Taxis, Kayaks and the Cross


Today would be my mom’s 91st birthday. So my mind is drifting back through lots of memories, thankful for having a mother like her.

Also thankful that Donna and I are safely back home in our dry comfortable home on Palawan, after being in Manila over the weekend. And what a weekend it was…

…the worst flooding in Manila in 30 years (or 42 years… pick your newspaper). Donna put a few links on our Facebook about the disaster, and some of you may have learned more through the news. This blog is a little longer than usual, but I thought I’d just put down a description from our perspective, how it affected us personally.

The flooding came for two reasons. First of all, the huge tropical depression (not sure if it was truly a typhoon as there were no winds) dumped around over 13 inches of rain on Manila in about six hours. That’s nearly twice our California home town’s annual rainfall, and a little less than the 15-inch monthly average for September even here in Manila. That’s just a lot of rain. But also, the dams were already full and had to be opened up… lots more water with nowhere to go. So all the low spots in Manila (and some not-so-low) were overwhelmed.

The water is… yucky. As the sewers back up, the streets are full of that water, not just accumulated rain drops or a river of clean H2O flowing fresh-from-the-dam. And somehow the water wound up with a floating scum of gasoline, diesel and oil… a fire hazard on top of the smell. And if your home and belongings were flooded, oily water would only cause more damage. And then there was the debris, including the furniture and household effects washed out of people’s homes. One of our friends saw a living-room chair stuck in the power lines where it got caught at it floated on a flood that topped the telephone poles.

Okay… how it “affected” us… we thank God, actually, that the flooding affected us only in very minor ways and our hearts go out to the many, some of whom we know quite well, whose lives were devastated.

We were planning to do some shopping and run a few errands Saturday afternoon but it was raining so hard we decided to stay in. Trying to catch a taxi in the rain is never fun and the competition rises due to what I call the higher P.P.P.A.T. (potential passenger per available taxi) ratio. Traffic is worse when there is rain, and if someone has an accident that clogs up the streets even more.

It was a God thing that we did not go out. We might not have been able to get back to the mission’s guest home that night. Best-case scenario, we might have realized what was happening and checked into some place in the part of town where we were. But more likely, we might have been stuck all night (or longer) in a taxi… in a sea of traffic-blocked, flooded-out and broken down taxis and cars along some road. We were glad the still small voice said “stay home,” and even gladder that we heard and obeyed the voice!

On Sunday night, we had planned to head to the eastern outskirts of Manila to meet up with some friends. Some young people from out church in Puerto Princesa, Palawan are attending seminary and we were going to treat them to pizza and see how they’re doing. A few of these had gone along on that ministry trip to the Palawanos back in May. But by Sunday morning we thought we should cancel. We didn’t have detailed information but we just knew the potential for horrendous traffic (“bad traffic” in Manila can mean taking hours and hours to go a very short distance.) We hated to cancel, but knew the kids would understand. Turns out, they could not leave the seminary campus due to flooding, and as you can see in the first picture in this blog, we could not have reached them, either. We would have had to cross the bridge in the picture to reach the agreed-upon meeting place halfway between us and their school. Yikes.

Speaking of bad traffic, at the airport this morning we ran into an old friend, Vic Tan, who owns a building supply company on Palawan. Saturday night, he attended a wedding dinner at a nice hotel and then it took him 7 hours to go about a mile to reach the hotel where he was staying.

We were able to do some shopping on Sunday afternoon, as the water had gone down in our part of town. But the malls were deserted (note: Malls in Manila are never “deserted.” Malls in Manila are more like Disneyland on a sunny August weekend) and all the stores were understaffed, as no one could get to work.

But like I said, we got off easy. At the worst, we might have been inconvenienced, and God graciously allowed us to avoid even most of that.

But for some, the flooding was disastrous. A church started by our good friends was partially underwater. Several of our NTM missionary co-workers experienced severe flooding in their homes. Some had waist-deep water in their living rooms and kitchens. Several had their cars completely submerged. Some wound up with ankle-deep sludge to clean up throughout their home, and the process of dealing with the water damage to everything they could not quickly move upstairs in time to beat the rising water.

One family in particular, had to flee upstairs with a little food and water and soon found the entire first floor of their apartment 7 feet deep in water! Their neighborhood is in a low spot, so the water did not recede quickly. In fact, they were stuck upstairs (with no electricity) for two days and two nights before they could be evacuated. Pretty much everything they own, including their car, was underwater for two days.

Many of our Filipino staff, who work in the NTM office, were affected. Leila, who diligently handles all our immigration work, lost everything she owns and has a house full of mud and no electricity. I just got a text from her asking us to bring more candles for their light (we’re now on the the wrong island but others are helping her.. she had meant to send her text to Joel Davis, who is in Manila). Other staff reported waist-deep water in their homes. There are faithful coworkers who live very simply. To lose everything is devastating.

Beth Dela Cruz is one of the teachers who works with our new missionaries so they can learn Tagalog. Her story is perhaps the saddest in our circle. She and her husband had just built their new (and very modest) home. Saturday at 1 pm she called some of her students, desperate for help. She had come home to find her children in the house, on their tiptoes with water rising at neck level. No one in the family can swim. They went to the third floor of the building but the water rose to the ceiling level and they had to climb onto the roof. She was sitting there in the rain with her children, ready to say their goodbyes if no one could reach them. The back wall of their home was washed away and they lost everything they own, including birth certificates and other important papers.

Praise God for heroes. Our former pilot on Palawan and several of our Tagalog students, new missionaries, took off in a 4-wheel-drive with an inflatable kayak and other equipment to try to rescue her. It took them until 5 am (16 hours) to find a way to get past the traffic and deep water to get close enough to her home to use the kayak. Then they actually ran into her husband and were able to find the house. Even if you knew your way, it would he difficult with 25 feet of water covering the neighborhood… all landmarks are gone! They were able to save Beth and her children and bring them back to our guest home, alive but with only the clothes on their backs. Here is a picture of Beth taken by one of her Tagalog students.
We are all very thankful, that in spite of the crushing loss of property and traumatic experiences, no one we know was among the 100+ dead and missing, as the count keeps rising even as the flood waters go down.

Events like this always make you step back and ponder. What can be learned? For one thing, a new and deeper appreciation for God’s grace when you think of the trials you are spared over against what you actually undergo. A healthy respect for nature and the realization that if God’s hand did not hold back the floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes and typhoons, if there was no moderation… mankind would all perish.

Of course, I am reminded that all mankind will perish apart from Christ, but unlike the recent flooding in Manila, there is a chance to give timely warning.

And that’s why we’re here and why we continue to translate God’s Word for the Palawanos.

Some disasters can be averted. I’m challenged by our friends with the kayak to be busy about the rescue business while there is still time.

Meanwhile, you know… I still miss my mom.

About billdavisthoughts

From San Diego, CA. I've been a missionary and Bible translator in the Philippines for over 30 years and have travelled as a language learning consultant to 15 countries. I play piano and guitar. I write, read voraciously and love to work on word puzzles. Married for 35 years, we have two daughters and two grandchildren.
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