News from Cebu after Typhoon Haiyan

Regular readers of this blog will know that before I was Rector of St Giles I was a CMS Missionary in Cebu in the Philippines, not too far from where Typhoon Haiyan made ground fall recently. Most of my work was in rural coastal villages, which are affected every year by storms and Typhoons. The Pastor Glemar who continues the work we began wrote in his prayer letter in September this year:

Pray also for the living condition of the people in the community. They need other means for sustainable income. Most of them are fishermen. Sometimes have good catch, and sometimes only enough for the day. They are mostly affected by the condition of the weather in our country. If there is typhoon, their source of living might be suspended for they cannot go out for fishing. So please pray for them.

I haven’t heard directly from those who we knew in Cebu, but looking through the news reports it seems that our areas escaped the worst of the storm damage, and were ‘relatively’ unscathed. I have also picked up a couple of emails from missionary friends who are still in the Philippines and who have contats in Northern Cebu and Tacloban, the areas which have suffered such devastation. One of these writes:

The most intense part of the storm went across the islands where we have many of our churches. The church buildings and the surrounding towns and cities were hard hit.

Already many of our churches from the less affected areas are responding with aid. Convoys of food and water are even now working their way along the roads made dangerous by downed trees and power lines, and threats of looters toward the devastated cities. The people of our churches will bring both physical aid the good news of the gospel. They are not waiting for groups from the outside, but are acting now.

I want to encourage you to contribute generously to the relief fund set up by Converge Worldwide. These funds are overseen by our church leaders in the Philippines who we know and trust. These funds will supply aid to where it is desperately needed. This aid, brought by our churches, will provide a wonderful testimony of the love of God, and create an ongoing opportunity for the advance of the gospel.

As a church we are supporting the Typhhon Haiyan Relief effort through our Mission Partner Christian Aid who has partner agencies working in the affected areas. You can find our more about there work and support them financially here – Christian Aid Typhoon Haiyan Appeal.

Pray for Cebu

Before coming to St Giles I was a missionary living and serving in Cebu city in the Philippines. It was an incredibly rich time and I have an enduring love of the people and affection for the country and city. This last week Cebu was close to the epicentre of the worst earthquake that the region has known for 25 years.

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The photo above is of some of the damage in Mandaue city, close to where I lived and where many of our church members where from (courtesy of Big Picture).

The BBC have more on the story here though it has hardly featured in the national news, possibly 150 have been killed; keep the country, city and church in your prayers.

 

 

Kidnapped Priest released in the Philippines

Manila (AsiaNews) – The Irish priest kidnapped a month ago in Pagadian (Mindanao) was released this morning before dawn at 4:25 in the coastal village of Sangalo. The Philippines and Ireland said they had not paid any ransom. The kidnappers had demanded the payment of 2 million U.S. dollars. Delivered by a group of the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) to a military base in Zamboanga, Fr. Michael Sinnot said he was treated well by his captors, though he had to endure many difficulties when moving by sea and walking in the jungle that the rebels used as cover to escape army troops.

The priest says he has no ill feeling towards his kidnappers. "They treated me well … I was given lectures on their ideology, but for the rest, I was treated well."

Fr. Michael Sinnott, 79, a Columban missionary, was kidnapped on 11 October in the courtyard of his church by an armed group. Initially, authorities had suspected that the group belonged to the terrorist organization Abu Sayyaf or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the armed group fighting for autonomy in Mindanao.

Fr. Sinnot has ruled that his kidnappers belonged to the MILF. "I am very sure," said the priest, after his release, "My captors were real nomads, not MILF." He also said that the reason for his kidnapping was for money in ransom.

In fact is was MILF – which has offered to help the army – that delivered the freed, priest, whose suffered precarious health conditions and had undergone by-pass surgery.

At the end of October, the kidnappers released a video of the priest, in which they demanded a ransom of 2 million dollars. The Philippine authorities and the Irish state say they did not pay the ransom.

General Ben Dolorfino, has applauded the commitment of MILF and stated that the release of Fr Sinnot is a “positive measure for the upcoming peace negotiations".

MILF, after decades of insurgency in the south, had opened peace talks with the government, but they were suspended last year due to a series of accidents caused by rebel groups in Mindanao.

Pray for Peace in the Philippines

Before coming to West Bridgford I was working as a vicar in the Philippines. Based in Cebu in the Visaya’s region I had a number of responsibilities. One of these was pastoring a small congregation of Episcopalians who had resettled in Cebu from Cotabato city in the south. Cotabato is one of the largest cities in Mindanao a large landmass that is home to most of the Philippines 15% Muslims. For many years an armed conflict has simmered between those seeking a Muslim independent state in the south, and the predominantly Christian Filipino armed forces. Similar conflicts can be found across SE Asia – Thailand, East Timor and Sri Lanka spring to mind. As you travel deeper into rural areas in Mindanao, you travel further from the rule of law and order and into an increasingly divided land. Christian and Muslim villages nestle side by side. One with a mosque the other a church. One farms pigs the other does not, otherwise there will be little difference between them to the outsider, yet those who are intent of violence will exploit local tensions for their own ends. My Episcopal friends spoke of leaving Cotabato in order to find new lives for themselves and their children. They would speak of sectarian murders, land grabs corruption and persecution at many levels of society.

During my time in Cebu I was part of the Episcopal Diocese of the Southern Philippines and travelled several times to see my bishop who was based at the Cathedral in Cebu. Always hospitable I stayed in his home and had the run of the cathedral compound. But we had to be careful though. Exploring Cotabato alone was discouraged, Western missionaries and Catholic priests have been kidnapped for ransom in Mindanao. Flying into the city you discover the airport is located in the centre of an army base to discourage terrorist attacks. Roadblock security checks are frequent. I thought of ‘my’ bishop Bustamente and is son whose room I used to stay in this last week when I heard of a bomb attack at Cotabato’s catholic cathedral this weekend.

The archbishop was delivering a sermon about peacemakers when a powerful explosion ripped through a nearby store selling roasted pigs, rocking the packed cathedral.

Churchgoers screamed and rushed to the altar. Others fell, wounded or dying, including a woman lechon vendor whose arm was torn off.

In the bloodiest of a spate of bomb attacks that have rocked parts of Mindanao in recent weeks, five people were killed and about 45 wounded Sunday when a homemade bomb tore through the lechon store outside the Cotabato Immaculate Conception Cathedral.

A fuller report can be found here. Time will tell whether this was a ‘rogue’ attack by a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation front, or whether this marks a new phase in the conflict. I’m praying for peace in the Philippines, in the fullest meaning of the word – a cessation of hostilities and an experience of harmony and well being.