By Jerry Parks
The explosion of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines is over and done and no longer a subject of newspaper headlines. All that remains for us is the enjoyment and fascination of the beautiful harvest sunsets that have been enhanced by the volcanic dust that is still floating in the atmosphere. The temptation for most of us now is to view the situation with an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of disregard.
Because of my involvement with the Filipino people over the past years, and knowing the potential for misery from such a catastrophe, I felt compelled to make an unscheduled trip to Manila and make my way to the Mt. Pinatubo area to see first hand how bad the situation really is and gather as much information as possible to supply to brethren here in the U.S. who might be inclined to assist Filipino brethren in need.
Accompanying me on the trip from Manila to Mt. Pinatubo was my good friend and trusted fellow laborer, Ben Cruz. Ben is well acquainted with the brethren in that area and was most useful at helping me make contacts with brethren there. We used Ben’s trusty old jeep as our source of transportation and it served us well through the whole trip. Brother Fred Agulto is a good driver as well as an excellent mechanic. Brother Edmundo Cipriano was outstanding as a scribe. He recorded all information as we interviewed people and viewed the disaster first hand. Brother Emilio Alverez and Gary Aron-rin were also indispensable as photographer and caring for our equipment. I am deeply indebted to these fine gospel preachers for our safe return to Manila.
Our trip was unannounced and none of the brethren in the area had any indication that we were coming. We wanted it that way so there would be no temptation to gather crowds or exaggerate the needs. As soon as we arrived in the immediate area of the volcano, we could see that there was no need to exaggerate the situation. The misery and devastation was very real, almost unbelievable.
Fortunately, the worst of the damage was confined to three provinces; Zambales, Pampanga, and Tarlac. People in other districts experienced discomforts from the volcanic dust, but nothing like those brethren in the provinces just mentioned. We spent most of our time in the worst affected areas. Traveling was very difficult not only because of the volcanic ash flow called “Lahar” which destroyed roads and bridges, but also because at the time we were traveling, northern Luzon was experiencing a severe typhoon with winds up to 250 KPH. So in addition to the normal difficulties of traveling in that region, the wind and the rain blowing through the open jeep made it nearly impossible. But we managed to protect ourselves and the equipment and slowly made our way from village to village.
The brethren were surprised to see us and deeply touched that we seemed to care about their situation. They were eager to tell us their stories of that frightening day when the sun refused to shine because of the raining of volcanic ash and the ground trembling under their feet as the earthquakes repeatedly caused more and more damage to their little houses. They described running out of their houses just seconds before the roof, under the weight of the heavy volcanic ash, collapsed, and leaving their property and possessions in ruins.
I learned a great deal not only from the people, but by seeing first hand the natural results of a volcanic explosion in a populated area. I witnessed what happens when it rains and the rivers that are filled with “Lahar” will not accept the rain water. The water that normally is channeled by the rivers, flows out of control flooding streets, houses, and crop land. Often, all you can see is the roof top or a remnant of a house standing in total ruin. I stood on one hilltop with a sister in Christ named Angelita. She pointed to the fragments of the one wall of her house and explained with tears in her eyes that there was a street below the raging river of water, mud, and volcanic ash that we were viewing. The sea of water and mud behind the crumbling concrete wall used to be a beautiful rice field with a river off in the distance to irrigate the crops. Now the house is gone and the source of income is gone. She is left alone with three children who were obviously not feeling well. Angelita is living in a cardboard shanty in an area the government has provided called “Tent City.” Her husband had to travel to the Manila Bay area to look for work on a fishing boat. She invited us into the little smoke filled shanty house and offered us rice to eat. I gave her what little money I had with me and said that I would tell others in the U.S. about her sad situation. That seemed to be a great comfort to her, at least it was a ray of hope that might help her to continue her struggle for survival.
The sad story of sister Angelita was common and we heard it again and again as we traveled from place to place. Help is needed to buy medicine, rebuild houses, replant crops and to repay the loan sharks that these brethren have had to turn to for help.
Before the trip, I was unable to give any first hand information. But now I can supply names, addresses and damage assessment information and pictures of brethren who are desperately in need of your help. It seems that the terrible calamities in the Philippines are unending. Even as I was making my way to the Manila airport to return home, another typhoon was raging through the Visayan Islands 350 miles south of Manila. The early reports of death and destruction are shocking. I do not understand why so many calamities are befalling these people, but I do know that the suffering is real and the needs are real. All I know to do is what I have done. Hopefully this information that I have gathered will help to generate a desire on your part to want to provide some much needed help. I pray that we will not become weary in well doing. Even if you have helped before, will you not extend a helping hand again? Feel free to contact me day or night to provide you with the information that I have obtained. My home phone is (618) 3773842. My office phone is (618) 259-7532.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 24, pp. 753-754
December 19, 1991