A connection made in the Philippines teaches one staff member about the significance of each job after a disaster.
Chelsea Charping is a staff writer who visited the Philippines in November 2013 to cover Samaritan’s Purse work after Typhoon Haiyan.
Recently my husband asked, “If you could do anything in the world, what would you want to do?”
“As crazy as it sounds, I’d want to do what I’m doing right now,” I said. “Our organization helps people. It’s a life or death difference. And not only that, but we’re following God’s command to ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’ There’s only one thing I would change. I wish I had the skills to really make a difference. I wish I were an engineer working with WASH or that I could do feeding distributions. But I don’t have those skills. I just write. I get to hear people’s stories, but I don’t really get to help them.”
It turns out that what seems like nothing to me actually can make a difference in the life of someone else.
When I was in the Philippines in November, I met a woman named Elena and her husband at the Shistosomiasis Research and Training Center hospital. After I did a short interview, I asked our photographer to take a few photos of the couple.
Once he had finished snapping the photos, Elena asked for my notebook. She spoke some English, although it was broken, and was able to communicate that she wanted me to send the photo to the address she had written down.
After I returned home, I asked our photo librarian to print the photo. I put it in an envelope and carefully wrote the address. But then I thought about it. Tacloban was destroyed. Nothing was left. Even the hospital was missing the second floor. What was the likelihood that the postal service was still running?
It seemed likely that mailing the photo would be a waste of money, but I decided to do it anyway.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I was checking Facebook when I noticed I had a message in the “other” section. This is usually where spam goes, and I rarely check it. But when I clicked on it, I saw it was from the Philippines. I opened it and read*:
Dear friend Chelsea,
Hello. How are you? Back home again with your family circle and friends, and, of course, there’s no place like home. Four months ago, Yolanda victims sought refuge, and one of the victims at Shistosomiasis Hospital was my husband, Angel Canonce. Do you remember? DOH assigned foreign doctors, nurses, and health officials to different hospitals in Leyte, most especially in Tacloban, Palo, Tolosa, and Dulag and you, my friend Chelsea, were so lucky to be assigned to Shisto Hospital. The T-shirt worn by the foreigners said Samaritan’s. At that time, my husband and I were on the bed. You took pictures and told us to move closer for better viewing. My husband’s condition was always monitored. We stayed at the hospital three and half days and were then referred again to EVRMC-Tacloban. That was Wednesday, November 20. At noon on November 21, he had his last breath. I was so sad when he passed away.
Afterward, I was at home thinking of what to do without him. Our house was destroyed. There is no roofing, walling, or ceiling. Nobody I talk with can suggest anything. Who can help us? Relief given by foreigners and local government were food, clothing, medicines, and temporary widespread roofing to serve as shelter. As of now there is no more relief. We were waiting for galvanized roof so we can start, but there is none. Where can I turn? My daughters are in their own family and have the same problems with their houses. A temporary widespread canvas shelters us. GOD PLEASE HELP US. Almost all houses in our locality (Palo) have not even begun repairs, most especially because after Yolanda, two typhoons visited our place and they were destroyed again. People already have fears of weather conditions.
Currently I am in Cebu. Your letter arrived in Palo, was received by my daughter, and mailed to Cebu.
My dear friend, thank you so much for your thoughtfulness. The picture you send will serve as a souvenir while I’m still alive.
Never would I expect to receive such photo from a new friend. Really you’re a true friend. Though I’m old, this will be my chance to exchange words with someone far away.
Thank you so much again.
Your Friend in Palo Leyte,
Making a Difference
Although mailing that photo took little effort on my part, it meant so much to Elena. Her husband died the day I returned home, only three days after the photo was taken. It was the last one taken of him.
I often feel like I don’t actually do much to help people in need. I don’t give people water or food or teach them important skills. I know many other people feel that way too. I sit and listen to stories. Sometimes people say it’s therapeutic to talk with someone. I bring the stories back to the office and write them, hoping that they touch someone’s heart somewhere.
Receiving that message from Elena reminded me that each of us has an important role in the body of Christ, and no one should feel less adequate than another person. We are all needed to accomplish the tasks set before us.
“But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?” (1 Corinthians 12:18-19, NKJV).
Because of Elena’s message, I was able to contact our office in the Philippines and pass along her phone number with the information about her house. Our staff members were able to assess her situation, and she will soon receive a shelter kit to help in the rebuilding of her house.
*I preserved the letter mostly intact but edited parts of it to make it easier to read.