JAKE: Two years ago, I was back in my hometown of Evansville, Indiana, after I served with Samaritan’s Purse for almost three years in Kenya, South Sudan, and Haiti. In 2013, I had endured the most difficult season of life so far in the form of a broken marriage. My world had turned upside down. The life I pursued had crumbled, and I questioned my purpose, while picking up the pieces from my personal storm.
GENEVIEVE: A lot of people have experienced different tribulations in life, and so have I. We cannot foresee God’s plans for us; we simply need to obey and have faith.
On November 7, 2013, the day before Typhoon Haiyan hit, the weather was brilliant while we were preparing to evacuate for the storm. My family prepared all of our important belongings like food, clean water, dry clothes, and emergency kits. I was careful to pack all my materials for my certified public accountant board exam. I had hoped everything would be fine after the storm and I could travel to Cebu as planned to review for the exam on November 10. We took all of our items to the ground floor of a concrete building where my mother worked. We decided to weather the storm there.
I didn’t know that the next day, November 8, would change my life.
J: I was at work that day, eating lunch with two coworkers, and saw a story on the news about Typhoon Haiyan hitting the Philippines. I remember saying to my coworkers, “I guess I’ll be going back to the field with SP.” They didn’t think I was serious.
G: That day was rough for all of us. Around 5:20 a.m., while I was praying silently, the wind and rain started to terrify us. In just a few minutes, water came rushing through, filling the room where we thought we would be safe. The water was rising quickly, all of our stuff was floating, and we were trapped.
I carried my youngest sibling because he was crying and shouting, “We’re going to die!”
I asked my mother to bang the floating wooden chair over the window to break the glass, hoping we could escape. We took hold of some steel while water kept rising every minute, and then hurried to the second floor while still holding the steel.
I never ceased to pray, and with that, all I could feel was calmness and peace deep within me amidst the struggle.
Finally we reached the gate to go upstairs, but we also reached the end of the steel we were hanging onto. We knew we had to swim upstairs, but none of us knew how to swim. Then a boy came down and saw us; we begged him for help, but he ran away.
I thought it was the end of our lives, but in a few minutes the boy returned, running down the stairs with five men. They rescued us. And as my mother stepped to safety on the second floor, the last wave of water rushed in. If we had stayed floating in that water, I’m sure we all would have died.
Finally, the storm mellowed down around 11:30 a.m. The water subsided, and we went down to check on our possessions. To my dismay, all of our stuff had been washed out, including my CPA exam materials.
J: The day after the storm, my country director from Haiti contacted me about joining the Samaritan’s Purse Haiyan response team. I prayed about it, sought counsel, and gave notice at my job. I left Evansville on Thanksgiving Day and arrived in Cebu, Philippines, on November 29, 2013—21 days after the storm.
G: After the storm I began to think, “What will happen to us? We don’t have food, dry clothes, or shelter.”
I saw people looking for their missing loved ones, crying over their family members, looting for survival, trying to rebuild their homes, and participating in many other inconceivable scenarios.
We were lost and wretched; we didn’t know where to go. Then I thought of my aunt’s house. We went there and stayed on her balcony, freezing and hungry. We were there for almost two months until we built our tent house.
J: December 1, I flew to Tacloban on a UNHAS flight. The airport was badly damaged, and the city looked like a war zone: buildings were crushed, splintered wood was piled high where houses once stood, and coconut trees had been stripped of their bark from the wind. I remember one house specifically that was still standing, except there was a boat in the middle of it. It was surreal.
G: Every day was a sacrifice for us. We walked almost 10 kilometers back and forth to rebuild and clean our stuff. We didn’t have resources or food, and money was not of much value at that time. We would exchange whatever we had for food or other basic needs.
J: Despite the devastation, I was impressed to see the clean up that had already begun less than one month after the storm. Thousands of people were killed, but all of their bodies had been recovered. Roads had been cleared, and traffic was moving normally.
I was touched to see people helping each other rebuild their city. While they could have focused on their own homes, they lined the streets together to pick up debris.
G: Things slowly began to be normal again, but my parents didn’t have work. So I started looking for a job to help support my family. I applied to work for so many organizations, but I wasn’t fortunate. I never ceased praying and clinging to God’s words: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, NKJV).
On December 27, 2013, Samaritan’s Purse hired me. I was thankful for the opportunity.
J: Hotel Lorenza, in downtown Tacloban, became my home for the next 18 months and was our office base for seven months. The hotel had been damaged, mostly by the dirty floodwaters, but was still functional thanks to generators. We had up to 60 workers staying at Lorenza at one point. There was no electricity in the city, and because the generators could not support air conditioning, the conference room we worked from was hot and humid, which caused a mosquito problem.
I, and several other staff members, contracted Dengue fever. I woke up New Year’s Day 2014 with a severe headache, cold chills, and my bones feeling like glass. Any movement was excruciating. But work had to go on, and it did. For a short time, my hotel room became the finance office. People were in and out of my room, clearing expenses and picking up cash advances while I recovered.
I spent 55 days on the disaster response team, returned to Evansville for two weeks, and then came back as the finance manager on February 10, 2014. We had to start an office from scratch in a city that was almost completely destroyed.
I often remind my team we’re as big a part of the relief efforts and helping people as our team members who are in the communities every day. If not for the work we do managing finances and providing oversight to be the best stewards of donations that we can be, the work couldn’t be done.
G: It’s been a blessing to see the transition of Tacloban the past two years. Everything seems to be in its place now; people are in permanent housing and are strong and resilient. And I think people are closer to God now. They seem more intimate with Him.
J: I’m encouraged every time I go to Tacloban. God has blessed the efforts of Samaritan’s Purse here in ways I could never imagine. We have helped thousands of people recover from one of the largest, most destructive Pacific storms in history. We have helped provide shelter for more than 16,000 people, taught hundreds of communities about practicing proper hygiene, and helped farmers rebuild their livelihoods through bamboo plantations.
G: Working for Samaritan’s Purse has been fulfilling for me and has grown a passion for helping people, even when my job is working in the office. I’m still part of changing lives.
I’m married now and have a daughter. God has been good to me, and His grace is outpouring. I’m blessed to be with an organization that has a dedication and passion for giving hope, not just in my life but also to my fellow Leyteños.
J: What I value the most from my life in the Philippines are the relationships I have with our staff. We have bonded over basketball and volleyball, prayed together, and studied God’s Word together. I love that the Lord lets me personally build into the finance team and see how much they have grown in their work and the trust we have in each other.
I came to the Philippines after experiencing my own Haiyan that crashed into my life. Just like Haiyan seemingly destroyed lives in Tacloban, specifically in regards to our staff, divorce felt like a typhoon destroying my life. But God allowed me to come here, out of my own storm, to help them in recovering from their storm.
We have shared the hurt together, and we have celebrated the victories together. Glory to God.