Rarely can one image tell the story.
But when it comes to ministry in the Philippines, this one of Rapid Response Team chaplain Barb Grabowski praying for a sick child comes close.
Barb and husband Leo Grabowski were in the Cebu City region for 56 days recently, mostly visiting churches, encouraging pastors still struggling to rebuild after last November’s deadly Typhoon Yolanda.
But one day, by chance, the Grabowskis found themselves at an Operation Christmas Child distribution when Barb couldn’t help but notice a woman holding a small girl who seemed very ill.
“She kept crying and looked lethargic,” Barb recalled. “I came over and asked what was wrong.”
Turns out the baby was fighting a 103-degree fever and wouldn’t stop crying. “I said ‘Do you mind if I pray for her?’ and she said ‘Please do.’”
After a short time of prayer, the crying stopped and the baby’s temperature started to drop.
In another setting, this experience may have raised the Grabowski’s eyebrows, but in the Philippines, they’ve come to expect the unexpected. “It’s all about the Holy Spirit working,” Leo said.
The couple from South Carolina is now back home, but the memories, the sights, the smells, the emotions—they’re all still fresh in their minds. They had the privilege of meeting and praying with 125 pastors in and around Cebu City, many who were moved to tears by their mere presence.
“When you tell them you’re just there to pray for them, they start to cry,” Leo said. “And that makes you cry.”
Leo and Barb will both tell you, God taught them the art of listening, as so many pastors and lay leaders seemed desperate to share their heartache.
“They can’t sleep,” Leo said. “They’re having flashbacks of the waves and dead bodies and the smells.”
Another part of the Rapid Response Team’s ministry was holding two Grief Following Trauma seminars for approximately 200 church leaders in northern Cebu City and Batayan Island, where Samaritan’s Purse began working just days after Typhoon Yolanda struck.
The sessions included how to minister to people going through trauma, what to expect during times of chaos and a Q&A time, where many shared similar experiences of not sleeping or eating in the seven months since Yolanda struck.
One questioned why the “Rapid Response Team” took seven months to deploy to their country, while many others answered that in the initial months after disaster struck, the chaplains would not have been received as well. Pastors and lay leaders at churches were too busy meeting immediate and material needs.
The United Nations reported 6,200 deaths, 28,000 injured, 1.1 million homes destroyed or severely damaged and 4 million left homeless.
“Some of the people didn’t have food for the first two weeks,” Barb said. “They had to wash out dirty rice just to survive.”
But through it all, the one thing that sticks out most to the Grabowskis is the resiliency and contentment of the Filipino believers. And while the purpose of the chaplains’ visit was to encourage pastors with the hope and love of Christ, they left hearts more full than when they came.
“They’re grateful for anything,” Leo said. “They’re always smiling. They’re so resilient.”
Leo remembers one pastor, standing in what was left of a 9-x-12 room that was once his church office. There were no walls or roof left standing, just a couple of chairs.
“I may be homeless, I may be roofless,” the pastor told him, “but I’m not hopeless.”