Since we’re all very aware of the awful human suffering in the wake of the recent super-storm that took thousands of lives and destroyed entire communities in the heart of the Philippines, I thought it would be appropriate to share a “tiny story” from Myrna Barinaga, who has been a member of ABC for about forty-five years:

“My mother loved to sing, and most of her songs were hymns.  She did her chores at home while singing or humming a hymn.  She put her babies to sleep by singing a hymn.  As a child, my favorite was ‘Yes, Jesus Loves Me.’  I knew then, as a child, that Jesus truly loved me.  Many times my mother would gather us around the piano to sing hymns as she played. Early morning hours, I would be awakened by my mom’s singing ‘When Morning Gilds the Skies.’  The phrase from that hymn, ‘May Jesus Christ be praised,’ remains in my heart, though my mom’s voice has long since been silenced.”

I remember Francesca Pilpa, Myrna’s mom, who with her husband Jose raised eleven children.  I remember how Jose was the strong patriarch of the family.  He was the clear leader of the Pilpa clan, and his opinion and approval were important to every family member, including his children’s marriage partners, his grandchildren and great grandchildren.  He would spend maybe six months of the year in the US, straightening out the lives of his children who lived here, then the other six months in the Philippines, straightening out the lives of those who remained there. There was no doubt who was the patriarch, and Jose was serious about his responsibility, even though it was hard in a changing society.

By contrast, Francesca was quiet, at least in my presence, smiling serenely while Jose was making a speech or praying one of his wonderful prayers.  I always had the sense that she had layers of knowledge and experience she did not feel the need to put on display.  Myrna’s tiny story confirms this.  Maybe by planting seeds of faith and spirituality into her children, Francesca knew that she had done her work.  She didn’t have to agonize about questionable decisions her children seemed to be making, because she knew she had imparted to them, during their early years, a primal consciousness of God’s presence and love, partly through the hymns she was constantly humming and singing.

I have been privileged to know just about all of Jose and Francesca’s children.  Myrna’s husband Leon was one of my best friends, until his untimely death in 1998.  I have watched Myrna’s kids, Vena, Stella and Leon*, grow up, and now I’m watching their kids emerge into unique individuals.  I’ve witnessed a little boy named Glenn Molina come into the Pilpa extended family by his father’s marriage to Elnora, and he has blossomed before our eyes into our gifted Director of Worship Arts.

Over the years, I have been embraced as part of the Pilpa family, and today that has special significance for me.  Myrna’s high school years and her RN training were spent in the city of Tacloban, which has been flattened by the storm.  An estimated ten thousand people have died; among them may be Myrna’s nephew Carlo, his wife and two children, who have not been heard from.  A number of family members are gathered at the family’s home in Burauen, which is inland from Tacloban, including some who have been part of our ABC fellowship, Ruth, Elnora, Loyda, Josephina and Marla.  An outside observer indicates the house lost its roof, but there has been no contact from any of the occupants. Another sister, Ida, is in Cebu recovering from serious surgery.  The island of Cebu has also experienced much destruction, but Ida is reported to be safe.

Reviewing my inter-relatedness with the Pilpa family over many years makes me aware that, in truth, human beings everywhere are really part of one big family.  I try not to think about this too much, but when a malnourished baby cries in Bangladesh, there’s an infinitesimal response in my soul, because that baby is connected to me.  When that baby dies, I am diminished.  I think this is why Jesus came.  He felt our suffering so much that he couldn’t stay away.  He came and entered into the suffering in a way that is redemptive and that transforms everyone who gives him a second look.

Today, let’s focus our attention, our prayers, our gut-wrenching empathy on our brothers and sisters in the Philippines, who are anxiously searching for loved ones, wondering where they will find shelter for their families, looking for some kind of food to eat.

— Pastor George Van Alstine

 * Not to mention their special sister Frances, who is developmentally disabled and has spent most of her life in special care facilities.

** UPDATE: On Tuesday evening Myrna learned that her sisters in Burauen are all safe and are trying to find transportation to Cebu.

***FURTHER UPDATE: Wednesday afternoon Myrna reported she just heard about her nephew Carlo who survived with his family. Praise the Lord!