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  • Writer's pictureEdmund Ng

B15: Planning Guidance from Grief Ministry Mission Outreach to Tacloban, Philippines

The city of Tacloban was one of the worst areas affected by the super-typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), a category 5 storm that hit the Philippines in 2013. Besides destroying many properties, thousands of people died while some 4,500 others went missing, presumably swept away by the torrent of water and their bodies were never found.


            In the early aftermath of the disaster, sporadic psychological first aid was given by medical and rescue personnel in attending to the trauma of the survivors. However, many of them had experienced the loss of loved ones, homes, and communities. Their grief was never addressed. Four months after the catastrophe struck, I flew in a team of 8 lay counselors to minister to 650 of the survivors in their grief.


Fortunately, by that time, there was a 3-star hotel that had just resumed its operations although the lifts were still not working and electricity was generated in-house. Nevertheless, the venue was good enough to serve as our base throughout our mission outreach.


            All around us, the roofs of the houses were either blown off by the strong winds or still lay in ruins. Even the coconut trees were left with only the trunk and little leaves. Many people were then living in UNHCR tents like those we see in refugee camps. However, the water supply had been restored. The following account highlights some of the planning snapshots and lessons learned from our 8-day trip.



Team preparation


            There are 3 important aspects of team preparation: technical training, team building, and prayer. The Ministry Leader is tasked with promoting the ministry and recruiting the volunteers as well as training them in trauma intervention, grief recovery, hope and resilience building, and children ministry, to prepare them for mobilization.


Team building covers getting to know one another, understanding the outreach objectives, working out the logistics, and emphasizing the do’s and don’ts. Of all these items, the last one merits special mention.


            With regards to some do’s, it was emphasized that the team would be in a different cultural environment. The people’s mindsets and expectations were very different from ours and so we needed to quickly get used to their ways and accept them with an open mind. As our focus was on doing God’s work there, we should not allow our personal preferences and wants to override the purpose of the trip. Therefore, all team members must submit to their leader whose decisions may not be always acceptable to any particular person.


            As to some of the don’ts, team members were reminded that we were not going for a holiday but to do God’s work. Hence, we should not just mingle among ourselves to have a fun time but attend to the people’s needs there. Each of us must do our part and not compare, judge, or criticize another team member for not doing what was expected, leaving it instead to the leader to address the matter.


            As to teamwork, no one should do anything on their own without the permission of the leader. This included giving their own money to certain needy individuals. Also, during grief counseling, no one should be doing their own thing like praying for healing and deliverance. At the end of each day, there will be a time for individual ministry, including leading anyone to Christ.



Prayer and spiritual warfare


            A mission trip of this nature can be considered an incursion into enemy territory and it is necessary to cover the entire operation in prayer from the first day of planning. The leader and executive ought to jointly seek God soon after a disaster if there is indeed a role that God is calling for a grief ministry team to be mobilized and sent to the affected area. After the executive has been dispatched there by the second month for reconnaissance, networking, and ground preparation, the team members are recruited. By the third month, the team should be meeting regularly every week to be trained in teamwork and ministry, as well as praying together. 


            One mistake I made was to admit a lady who had lost her husband a year ago and she had not recovered well from her grief. On reaching the disaster site, the scene of devastation and stories of the loss of loved ones affected her badly. She was emotionally shaken and the devil took advantage of her vulnerability to cause her to erupt in a rage for no apparent reason. Fortunately, this happened at the end of the ministry trip when we were doing the final debriefing in her room and the morale of the team remained intact.


            I believe it was prayer that saw us through. God was moving so powerfully in our midst that the entire ministry was so well-coordinated, hundreds of lives were impacted, people were saved and healed, and we brought joy and hope back to their community. Not only we had soaked ourselves in prayer and intercession both before and during our trip, but we also had a church to pray and send us off while they continued to intercede for us throughout our trip.



Financial matters


            First of all, we need to work out the cost of airfare, airport transit, hotel accommodation, and meals for each person since each individual has to bear his or her costs. For local transport, we hired two vans plus the drivers. To this cost is added each team member’s contribution towards the lunch and tea breaks for 650 participants over 5 days. There is also the cost involved for the rental of a hall for the community mourning, putting up the banners, and distributing flyers to promote the grief ministry to the survivors. Then we need to set aside love gifts for the local guide or connector plus a specified sum for miscellaneous expenses and contingencies.


            A treasurer is appointed to take care of the pool of money, pay the expenses, and keep track of the expenditure. If any unforeseen needs arise during ministry, such as emergency medical expenses or helping certain pastors in desperate financial situations, a freewill collection can be made on the spot.


            In our case, there were requests for funds to rebuild the church premises and also contribute to the seed capital of a micro-finance project to help some of the survivors to start small business enterprises. Fishermen who lost their boats during the storm also needed some money to pay as an initial installment for replacement. These requests are best considered later as they involve larger sums of money.  


Conclusion


As in any mission trip that involves unfamiliar surroundings, attending to new people of a different culture, and spiritual warfare, things can go not according to plan. Instead of complaining, team members are required to discuss the problems with their leader and not allow their unhappiness to affect the morale of the whole team. With such unity in spirit, God’s presence will be with us to use us for His glory.

           

Dr. Edmund Ng

SSC Facilitator           

12 Mar 2024


Corresponding SSC monthly teaching video: V15 – Grief Ministry in the Aftermath of Disaster or War at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YiwlkIOCuEI 

 

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