LAYTONSVILLE, MARYLAND - As the rescue efforts continue in the aftermath of the typhoon in the Philippines, expatriates across the globe are mobilizing efforts to help.
A typical case is that of the Philippine International Bible Church in Laytonsville, Maryland, not far from Washington, DC, where around 50 churchgoers gathered following their pastor's call for help. Pastor Nardito Manalang suggested each parishioner place extra money into collection envelopes passed among the congregants to raise funds for those affected.
"This is not the first time that this is happening. All of us were saddened and shocked actually by the impact of it. Today, we took a special offering to give people a chance to write a second check - a separate envelope designated just for this… as part of our international involvement. The name of our church is ‘international.’ We feel we are obligated to the world and share its pain and sorrow as well as its joy," said Manalang.
Among those gathered at the church, several members had relatives, some of them very close relatives, who live in the Philippines and are in the path of the storm. One of them is Alvenia Ropeta.
"My 2-year-old son, Luke Jefferson Ropeta… He is with my sister-in-law in Banistawtacloben. It's in Fatima Village close to Robinson Mall. Since the typhoon, I have not heard anything. I have not had any communication with them. I can't reach them and I don't know if they really have survived. I'm trying to find out… [looking on] Facebook and everything like that [to see] if their name would appear, but I have not heard anything,” said Ropeta.
Ropeta said that her relatives are likely struggling to get even the most basic things.
“I believe the area that was flattened was very close to my houses, or where we lived. I don't know if they have like a roof over their head, clothes or if they have water to drink, or if they have food. So those are the primary needs they can survive,” said Ropeta.
“It is beyond explanation. It is very overwhelming. I feel numb right now. My tears just run down my eyes. I don't know how to explain it. It's just very painful just to imagine the suffering. My loved ones and all of the Filipinos who are affected by the typhoon they are experiencing right now. It's just beyond my imagination,” she continued.
Despite everything, Ropeta also expressed feelings of hope and implored her family to remain strong.
“Just be still. Just be still and hang in there. That's what I'm exactly doing over here. I'm putting all of my trust and faith that God is in control and He will make sure that we will get through all of these trials and calamities, that He will be taking care of us. And give Luke my warmest hug and kiss him for me," said Ropeta.
It is that faith, the cornerstone of the church, that remains the central message of Pastor Manalang.
"We will do the best that we can to share our love and comfort and encouragement to these, our people who have been affected. And then, of course, reassure them we are in this boat together. We will walk together through it. Remember, there is more to God and belief in the Lord beyond what our senses can see and interpret and understand," said Manalang.