The drenched and shivering young woman cast her eyes frantically back and forth over the beach where the rescue volunteers had laid her down after pulling her from the breakers. “Where’s my mother?” she sobbed, “Oh, help! Someone, please find my mother!” She cried so piteously that one of the rescuers momentarily forgot all her disaster response training and fell back on her instincts as an Evangelical pastor. Laying her hands on the hysterical girl she called, “Lord, please heal this young woman’s mind!” But the girl only grew more frantic. “Get off me! What are you doing? Where’s my mother?” she wailed, and the rescuer realized her error. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” she said, “But please calm down and sit still now. The instructors are watching, and I’ll lose points.”
The rescuer and her fellow trainees, all pastors from the Visayan Islands recruited into Kriz Cruzado’s Peace And Reconciliation Disaster Response Networks (PAR-DRNs) were still coming to terms with the fact that some of their pastoral modes of behavior, though effective in ministering to their flocks, are counterproductive in a disaster response scenario. The screaming young woman, one of a team of actors on loan from the Philippine Red Cross, had reacted to the unsolicited hands-on prayer with the same increase of distress which unchurched, non-Christian, or simply non-Evangelical disaster victims tend to display when prayed over thus. Though Evangelically-inclined victims often request and take comfort from these prayers, to the uninitiated the novel and dramatic ritual only adds another layer of trauma to what is already an extremely stressful situation.
Kriz Cruzado can tell you that the job of raising rescue squads made up of religious leaders offers challenges more complex than simply putting them all through lifesaving courses. The hundred and fifty Visayan pastors whom she trained and organized into the six local PAR-DRNs proved enthusiastic students and fast learners with hearts to aid those in danger. Teaching them the practical skills was no challenge. What took far longer was convincing the traditionalists among them, and in the wider Visayan Evangelical community, of the need for a change of attitude towards those whom they consider to be outside the fold. Ideally, everyone within the effective range of a PAR-DRN would know that they could call on the network in time of disaster. But the traditional pastors’ burning drive to win conversions and turn people into regular congregants can make non-Evangelicals, including devout Catholics, so uncomfortable that they will hesitate to call on these pastors for help, even when in desperate need.
As Kriz sees it, the unending struggle to bring people to repentance can also wear the pastors down, making them less effective rescue workers. “They are so stressed-out trying to win people – trying to get people to the Church,” she says. As she began to discuss theology with her recruits and perspective recruits, and as she taught the theological principles that formed the basis for the PAR-DRN project, she concluded that some of these pastors had overlooked one major doctrinal principle. “They did not understand that it’s not their job to actually convict people, but it’s the Holy Spirit.” And, in any case, attendance had recently doubled and even tripled in churches throughout the PAR-DRN project area, as traumatized people sought spiritual answers and community in the aftermath of 2013’s apocalyptic Super Typhoon Haiyan. Kriz urged her students to shift their focus off of bringing people into their churches and towards making those churches servants to their neighbors.
Not preaching or exhortation, but servant-hood, selflessness, and humility would be the PAR-DRN members’ tools for pointing people to God. “People should accept Jesus Christ because they understand what Love is through what [the pastors] do for other people,” says Kriz. And, during disaster response operations last December, she saw clearly that her students were taking this principle to heart.
In December 2014, as Typhoon Hagupit bore down on the Visayas, the weather services upgraded its status. A mere 13 months after the chaos of Super Typhoon Haiyan, it seemed that another super typhoon would follow roughly the same course across the Visayas. (As it turned out, Hagupit weakened before arriving in the islands and it caused somewhat less destruction than Haiyan; its toll in lives was much lower.) As Hagupit drew near, Kriz seized the opportunity to put her trainees through their paces in the context of a real disaster. In the days just before Hagupit’s landfall, and in the weeks following its destructive march across the islands, she exposed as many of the trainees as she could supervise – about one hundred total — to disaster area fieldwork. So many Visayan Evangelicals wanted to accompany Kriz’s team to the worst-hit areas that she had to turn volunteers away.
In the early, data collecting phase of operations, as she and her students sped from one devastated neighborhood to the next, noting the damage and the logistical requirements for subsequent relief operations, Kriz noticed her pastor trainees champing at the bit. They were impatient with the pace of information gathering. They wanted to help these hungry and shell-shocked people now. As she later told us, “The question of ‘Why can’t we give something to these people? Why are we just asking questions and not doing anything?’ reflects so much of the change that has [taken place] in their hearts and in their minds.”
Of course, once her team had assessed the situation and made their preparations, they did bring relief goods to those in need. Haiyan survivors came to the aid of Hagupit survivors after carrying vital supplies through mortal dangers of which I will relate more in a future article. In the process, several of Kriz’s students acquired a particular taste for the ministry of life-risking servant-hood. As of this month, Kriz has completed her part of the PAR-DRN project and has gone to Nepal to work with Mennonite Central Committee among the earthquake victims. But in the Visayas her disciples are carrying forward her PAR-DRN vision: the Church as rescuers, servants, loving neighbors.