The plane bumped again. The turbulence was getting worse and so was the pain in my legs. We’d had a brief respite in Tokyo, but after spending over half a day traversing the Pacific Ocean, it hadn’t been enough. I was eager to deplane and the weather was getting in the way. Closing my eyes, I prayed for relief.
Typhoon Ofel, a relatively small storm, was making its way through Manila and our pilots were doing their best to skirt around the edges. I admit that I experienced a certain thrill at the word “typhoon”. Living in the landlocked intermountain west, I’d rarely experienced any natural phenomena more severe than an occasional tremor caused by the geologic activity in Yellowstone National Park. Even tornadoes are rare. The thought of a genuine storm was invigorating.
It was raining when we landed and I breathed a sigh of relief as the pilot announced, “Welcome to Manila!” The passengers (most of them Filipino) applauded. I did too, simply happy to be on the ground. Eagerly, I grabbed my bag and several minutes later made my way through the maze towards customs. Outside, the rain continued to fall in sheets as palms waved in the breeze. We were at the edge of the storm and in no real danger.
The next few days were wet. The pool outside the visitor’s center where I was staying overflowed and I watched with interest as the chlorinated haven took on a distinctly fishy smell. The streets were flooded too, though mostly at the corners and caused little difficulty for our drivers. I commemorated the event with a photograph of myself dancing in the rain. Two days later, we heard the news that 24 had died in the storm. I didn’t feel like dancing anymore.
Disasters are not infrequent in our world… yet something changes inside of you when you feel a connection to those affected. There is something transformative about having been to a place – having held a hand or seen a smile, listened to a story or tasted a carefully prepared meal. You begin to feel a connection not to people as part of the human race, but as individuals. You begin to process news about their misfortune with deeper love and greater understanding.
Fortunately, having actually visited a place is not the only way to experience a meaningful connection. Our willingness to hear the stories of the individuals affected by a disaster can help us develop a comprehension that statistics alone can never give. Numbers may show us immensity, but people show us intensity. As we listen to a father weep for his lost son or hear the story of a woman searching for her missing parents, we begin to connect in a very intimate way. Faceless people groups don’t have stories; individuals do. Though the circumstances of their losses differ from our own, the tales of grief are not so foreign. Each of us has also wept for those we love or experienced the depth of great personal loss. In this, we can feel their pain.
While not all of us will ever have the opportunity to travel to the places affected by disasters, each of us can make a difference. 7,250 islands make up the Philippine archipelago. Of these, over 700 are inhabited, home to nearly 98 million people and 181 different language groups. Nearly all were affected in some way by Typhoon Hiayan and many now need our help. The question is: will we respond to that need? Will we see not a faceless nation, but grieving individuals? Will we be the ones to make a difference?
Click here to read stories of Typhoon Haiyan’s victims and make a difference in their lives.