rather than create parallel structures only for church members.
“Holiness does not mean separation from the community,” he told them. “If you are too busy in church activities, you don’t have time for the community.” He encouraged the group of 16 men and four women to be salt and light in their communities by joining other community leaders.
The group also strategized on how to organize for effective disaster responses in ways that involve the church and government agencies.
The group will meet again for a second round of training in peace and reconciliation. When all 50 pastors are trained, each having committed to passing on what they learned to four others, 200 pastors will have been impacted by training.