April 23, 2014


RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- Less than 24 hours after Typhoon Haiyan roared through the Philippines, Southern Baptist missionaries and disaster relief specialists were delivering aid to dozens of towns and villages devastated by the super storm. Their efforts are just part of a larger, global response to Haiyan by the international Baptist community that is multiplying Southern Baptists' impact.

Baptists in Japan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Italy have already responded to the crisis or are pledging their support, as have numerous Filipino Baptist churches in the United States. Some are coordinating efforts through relief organizations such as Baptist Global Response (BGR), a key International Mission Board partner in disaster relief ministries, while others are channeling aid through Philippine churches.

Images of destruction in places like Tacloban City bring back haunting memories for Joel Cuellar, evangelism and missions pastor at Tokyo Baptist Church. During the past two years, Tokyo Baptist has sent more than 300 of its members to serve in relief and rebuilding efforts following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that decimated parts of northeast Japan.

"It's hard to accept the reality that thousands of people passed away in such a short time," said Cuellar, 47, a native Filipino who moved to Japan more than 20 years ago. "It's becoming more natural for us to respond with the love of God when calamity strikes, because we've learned from firsthand experience."

When Cuellar heard the news about the extent of Haiyan's damage, he said he immediately began praying about how Tokyo Baptist Church might help.

"Our purpose is to rebuild lives, both physically and spiritually, with the Gospel of Christ," he said. "It's based on the Great Commission and Matthew 25, when Jesus asked us to feed those who are hungry."

Cuellar's congregation has given $5,000 to aid typhoon victims through BGR and plans to continue giving through a special offering to be collected during the next few weeks.

"No one can see the pictures of the Philippines on TV and relate more directly than the people here who were in the tsunami," said Dennis Folds, Tokyo Baptist's senior pastor. "The devastation looks the same."
Folds emphasized that the typhoon is a reminder that Christians must work quickly to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of victims.

"The urgency that we have right now to help the Philippines should remind us as believers to have a continual urgency to share the Gospel ... because we never know how an individual might be affected in a tragic event," he said.

Though the majority of Tokyo Baptist's membership is Japanese, it is an international church with about 40 different nationalities represented. Among them are more than 100 active Filipinos including Raneil Ensomo, who is from a small village on the island of Leyte, where Tacloban City is located. Ensomo's parents told him that 60 percent of the homes in his hometown were destroyed; only 10 percent still have roofs. His parents are among the 10 percent, but their next-door neighbors weren't so lucky.

"Everyone is focusing on Tacloban, and for a good reason, but the typhoon affected a very large area and I think there are lots of places that are not getting enough help," Ensomo said. Many outlying towns and villages, particularly in remote mountain areas, have yet to see any aid. "They don't know what to do; they don't have money to rebuild their houses," he said.

That thought has kept other members of Tokyo Baptist's Filipino congregation awake at night.

"I've been praying, I've been crying -- I can't even sleep, because I see all those people asking for help," said Karen Damian, who is thankful her family wasn't affected by the storm. The show of international support in Haiyan's wake has been encouraging, she added.
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