A Thrill of Hope

Nanay Christeta, the lady who sat beside me on my flight, tells me that she is above all thankful that she and her family survived the super typhoon. But second of all, she says she is thankful to God for blessing her with fortitude. After clutching her three grandchildren and hiding under a table through what had been the most terrifying night of her life, and then opening her window the next morning to see death and utter destruction, she wonders how she did not lose her mind, when many could easily (and understandably) do in the face of such horror — and did. She’s old, tiny, and thin, but, except for a small white towel that she holds close to her (in case she tears up, I wonder), nothing about her seems fragile. After all, she is a survivor from Tanauan, Leyte, where by government estimates at least 1,252 people perished. Approximately 12,300 families have been affected, and 10,664 houses damaged, including Christeta’s own.

In Guiuan, Eastern Samar, where I went to support Habitat for Humanity Philippines operations, about 11,600 families are devastated. As a relief effort, Habitat is distributing shelter repair kits to homeowners, aiming to provide families with materials for fixing their houses or building temporary shelters before Christmas. As each man, woman, boy, and girl approached my team to receive a kit, I try to imagine what he or she went through, and I’m humbled – I’m in the presence of survivors, of truly amazing people. Despite everything, there they were, smiling, laughing, being friendly, participating, and cooperating peacefully. And every day, volunteers from the community, both young and old, came early to our makeshift warehouse site, willing and ready to extend a helping hand in our distributions.

In all the barangays we went to, the families never forgot to thank us for our small service. As a member of Habitat, I feel the deepest joy in being able to take part in this. However, I have long come to understand that in this vocation, the Thank Yous belong not to me nor my organization. Gratitude and any kind of honor always belong to the families – for their inspiring courage, resilience, and unwavering faith – and to God.

Indeed my present came early this Christmas season, and I’m deeply thankful. My gift is the incredibly humbling experience of seeing a few miracles take place before my eyes:

Amid desolation, children brightly smiling, full of joy;
Amid loss, an appreciation of what is truly valuable, an embrace of simplicity;
Amid death, a recognition of a blessed life;
Amid destruction, a perseverance to rebuild, to participate, and to help each other;
Amid weariness, a mysterious consolation, a thrill of hope!