When Waters Rise

by Ng Yin Lai . 13 January 2012


A few weeks before Christmas in 2011, I was pondering about ways to spend my Christmas as I would usually stay home to rest during the festive holidays and I remember praying to God that this Christmas would be a different one for me.



When I was given the opportunity to visit Cagayan de Oro, I was initially taken aback before realising that this was the answer to my prayer. I called my approving officer and his response was "Please go ahead and send me the leave application. I will approve it." Afterwards, I went back home with a heavy heart, reluctant to tell my parents about this trip. Not long after, I mustered the courage to tell them, expecting some objections. I could not believed what they said when they told me to be on the look out and be careful. God does work miracles in our life; they can be big or small ones. Soon, I embarked on a trip that changed my lenses and perspectives of who I am.


Upon arrival at the airport, Pastor Andrew Kwong, our missionary to Cagayan de Oro, was there to bring the team to the hotel. Along the way, I observed the surroundings as Pastor Andrew shared about how his wife, Rowena, had climbed onto the rooftop of their house to escape from the floodwaters and he had managed to drive his car to higher grounds. On 16 December 2011, a typhoon hit the Southern Philippines triggering flash floods that resulted in many dead, missing or homeless. The devastation happened in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep.

Most of the houses were moved from their original positions; some of them were torn apart by the torrential currents of floodwaters while some of them were flattened. Even the walls of those houses built with bricks and cement were cracked and split apart. Trees were uprooted completely and one could see the strong and long roots the trees had. Cars were scattered around in various positions; some of which were stacked on top of each other. The roads were muddy and there was no light in the ruined streets. In fact, the surroundings were too messy to describe. It was similar to an aftermath of a giant tsunami. Many lives were taken away, loved ones were lost and families were torn apart. When I travelled through these areas and listened to what Pastor Andrew shared during the journey, I could not describe what was inside my heart - a heavy sinking feeling. Food, water, shelter and clothing are so crucial to the people now. I realized how I have overlooked the simple things in my life and taken them for granted.  I do not have to starve. I do not have to look for a place to rest my head on. I do not have to stare in the darkness. I do not have to shiver out in the cold. Arriving at the hotel, we met up with the rest of team and started planning for our medical missions.


On the first day of our medical mission, we went to City Central Elementary School in the early morning to set up tables, medical supplies and equipment. The school acted as an evacuation center to house the homeless temporarily until they could get a place to reside permanently. The school was so populated with people that some of them have to camp in tents out in the school fields. Pastor Andrew brought some of us to take a look at his home in one of the worst affected areas. We were not able to go into his home as the ground was covered with mud. We also visited an area where the houses used to sit on a piece of land that was once a river. However, the houses were swept away when the floodwaters went through this once-known river. Nothing remained on this piece of land now. Even the trees were uprooted and large trucks (like those 5-tonners) were swept several meters away. We also gave out food and slippers and it was encouraging to see the smiling faces of the people despite losing their homes and family members. I wondered how resilient I would be in the face of crises.


On the 2nd day, we went to South City Central School. This evacuation center housed around 400 people, smaller than the previous centre that housed more than a thousand people. We set up the tables, medical supplies and equipment early and treated the people. I was given the task to take photographs. Through the close-up shots, I observed that their faces were full of hopelessness, dismay and despair. All of them who were housed in the evacuation centers had lost their homes. Most of them had lost their family members. Some were in a daze, not knowing what to look forward to. Most of them had teary and red eyes after days of crying. Pastor Andrew shared with us about how the children requested bible stories to be told to them before their sleep during the last few days. I was deeply touched.


We ended the medical mission with gratitude to God and we thanked God for everything He has done in our life. When I saw how our team worked together throughout the medical mission, I could not help thinking and putting myself in their shoes. Many decades ago, they had given up their future prospects in their careers advancement, family and goals in their life to be missionaries here. This really takes up a lot of courage and faith in God. And it taught me a valuable lesson in doing good works not just for the sake of doing it, but having God in the entire picture.