The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines occurred in the middle of March 2020. It happened during the time when many of our poorer families, both in the rural and urban areas, had not fully recovered from the devastation of super typhoon Ursula that hit the Visayas Islands during Christmas Eve of 2019. Kabuganaan Philippines Ministries (KPM) was still implementing the remaining relief and rehabilitation activities for the affected families.
While the Philippines periodically experiences calamities such as typhoon, flood, earthquakes, and drought, the deadly COVID-19 virus was an unexpected disaster. Our country and people were not prepared for such a calamity.
During this outbreak, the Philippine President declared a health emergency and placed many parts of the country – including our region – under lockdowns and restrictions in compliance with mandated health protocols. KPM leadership took time to pause, pray, and make necessary plans. Representatives from our global partner Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM) were involved in our prayers and planning activities. Together, we were able to come up with an emergency response plan, which we submitted to CBM. Aside from the plan we submitted to our overseas partner, a plan was made for our local bodies, our denomination (Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches) and our provincial body (Capiznon Baptist Churches or Kasapulanan). Both our overseas partner and local bodies responded positively to our proposal and campaign for assistance and support.
As program administrators, it was our responsibility to secure necessary permits from the Department of Health Inter-Agency Task Force for COVID-19 and from the local government units so that we could have mobility to serve those needing assistance. One concrete example was when CBM decided to recall their Global Field Staff in the Philippines to return to their home country of Canada. Job, being the local partner, had to facilitate their safe travel by driving them to Iloilo International Airport for immediate repatriation.
Maximizing the use and mobilization of our material and human resources, we were able to extend emergency response assistance to the following groups:
- Lucero Baptist Church & Community. Lucero was the first community in the province that was locked down for almost a month due to a positive case found in a resident working at the Provincial Health Office. Restrictions on going in and out of the community were strictly imposed on residents and non-residents. KPM initiated the supply of relief goods – including face masks, alcohol, hand soap, etc., to around 300 people It also provided money to buy food. Assistance was facilitated through the local government unit that has access to the area. Our Kasapulanan churches were informed of the situation of the Lucero Baptist Church and their whole community and were requested to share something for the affected families and to offer prayers on their behalf until health restrictions were lifted.
- Health Workers of Capiz Emmanuel Hospital. This facility, affiliated with the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches, is more than a century old and is a Level II hospital located in Roxas City. When the pandemic broke out, the hospital was faced with so many needs and challenges. With the help of CBM, we were able to extend emergency relief assistance to around 350 health workers by providing them needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), food and housing during lockdowns and quarantine periods, consultations and testing, and hospitalization for those affected.
- Preschool Children. Children up to 14 years old were not allowed to leave their homes. During lockdowns, we provided our preschool children with face masks made by our women’s group. 120 children were provided face masks in our five childcare centers. This was extended to the children as well as to their parents.
- Poor Communities. KPM is serving the poor in two urban communities in the city, namely Libas and Nipa. These depressed communities are thickly populated with poor facilities and government services. Their houses are the most vulnerable to calamities like typhoons. KPM has childcare centers in these areas which are used not only for children’s learning sessions but also for community meetings and gatherings. Aside from the face masks which we extended to parents, we have also distributed rice to around 100 families. These families were badly affected by restrictions, and their communities were locked down. As a result, the mothers could not go to the market to sell fish and vegetables or to buy food for their family. The fathers, who are primarily fisher folks, were not allowed to go fishing. They were faced with this miserable situation for a month.
- Pastors locked down in their churches in Capiz Province and Muslim Faith Community in Mindanao. A number of pastors were also affected by lockdowns. Mass gatherings, including church Sunday worship services, were not allowed. Material support and monetary offerings of members went down in small rural churches. KPM extended financial support to 50 pastors in the province who were locked down in their churches. 15 Muslim brothers and sisters and their respective families were also extended financial assistance for food and other basic needs.
- Missionary Teachers and PBEA Scholars. In addition to the emergency relief and financial assistance KPM extended to affected communities, churches, families, and individuals, we have also extended Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services (MHPSS) to our frontline medical workers, pastors, five missionary teachers, and 17 PBEA youth scholars. This was conducted by licensed guidance counselors.
We are living in a world with so many unpredictable happenings and things beyond human control. The poorest of the poor are the most vulnerable when calamities and disasters occur. Although the COVID-19 virus respects no one, still the poorer countries suffer the most. The pandemic in the Philippines is not only a health issue – it is also an economic issue. Lockdowns and restrictions mean loss of job and livelihood opportunities for the poor families, which result in hunger and starvation – especially among children.
The Church as a faith community is conscious of the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ, translating it into holistic integral mission. This is reflected in caring for the least of these – our sisters and brothers – regardless of who and what they are.
The Church, which is also part of the community, is not exempt from the catastrophe. Pastors and members alike suffer, becoming both victims and survivors. But as a faith community living in hope in the resurrected Christ, we must rise up above the situation. We must bear the light of Christ so that people affected by disaster may continue to live with hope in the living God. Amazingly, with God in his bountiful love and grace, we did not have any casualty among those who received our assistance and services.
Forging partnerships among local, national, and global faith communities is a must – especially during disaster – as there are many real-life situations and challenges being faced in this broken world. As partners for Christ’s mission, let us continue to hold hands together as we are being firmly held by the loving hand of God the creator and sustainer of life who promised never to leave nor forsake us and be with us until the end of age.
In the midst of all these local and global disasters, we are still thankful to God for keeping our faith alive and the flame burning so that we can continue to faithfully serve him until the end. To God be glory and honor in all the earth!
For Reflection and Discussion
- What challenges does it create to respond when a disaster strikes on the heels of another disaster?
- What economic impact has COVID-19 caused in your community? How can you reach out to the most vulnerable to meet practical needs right now?
- When responding to disasters, what value do you see in forging partnerships on a local, national, and global level?