Shoebox Gifts for a Storm-Ravaged Nation

December 23, 2013 • Philippines

A special delivery from Operation Christmas Child brings joy to Filipino children in a hospital where Samaritan’s Purse is providing emergency medical relief

Dr. Azaria Marthyman, a physician with the Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Assistance Response Team in Tacloban, Philippines, first noticed Jomer Afable in the outpatient ward at the Schistosomiasis Control and Research Hospital a few days ago.

“He was complaining of a headache, cramping, diarrhea, all the classic symptoms associated with schistosomiasis,” Dr. Marthyman said. “So we ran some tests, which confirmed my original diagnosis.”

BUILD A SHOEBOX ONLINE: You can share God’s love with children around the world by building your shoebox gift online.

SHOEBOXES FOR REFUGEE CHILDREN: Operation Christmas Child gifts will be on their way in January to boys and girls forced to flee violence in Syria.

A high fever had sapped the energy the 10-year-old boy who is normally bursting with life. He was administered an IV and placed on a regimen of anti-parasitic medication. Jomer will be in a hospital bed until he fully recovers.

Jomer’s vitality, along with his easy smile, has started to return in short bursts, and Dr. Marthyman hopes his young patient will be home in time for Christmas.

“He perked right up as soon as we got him medicated,” Dr. Marthyman said.

Caring For the Sick

Schistosomiasis is a growing medical concern on the island of Tacloban. An alarming number of cases have been flooding into the hospital ever since Super Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines with winds blowing up to 235-miles-per-hour.

Samaritan’s Purse doctors and nurses providing emergency medical relief in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan pray over Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts. These were given as a surprise to boys and girls who are recovering in our field hospital.

Samaritan’s Purse doctors and nurses providing emergency medical relief in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan pray over Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts. These were given as a surprise to boys and girls who are recovering in our field hospital.

But it wasn’t the gale-force gusts and soaking rains that have fueled this problem, so much as the 25-foot storm surge that overwhelmed many of the people here and killed thousands.

“Typically there is a high prevalence of this with farmers,” Dr. Marthyman said. “It’s a parasitic disease that can enter the blood stream if someone is standing in contaminated water. Typhoon Haiyan—the storm surge in particular—has spread this disease all over the island.”

Dr. Marthyman says the outpatient clinic is treating 80 to 130 cases per day. There are another 50 to 80 cases per day diagnosed by the Samaritan’s Purse mobile clinic, which sends medical professionals out into nearby and remote communities to help those who can’t reach the hospital.

“It’s treatable, but only if we know people are sick,” he said. “That’s a real challenge right now.”

Sharing the Good News

In addition to renewed health, Dr. Marthyman had the unique opportunity to give Jomer another gift—an Operation Christmas Child shoebox filled with toys and the hope of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Azaria Marthyman treated 10-year-old Jomer when he first arrived in Tacloban for medical care. Two days later he gave Jomer an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift and shared the Gospel with his young patient.

Dr. Azaria Marthyman treated 10-year-old Jomer when he first arrived in Tacloban for medical care. Two days later he gave Jomer an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift and shared the Gospel with his young patient.

It arrived as part of a special delivery of 65,000 gift-filled shoeboxes packed for children in storm-ravaged areas of the Philippines who have been left to suffer in the aftermath of this terrible disaster.

Dr. Marthyman sat on Jomer’s bedside sharing the story of how Christmas is the celebration of our Savior’s birth. This was the first time Jomer had ever heard about the Christ Child.

“I don’t go to church,” Jomer said. “The doctor took good care of me so maybe I should.”

When Haiyan made landfall, Jomer and his family hid in their home. He remembers being scared of the loud wind, which eventually peeled the roof from the walls. Water rushed like a ragging river into the house and rose up to their knees. For more than three hours, they were trapped.

Jomer’s family survived the storm, but all of his toys and many of his clothes and possessions had washed away.

“My only toys are now in this box,” Jomer said as he nodded to his gift. “I’m so happy. Thank you.”

Receiving an Unexpected Blessing

Rhea Martinez’s four-year-old son, Luke, also received an early Christmas present in the form of a shoebox.

“I wasn’t sure what was going on,” she laughed. “But then Luke got this beautiful gift. We didn’t expect to have any gifts for Christmas this year, especially after the typhoon hit.”

Luke, Rhea, and her husband and 1-year old baby live an hour’s drive from the hospital, where the strength of Typhoon Haiyan was just as fierce. Heavy rains soaked the ground beneath them and heavy winds of 190-miles-per-hour screamed above them.

“It sounded like a person was crying,” Rhea said of the storm. “It just kept getting louder, and we were all so scared.”

It didn’t take long before the Martinez home had been shredded, the roof torn off and its walls battered and broken. They ran for safety to Rhea’s mother’s house, which was nearby.

After Haiyan, known as Yolanda in the Philippines, had finally breathed her last terrifying gasp, Rhea’s first thought was to go to church.

“But when we got there, the church was completely destroyed,” she said. “I thought how horrible, Yolanda didn’t even spare the church.”

A few days later, Luke became violently ill.

The government-run rural health unit referred him to the Schistosomiasis Control and Research Hospital. This wasn’t the first member of the Martinez family to end up there. Rhea’s husband had been at the same hospital recovering from an illness himself in August.

When Rhea arrived with a weak and dehydrated boy in her arms, she couldn’t believe what she saw.

“I kept thinking that I was just dreaming,” Rhea said. “But destruction was everywhere.”

Nearly the entire second floor of the hospital was decapitated in the storm, and much of the staff has left to deal with their own devastation or that of family members.

“Samaritan’s Purse has taken over the outpatient clinic until the facilities can be repaired and people are able to come back to work,” Dr. Marthyman said.

“Standing Strong in Jesus”

Luke received the medical care he so desperately needed, but he will be spending Christmas in a hospital bed.

Rhea Martinez brought her son Luke to the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital in Tacloban after he fell violently ill. Luke not only received medical care, but he was also given a gift-filled shoebox from Operation Christmas Child.

Rhea Martinez brought her son Luke to the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital in Tacloban after he fell violently ill. Luke not only received medical care, but he was also given a gift-filled shoebox from Operation Christmas Child.

The Operation Christmas Child shoebox he received, filled with toys, has given Luke and his mother some much needed relief. Every time Luke pushes around his new toy truck, he can forget about the tragedy and sickness that rage around him even for just a little while.

“Thank God for this amazing gift and for the person who packed it,” Rhea said. “All of Luke’s toys and belongings are gone. This is a true blessing.”

For Rhea, Luke’s gift-filled shoebox is a symbol of a greater hope she has for the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.

“The people of the Philippines are standing strong in Jesus,” she said.

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