When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November, it not only left a trail of ruined homes, flattened businesses and uprooted trees but also emotional trauma.
Those with emotional scars included pastors and other caregivers who would be called upon to help people in their communities and churches as soon as the wind, rain and storm surges subsided.
“I felt so helpless. I didn’t know how to protect my family,” Pastor Janar Ruiz said. “We all went to the church during the typhoon, and we couldn’t do anything but cry. I put my children under my shirt next to my skin.”
Peacebuilders Community, Inc., a Mennonite Central Committee partner, realized pastors would need assistance. PBCI is a Philippines organization with ties to the Integrated Mennonite Church of the Philippines and is a ministry of Mennonite Church Canada Witness.
Based on the assessment, PBCI developed a plan to provide 50 pastors with an opportunity to talk about their experiences and to be trained in psychological first aid, disaster risk reduction and peace and reconciliation. MCC supported the assessment and the plan.
The first group of pastors from the Philippines Council of Evangelical Churches met Feb. 4-6 in Ormoc City for the first training. Clinical psychologist Bennette Tenecio led pastors in sharing about their feelings during the typhoon and afterward.
Pastor Jonathan Pobadora, who lost his home and whose family was still living in a tent three months after the typhoon, found new meaning in his emotions.
“Fear is what allowed us to survive,” he said. “We evacuated and stayed away from danger areas. God made us survivors by giving us fear. I am thankful for these emotions.”
This psychological first aid training prepared the participants to walk alongside people suffering from disaster.
The training also helped pastors, who historically have not looked to each other for support, to establish closer personal connections, said Jeanne Jantzi, who attended the training in her role as an MCC area director for Southeast Asia. She and her husband, Dan, also an area director, are based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and are from Lowville, N.Y.
“When there are people who care for us, it lightens the pain,” said Pastor Eufemio Surigao.