As most of you know, a few days ago a monster Typhoon ravaged the Philippines. The death count as of today is more than 3,400. More than 900,000 people were displaced by the storm and nearly 12 million people have been affected in some way. It is possibly the worst disaster to ever hit land.
Two nights ago I woke in the middle of the night to a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I cannot explain the amount of relief I felt hearing that girl’s raspy voice through the phone as she quietly said, “Hay its Sav.” After a moment of disbelief that I was actually talking to her, I asked her to tell me the story of what had just occurred. Up until that day I had been told Savannah was safe away from where the storm hit. I was shocked and horrified to hear that I was wrong.
This is her story:
She told me that large storms are customary for her area, and that staying in for weather was not all that concerning to them. Ten girls from her zone came and stayed in her and her companion’s apartment because it was closest to their mission presidents home. They had a regular evening writing letters and talking before they all went to bed at 10:30. At 5:00 a.m. Savannah was awakened by loud crashing noises. She looked out her window to see a power line down sparking everywhere, while the wind picked up and threw debris all around. She went into the laundry room and saw a piece of the ceiling get ripped off causing wind to blow into the house and throw their clothes all over. They each had a bag of their most precious belongings as well as a bag of clothing with them. They went up to a room and closed the door and sat in fear listening to roofs get ripped off of houses and cars be slammed and thrown into apartments. She said that alone was an absolutely terrifying experience.
After a while one of the sisters decided to look out the window at what was happening. She turned to the others and told them that the street was flooded and it was above their first story. Sav was one of the few girls able to put on a pair of boots before they opened the door and realized the first floor of their apartment had completely flooded. The ten girls dove into the black debris filled water swimming through their apartment to get to the front door. Once there one of the sisters dove under the water and struggled with the door trying to pry it open. Due to the flooding on the outside of their apartment, the water pressure was too strong for them to force it open. As a safety precaution steal bars had been placed on each of their windows making it impossible for them to get out. The water was filling up the entire apartment. Sav said she swam into their kitchen and saw their refrigerator completely floating on the water. The girls swam into the laundry room and remembered the hole that had been made in the ceiling. The hole wasn’t sufficient for them to get out of, so one of the sisters began punching the ceiling as hard as she could. She forced a large enough hole for them to climb out of. Each girl climbed out of the hole and onto the roof.
They were standing on the house completely exposed in the middle of a Typhoon.
She said that they all laid flat on the roof colder than they could possibly imagine. Each of their lips were blue and they were convulsing in the frozen air for hours as the storm swelled on around them. Sav said there had to have been angels there with them. Entire roofs were being picked off of buildings; cars, so much damage and destruction, and not one of those ten girls was ripped from that roof. They clung tightly together and sang hymns that have now taken on entirely new meanings to them, including Master the Tempest is raging.
Savannah told me that two white girls in the Philippines on a normal day was something for people to gawk at. Ten white girls on top of a roof in a giant storm was something absolutely unbelievable. After about five hours a group of men came to their apartment and waded through the water. They took pieces of debris, stacking them in order to help get the girls down. There was a school nearby that was still standing, so they went and joined the people there seeking shelter. While they were grateful to be inside a building, it was so weak the wind felt just as powerful as being outside. Again she said she was colder than she had ever been in her life.
Finally one of the children told the girls their “friends,” were coming. The girls looked up and saw the AP’s and their mission president walking toward them. The first thing the President did after the storm was look for them to make sure they were ok. They walked back through the wreckage to their apartment. The entire city was flattened. Dead bodies lay everywhere. They recognized the faces of their neighbors and other people they knew on the ground. People were out digging and searching for their loved ones. The smell was unbearable thick with death and destruction.
Once to the Mission President’s home, they realized it too had been torn apart. Thick coats of black mud covered everything. Food had been ruined by the sludge. In a moment where all she wanted was to be in a clean place, she was in a dangerously dirty and damaged home. For the next few days they helped the people as much as they could. Some of the missionaries were able to go and deliver food from the government to the people, but these situations were very dangerous. They were all sick and emotionally drained after all they had seen. Food was very limited and they were all very hungry. Days and days of waiting
Finally an airplane came and brought the missionaries to the MTC in Manila- a safe and clean place where they had time to reflect on a horrifying and tragic experience.
I am sure the world is new to her. Her eyes have been opened to true suffering.
She said that watching these people who began with nothing lose absolutely everything was more than heart breaking. It is trying on anyone’s testimony to watch the world in pain, a world we love, and not wonder why a loving God can’t stop it. It is difficult to swallow the idea that it is something we need. That we understand joy and progression because of misery. That God allows suffering BECAUSE he loves us.
She said in an honest moment, that watching the members of the church give up what little they had to help others reminded her that this has to be Christ’s church. The sheer fact that these people so precisely emulate the Savior makes it so.
Those ten girls are amazing women. They have experienced something we cannot comprehend. They are strong. They are capable. They are survivors. They are a symbol to us of what can be endured. They teach us the power we have as children of God to survive and lift others up.
They are incredible.
There is more to her story and many more experiences we will eventually learn, but for now this is what she has been ready to share. I hope it encourages all of us to be active in finding ways to help the people around the world afflicted by tragedy!