Though landlocked, the town of Burauen, on Leyte Island in the Philippines, was devastated by Typhoon Yolanda when it came ashore in November 2013. One city official estimated that 95 to 100 percent of the town suffered damage. And while the recovery process has started thanks to aid from the government and relief organizations, the people of Burauen are still feeling both the physical and emotional effects of the destructive typhoon.
“There is still much to be done,” says Gerri Miller, a TEAM missionary who serves with her husband Jeff at the International Graduate School of Leadership (IGSL) in Manila. “It was very difficult to see the devastation that took place. People still living in tents or just barely getting their roofs covered again.”
In early 2014, Miller and other IGSL faculty members were invited to minister to typhoon victims by Col. Don Bajao, a Filipino officer at the military base in Burauen. Bajao became a Christian more than 20 years ago and was discipled by current IGSL president Tom Roxas. Bajao is on a mission to shine the light of Christ not only at his military camp, but also in the surrounding community.
“The camp is known for God’s love, shown in caring for children and families in service to the community on and off base, and Christian music and Scripture is heard over the loud speakers at different times of the day,” Miller says. “God is doing amazing things.”
Serving alongside workers from a nearby church, Miller and her IGSL colleagues held a children’s program on base that was open to families from the camp and the community. Miller and her co-leaders were pleasantly surprised when 300 kids came to the Saturday program, packing the tent full. After a day filled with singing, Bible lessons, games, and food, those children brought along more than 100 new friends to the Sunday school program the next day.
“Though these kids had been through the trauma of the typhoon, they sang with gusto and seemed to absorb all that we shared with them,” Miller says. Program leaders set up a separate tent for parents, where 150 people attended the first worship service ever held on Burauen’s military base. All the families were given a back-to-school kit and lunch as a parting gift.
Miller’s group had another mission while on the base. Bajao had asked them to share the gospel with a large group of soldiers and disciple a smaller group of Christian soldiers. They trained the Christian soldiers how to share their faith and discussed the concept of servant leadership from a Christian perspective. Miller and a group of four women from IGSL also trained more than 30 core leadership soldiers in post-trauma debriefing, a necessary skill as soldiers and people in the surrounding community continue to deal with the after-effects of the typhoon.
“The men seemed appreciative of the skills we taught,” Miller says. “Our prayer was that these men would not only learn the skills to help the communities they serve, but even more so to help them process their own ongoing traumas in the line of duty.”
-Written by Lisa H. Renninger
-Photos by Jeff Miller