Christmas Comes to the Philippines

December 17, 2013 • Philippines
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Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes packed by Hurricane Sandy victims are delivered into the hands of boys and girls who survived Typhoon Haiyan

Christmas in the Philippines is a national celebration that begins in September and lasts through February. In homes and business districts all over the country, ornate decorations, lights, and signs of the season dance in windows and spring from rooftops.

But on the small island of Bantayan, where the 230-mph winds of Typhoon Haiyan ripped through communities without discrimination, what Christmas decorations remain hang dark and lifeless since most of the island has no electricity. Many of the roofs and houses they once adorned have been peeled away from their foundations and littered in twisted heaps across the neighborhoods.

And yet there are signs of hope in the form of shoeboxes. Some 65,000 Operation Christmas Child gifts with toys and the hope of Jesus Christ—each one individually filled by loving hands—have arrived in the storm-weary island nation.

Special Delivery
In November, Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham announced a special collection of shoeboxes for victims of Typhoon Haiyan. He wanted the joy of these simple gifts to help overcome the devastation of this horrific disaster, even for just a moment.

“Children in the Philippines are going to get these gifts and know that God loves them, ” Graham said. “They are going to know that they haven’t been forgotten. These boxes will be a little ray of hope.”

It's been more than a month since the typhoon slammed into the Philippines,  and still much of Bantayan Island is without electricity. These simple gifts are a way for children to forget—even for just a moment—the difficult challenges that surround them.

It’s been more than a month since the typhoon slammed into the Philippines, and still much of Bantayan Island is without electricity. These simple gifts are a way for children to forget—even for just a moment—the difficult challenges that surround them.

Answering the call were hundreds of Hurricane Sandy survivors, families who know exactly what it means to suffer through a fierce storm that claims homes and lives—and who understand hope is something that needs to be held onto tightly in the aftermath of disaster.

“I packed stuffed animals, which I think they will hold at night and fear for nothing and know that God will be in control,” Diana Barbacena, an 11-year-old girl who was evacuated from her Long Beach, N.Y., home during Hurricane Sandy said.

In total about 60,000 shoeboxes, with around 5,000 more sent from Canada, were packed and collected in just weeks.

The gift-filled shoeboxes were loaded onto a Boeing 747 at JFK Airport in New York on December 12. The cargo jet carrying the precious cargo touched down at Macta-Cebu International Airport in the Philippines at 2:05 a.m. local time on December 14.

In less than two hours, 65,000 shoeboxes were off-loaded and sent to a warehouse where local volunteers and staff helped sort them for delivery to churches across the country.

Filled With Joy

More than 100 of shoebox gifts arrived at Jesus Christ the Redeemer Church in Santa Fe, Bantayan on Monday.

Children and their parents waited eagerly to receive a special gift under a canopy of blue Samaritan’s Purse tarp—a reminder that their building still lies in ruins.

The church stood directly in the line of Typhoon Haiyan and fought for hours against constant wind and a deluge of rain. Eventually the walls and roof submitted to one of the strongest storms on record, which also completely obliterated the attached parsonage. All that remained were eight concrete pillars.

Ruth Echaves was there.

“The wind was so strong, everything was shaking. I watched as the roof was thrown over there,” she said, nodding to a pile of chewed up metal and wood.

She couldn’t point out the remains because in her arms Ruth held a squirmy little boy, her 5-year-old nephew, Fergus.

“This is such a blessing to us,” she said as Fergus coiled around her. “Two of my other children also received shoeboxes and they learned about Jesus.”

5-year-old Fergus is one of 65,000 children in the Philippines who will receive an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift just before Christmas.

5-year-old Fergus is one of 65,000 children in the Philippines who will receive an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift just before Christmas.

For Fergus, this would be his very first Christmas present, a small blessing for a boy with significant health issues.

“He can’t walk,” Ruth said. “He spends most of his day in a cradle. He has a cleft palate and a hole in his heart.”

When asked if Fergus would need surgery, Ruth was heartbreakingly honest.

“We can’t afford it,” she said. “But this here, this is filling his heart with joy.”

Fergus was so excited about his gift that he could not stop himself from smiling, clapping, and wriggling in his aunt’s arms.

Finally, his moment came—Fergus was handed a gift-filled shoebox. With tears in her eyes Ruth said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am so happy. His mother will be so happy.”

More than 100 boys and girls in the Philippines had the opportunity to experience true joy when they received a shoebox gift.

More than 100 boys and girls in the Philippines had the opportunity to experience true joy when they received a shoebox gift.

After Fergus received his shoebox, Ruth carefully helped her young nephew open it to survey its contents. Stuffed inside were a plush snake, markers, and crayons. He also received a booklet that talked about the greatest gift of all—the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Fergus could not verbalize his excitement, but the expression on his face said everything: Great joy has arrived to the Philippines just in time for Christmas.

“Thank you for this,” Ruth said. “It means so much to us knowing that people on the other side of the world really do care.”

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