The Covenant Singers went to Tacloban, November 8 to 10, 2014, exactly a year after typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck the town, killing thousands of people. This is a transcript of my testimony shared in Jubilee Evangelical Church, about what we experienced when we went there:
Good evening, Jubilee! We, The Covenant Singers are once again pleased to be here with you. Last summer, you allowed us to share our testimony and experience about our mission trip to Iloilo. Tonight, we thank you once again for lending your ears to us, as we share our Tacloban mission experience.
Elder Chris Beltran was the reason we considered going to Tacloban. He was supposed to go to Tacloban Christian Church to speak, and he asked us if we would like to tag along. One weekend only, so our members would not miss work or school much, and we prayerfully considered.
However, our schedules did not agree. We were only available the week before his scheduled trip, and it actually coincided with the first anniversary of Yolanda.
Elder Chris told us to contact Tacloban Christian Church directly, and we did. I talked to Kathleen Yaokasin, and she was very accommodating. She referred me to the senior pastor of their church, Rev. William Dy and we discussed every detail through email. He also connected me to Ms. Beejay Amancio who was in charge of a major event happening in Tacloban.
It took us around 12 rehearsal sessions (3 to 4 months) to get ready for this mission. Allow us to share some of the hurdles that came along the way.
1. All airbus flights got cancelled last September, so we had to rebook our flight to a smaller plane
2. Some of our members decided not to go last minute due to personal issues, so we had to really rely on God to find their replacement
3. It would be the first time for this batch to sing together with individual microphones, and we couldn’t find a free venue with 15 mics to rehearse at. We thank United Evangelical Church of the Philippines for partnering with us and lending us their main sanctuary.
4. We were all on time in the airport, but for some reason, bystander effect took place. We got too complacent and thought that the boarding time was 810am. In fact, it was 740am. To make the long story short, five of our members got left behind. So near yet so far. I have never begged a stranger out loud until that moment, when the officers decided not to let them join the flight. During the last call, they were all at the gate already, but when the Cebu Pacific crew turned around, the bus (bringing them to the plane) was no longer there and they refused to open the gate any longer.
5. So the rest of us flew to Tacloban without Kuya Asser, Wencel, Marktee, Randolph and Filbert, four tenors and one bass. I was so nervous the entire time. We have never prayed so hard, relied on God so much. Kuya Asser was the speaker for Sunday Worship Service, and Filbert was the person in charge of spiels for the afternoon concert, so they really had to make it, or else.
6. (By the way, we all have to shoulder our own plane fare, but just like our fellow missionaries; we can raise funds and seek the help of fellow believers for it. With that in mind, note that the people left behind needed to purchase another ticket out of their own pockets.)
7. Deciding not to go with Cebu Pac anymore, they bought PAL tickets and had three chances to come to Tacloban that day. 1230pm, flight was full. 2pm, flight was full again, and finally, 3pm, the Lord granted our request. They all flew to Tacloban!!
During that moment, we were really trying our best not to worry. We kept on reminding ourselves that God is in control, and that we were there to do God’s work so He should be for us, right? He should find the way to bring them to Tacloban safe. Still, my heart only started beating when I saw Filbert and the others with my own two eyes.
While they were still away, leaders of Tacloban Christian church took time to show us around and feed us good food.
They housed us at Tacloban Plaza Hotel, care of Kathleen Yaokasin. Though the hotel is still being renovated, the rooms are quite nice!
The family of bro Jimmy Yaokasin brought us to Ocho for lunch. Really good food!
The most unforgettable place we visited was the mass grave. Thousands of unclaimed bodies, of families who died together, of barangays who got swept away. Bodies were wrapped and put in the hole side by side, covered, and blank crosses were put on top. If you know someone who has passed away, you can write their names in one of the crosses. Tears where flowing from our eyes when we sang “Hindi Kita Malilimutan” and prayed for those who were mourning.
We also participated in a city-wide candle lighting ceremony afterwards.
That night, we had dinner at Gerry’s Gril in Robinsons Tacloban, courtesy of Bro. Henry Gosyco. We also celebrated the birthday of Eunice Fernandez, one of our choir members. We do not know why, but the Goldilocks in Tacloban was exceptionally yummy!
We performed for the worship service of Tacloban Christian Church come Sunday morning. The congregation was blessed when Pastor Asser spoke about the Attitude of Gratitude, based on Luke 17:11-19.
After a quick lunch and costume change, we rushed to the Tacloban Astrodome for our sound check. This ministry is organized by Icon 8.
Icon 8 is founded by a group of pastors and leaders during a pastoral gathering on January this year. “I” stands for Ichthus, the Greek word for fish. “Con” refers to connect. “8” stands for region 8 (Leyte-Samar belongs to this region). Icon 8 means Jesus and I connect Region 8.
The theme of the entire concert is in Waray dialect: Pagpasalamat, Paghigugma, Pagkaurusa (Thanksgiving, Love, and Unity). The first part will be the Thanksgiving and the Praise and Worship (Pagpasalamat), The Covenant Singers will participate in the second part – Love (Paghigugma), and the third part was the prayer for 7 mountains.
This event was the biggest one we have participated in during our one decade of existence. Yes, we were quite nervous about it, because we really wanted our songs to be able to minister to the people.
We sang the following songs:
- Joyful, Joyful
- Walkin’ in the Spirit
- Dakilang Katapatan
- Out of Roads
- An Iroy Nga Tuna
- Tagumpay Nating Lahat
Time flew so fast. In a blink of an eye, our part was over, and we move on to the ministry of prayer. We joined the masses in praying for the “7 mountains” –
- ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
After the event, we had time to visit another mass grave, this time in front of a church, with the deceased properly identified. I don’t know which was more heartbreaking, the grave where everyone was anonymous, or this grave where you could see names children belonging to one family listed. There was even one with 22 deaths in one family. According to the Taclobanons, that particular barangay was hit quite hard. One third of that barangay died from the typhoon. Again, we sang Hindi Kita Malilimutan to minister to the bereaved, and we could hear people wailing and crying. Our hearts really went to them.
During dinner, we got a chance to chat with Rev. Chad Hammond and his team, from Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. They are planning to have a big evangelistic meet in Tacloban summer of 2015.
We also got to talk to government officials of the city, and have fellowship with Icon8 volunteers. One of them, Dra. Glo, was the head of Campus Crusade for Christ in Tacloban. She shared her experience during the aftermath of the storm, and told us that she was one of the people in charge of officially verifying the dead.
When we said goodbye to our hosts, we expressed our gratitude in giving us the opportunity to minister to the people. They were really hospitable and accommodating. And, they trusted us with such a heavy responsibility, without even knowing who we were or how we sounded. Everything was done through email prior to our meeting.
Just like our fellow missionaries, we really appreciate the fellow Christians we meet along the way. One can’t help but be thankful that we are part of one big happy family, with God as our Father. Wherever we go, we can find kinship with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
How amazing would it be if all Filipinos become followers of Jesus Christ!
photos taken from members of The Covenant Singers
Members who joined us in this trip:
Soprano: Aila Laureta, Ellice Villacruz, Eunice Fernandez, Shanda Lim-Uy (me)
Alto: Dianne Tiu Tong, Niki Guloy
Tenor: Filbert Uy, Wencel de Leos, Randolph Yap, Pierre Balleta, Marktee Tantuco
Bass: Joshua Rex Cheng, Asser Padrillan, Jim Leliza
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