Rebuilding in Paradise: Raising the Island Chapel
By Sammy Romero
Last week I was finally able to make my first visit to the island of Hilantagaan. It was badly affected by Typhoon Haiyan back in November, and FMC missionaries the Leano family had gone there and served twice while we were back home in the US. I was excited to finally get the chance to go to the place I had heard so much about and meet the people that we have been praying for and raising relief funds for ever since the storm. (If you haven’t read about FMC’s involvement in the typhoon relief efforts, you can check out these posts: No Substitute for Action, Typhoon Relief Update, Just the Beginning, and Solidarity).
This trip, all of the men from our community plus the Leano family went to help start the rebuilding of the island’s chapel that was totally destroyed. While still stateside, the Seilhan family had raised all the money for a new chapel from their generous church parish back home in Jennings, Louisiana.
Our journey to the tiny island of Hilantagaan began with a three hour bus ride from Malaybalay to Cagayan de Oro City and then a short flight to the island of Cebu, where Catholicism was first introduced in the Philippines. There we were able to visit the first Catholic church to be built in the Philippines and also see the first cross that was brought there from Spain by Ferdinand Magellan! The rich Catholic heritage of Cebu can be seen everywhere on the island!
The next day we took a van to the port to take a ferry to another island named Bantayan, but there was a typhoon passing through and they would not let the ferries cross, so we had to stay the night at a simple beach front hotel.
Ultimately, it was a blessing to get a good nights rest that night because we were up at 2:30 a.m. to make the first ferry the next morning! When we finally made it onto the ferry, right away it was apparent that the typhoon was still blowing so the sea was pretty rough. I got seasick for only the second time in my entire life.
It was a two hour ferry ride to Bantayan, and when we arrived we took a motorella (a motorcycle that pulls a carriage for public transportation) to Mass and met the priest who is assigned to Hilantagaan. After that, we took a motorella to a beach that had a small outrigger boat called a pamboatwaiting to take us to Hilantagaan. At this point, the typhoon was pretty strong so we put all our stuff in plastic bags and put big plastic bags over our heads like ponchos and loaded up into the tiny boat trusting only in God’s protection because the boat was way to small for life vests or any other safety precautions. The 15 minute boat ride took 30 minutes because of the big swells we were going up and over.
Although the experience was a little scary because I had never been in open water during a typhoon before, I loved the adventure of it and it was very exciting! After we we made it to the island, the typhoon finally passed. On the island, we set up camp in an unfinished house. Some of us slept in tents, others in hammocks hung from the rafters. We didn’t have a bathroom and we cooked over a fire so it was just like camping, and I loved it.
We began working on the chapel the next day. We had to start by tearing down what little was left of the old chapel. It was perfect work for us to do, because the people here do things a little differently than we’re used to when it comes to construction. Demolition was right up our alley. After that, we helped them dig for the foundation and haul some of the materials; again, no skill required, just hard work.
Although the work was very labor-intensive, the hardest part of working on this island is the sun. It was really amazing how the sun affects you when you’re on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean near the equator! The people there literally wear long sleeves, long pants, and face masks to protect themselves from the sun, but of course we were out there with shorts and short sleeves. Needless to say, even with sunscreen we all got sunburned and had to take a lot of breaks for water and shade. Even though we were out-worked by the men there, I think that after the first day we had gained their respect by working hand in hand with them.
In the afternoons, we had the chance to give talks and testimonies to help encourage them in all the hardships that came with storm and the resulting devastation on the island. There is still a lot of healing and rebuilding that needs to happen on Hilantagaan in people’s hearts and lives, and only God can accomplish it. Please join me in praying for these people that are still recovering from the loss they experienced in the typhoon.
Overall, the whole experience made me marvel at how God works in the lives of the people we go to serve, but also how he works through those people to impact our lives. I went to sweat and work hard and just wear myself out completely for the people of the island, and that’s what I did, but I came away feeling like I had received so much more than I gave. The trip also made me so glad to be called to a life full of adventure and beauty. I mean, who else gets to travel to exotic islands with breathtaking beaches and scenery, eat fresh crab and fish at almost every meal, and genuinely have an impact on people both physically and spiritually?! I love this life, and I thank God that he has called me and my family to something so rich and fulfilling.
By Sammy RomeroButton