AT SUNDOWN fisher folks normally prepare to sail for the night, but not today—not for the next three months.
Peter, father of one of our kids in church, said there are 352 others who depend on the sea every single day to feed their families and send their children to school.
On August 16, 2013 a passenger and cargo ship collided in Cebu, affecting the towns and two small islands nearby and causing oil spill. Floating bodies were also found after the incident, where there are more than 50 people who died from the 700 passengers. The bad weather and miscommunication of the two captains caused the collision, which until now is still under investigation.
The oil spill has paralyzed fisher folks, wet markets, and entirely the local communities. The Local Government Unit (LGU) has prohibited fishing in these areas for three months.
On Tuesday I joined my parents and a Christian non-government organization (NGO) to visit the local government office in Cordova. My mother is the pastor-assigned to our mission church in the area. As we went, we also met up with some of the church members and discussed ways how the “body of Christ” can ease this struggle with the people.
Before we went to see the local officials, we walked to the beach to see the effects of the oil spill. From afar, we saw hundreds of small fishing boats parked all over! It was as if there’s a fluvial parade about to happen (during fiestas, fishing boats are used for floating parade)—but less the people. The space was quiet. We only saw children playing nearby, scared to touch the water. As we went further, I saw two men weaving their nets and fixing their boats. I asked them if they’re fishing, and the only reply I got was, “mag-ayo mi samtang dili pa pwede managat aron andam na mi kung okay na.” (We are taking advantage of this fishing prohibition to fix our boats so we will be ready when they lift the restriction.)
Mangroves are dying as they quickly absorb the oil. People in the community are taking preventive measures to save other mangroves by putting seaweed-made sponges and harvesting mangrove fruit to replace dead ones after the calamity. There are still fishermen, who attempt to catch fish and test it for consumption, but it is not a success and even if they try to sell them, no one will buy. The fish have foul smell, causing asthmatic symptoms.
The sea accident this month is making a domino effect to everyone: paralyzed livelihood, limited to no access to affordable food, children and families starving, and the list goes on.
In our text Jesus healed a woman bent over for 18 years because of a demon that caused it. For 18 long years her life must have been so hard: the stereotype, the discrimination from family and the society, and so on. For 18 years, there’s only one thing she desired—to be healed. During Jesus’ visit at the synagogue, He called the woman and healed her.
The recent calamity is first time in Cordova. During our dialogue with the local officials, they admit that they were “unprepared” for this and the only help they could serve is through relief. Government and non-government organizations give one kilo of rice and two to three canned goods to each fisherman and their family. It is not a daily basis but “it’s easing the basic needs of the people, temporarily,” the official said.
Cordova will be bent over for the next months. Relief programs may sustain them for a few days but what about the weeks ahead, months, years? The oil spill is a wake-up call for the community to take action in making available alternative livelihood for them when calamities like the oil spill hit. Like the bent over woman, the community does not only need the temporary help but the long term ones that would uplift their area’s dignity and lives.
One of the foundations of the Wesleyan Heritage that sets us apart, which I really admire, is our Social Holiness. Methodist Founder John Wesley declared, “There is no holiness but social holiness.” Wesley explained that personal holiness is crucial but it also has to bear fruit and put into action. Our faith as the body of Christ must demonstrate love openly, where God is seen through us.
After having several dialogues with the community and its officials, The United Methodist Church alongside Christian NGOs will initiate an ecumenical planning with all Christian churches in Cordova to respond the crisis.
While our church is still planning this initiative, a crowd gathered in front of the building. They were women, carrying their babies, children, men, both young and old. Curious, I went outside and asked. One of the mothers replied, “mangayo unta mig hinabang sa simbahan kay dili man patas ang pagpanghatag sa mga opisyales gud.” (We are hoping that the church would also help us with basic needs since there’s an uneven distribution of goods from the local officials.)
Jesus’ body is relevant in this scenario. Seeing those people all crowded in front of the church affirmed that God alone is the answer to life’s questions. The church has a very big role in showing God’s true identity to the people.
The initiative of the body of Christ in the community is a living testimony of Jesus’ hands and feet in action. The bread shared to all, believers or not. As of this posting, the long term plan is still in process. But the church has already appealed and supported the local government to make long term programs.
12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
Jesus gave “immediately” what she needed. Yes, she needs spiritual healing, but that spiritual struggle had caused her physical disability as well. Jesus gave her freedom and healing from being bent over physically and spiritually for 18 years. The church is also called to respond the immediate and physical paralysis of the society.
The synagogue leaders criticize Jesus for healing the woman on a Sabbath. They insisted that Jesus should have done it on other days. Familiar? It is a responsibility of the Government, I know, but for a corrupt government system like ours, the implementation of programs will take forever!
Be the solution not the problem
In The Upper Room Disciplines August 21, 2013 devotion, it declares, “In the face of extreme global poverty, economic upheaval, war, racism, environmental degradation, violence, and corruption, God shakes us up to be modern-day prophets. By the power of God we are called to uproot systems of injustice; to destroy the stratifying lines between the haves and the have-nots; to build community; and to plant seeds of peace, love, and justice. “
The calamity hit hardest in our community for the longest years. I could not understand how they feel or how they try to meet their ends for their families. But I know that this is the best opportunity to show God’s love to them. Prayer is a crucial part in helping the community. But prayer without the hands reaching out is nothing.
Calamities like this are not unique or new to humankind. Even in the Biblical times we see how God allows calamities to happen so His glory is known. God is calling you and me to be a solution and not add to the problem!
After the dialogue Peter came to us and said, “I can do electric jobs. If only there is a way for me to work outside fishing. I know a lot of men and women in this community who can do other things as well.”
Our church has initially made an inventory of skills among the people; train them to use those skills for a living, with the help of the LGU, churches, and other NGOs. Join us as we continually pray that this program will not only be a relief but also rehabilitate and develop individuals and the whole community!
1. Read Jeremiah 1: 4-10. How do you think are Methodists responding to the society’s struggles? (aside from Social Holiness)
2. How is God calling you to be a solution?