Various baked goods, specialty items and refreshments will be on sale every Sunday through Dec. 22 at New Life Center (Harbor City Foursquare Church) just south of Los Angeles. But this isn’t a typical feel-good holiday gesture. Thanks to donated supplies, all funds raised will go to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan, known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines.
“People have already said, ‘We want to donate food and create other opportunities for people to give,’ ” says Ken Bringas, New Life Center’s senior pastor, who oversees a second church campus in Norwalk. “To us, this feels like it needs to be a lot more personal.”
For The Foursquare Church, the destruction in the Philippines has taken on more significance than the tsunamis, earthquakes and other calamities of recent years.
“This one is the first that directly affects larger numbers (1,900) of our churches,” says Chad Isenhart, international operations chief of Foursquare Disaster Relief (FDR). “It will be the most of any disaster, foreign or domestic, for us.”
Ted Vail, FDR co-director, says the Southeast Asian nation plays a key role in the denomination’s history, stretching back to missionary Don McGregor’s work in the 1950s. In fact, when Jim Montgomery wrote his 1972 book, New Testament Fire in the Philippines, he focused on Foursquare because a small number of the movement’s missionaries had been so successful starting churches.
“It’s a strong movement,” Ted asserts. “It’s very indigenous. It’s not an American movement or an Americanized movement.”
The movement includes strong ties with native Filipinos living in the U.S. When the typhoon struck, Ken’s father, Thel Bringas, who serves as an assisting minister at New Life Center, was visiting Davao City, located on the nation’s southernmost island of Mindanao. The devastation touched the hearts of the more than 500 people who attend New Life Center’s services at its Harbor City and Norwalk campuses. More than three-quarters of the members are of Filipino descent.
Not surprisingly, their response won’t be limited to bake sales. Although plans are still unfolding, Ken says New Life Center will be doing a number of fundraising projects in the next four weeks. And though the congregation’s initial fundraising efforts will end in late December, additional fundraising next year is a distinct possibility.
The church plans to focus its relief efforts on children and victims needing medical attention; many members are doctors, nurses or other health care personnel.
“We would be amazed if the Lord opened a door for us to get medical support directly to the affected areas,” Ken says. “People here are emotionally attached to the homeland.”
The same emotion exists at other Foursquare churches, such as Christian Fellowship (Praise L.A. Foursquare Church) in downtown Los Angeles, where five members have loved ones in the Philippines. The church’s most recent midweek service was devoted to interceding for victims.
“We always respond immediately if there’s a disaster,” says Senior Pastor Joe Danganan, mentioning assistance the church sent after smaller typhoons the past two years. The congregation maintains close ties to the Philippines through an ongoing initiative that has helped start five churches in the Manila area in the past decade.
Teams of about a dozen pastors and laypersons from Christian Fellowship and other Los Angeles-area churches have usually traveled to Manila annually. Last year, a smaller team led a pastors conference.
“They’ve grown fast and can take care of themselves,” Joe says. “But we still go there every year to encourage them and help the leaders.”
Churches outside Southern California are responding, too. Lighthouse Christian Fellowship (San Bruno Foursquare Church) in Millbrae, Calif., has held prayer meetings, and on Nov. 22 it gathered with other San Francisco Bay Area residents for worship and prayer, and to rally support for victims. The 80-member church took up an offering two days after the typhoon hit. Although it will send those and additional funds at the end of November, Senior Pastor Norman Doromal says the church will collect donations beyond that date.
“Our focus is sending financial relief for the victims,” Norman says. “The expenses for one’s trip to the Philippines are enough to cover many families who were affected by the storm.”
A half-hour southwest of Chicago, The Sower Foursquare Church (Woodridge Filipino Foursquare Church) recently announced its relief efforts. “We are planning to send used clothing and goodies in addition to any cash donations,” says Senior Pastor JoJo Daguit.
These sentiments reflect action taken by FDR. Soon after the storm, Chad Isenhart landed in the Philippines with $5,000 for emergency assistance. Ted Vail says the agency has since sent $25,000, and will send an additional $25,000 for emergency supplies.
“Our style is a lot like the local church,” Ted explains. “We work through Foursquare churches to help, and if one is destroyed, we want to rebuild that church. A church is the ultimate disaster relief center.”
Chad is working alongside Foursquare Philippines National Leader Val Chaves, and networking with such agencies as Convoy of Hope, Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision. Chad, Val and four other pastors traveled by boat recently to Ormoc City, part of Foursquare’s Visayas District. Ormoc is about 90 minutes southwest of the hard-hit city of Tacloban. Chad reports that, of the 48 Foursquare churches in the Visayas region, an estimated 90 percent are damaged or destroyed.
Numbers are not available on how many homes are damaged. Nor can anyone contact pastors, because there is no power or cell phone service. It could take up to six months to restore electricity in populated areas.
“We need to fix the main church in Ormoc City for relief supplies to be stored there,” Chad says. “This will be a great hub, as it has fairly easy access to Cebu and cheaper supplies.”
Saying he trusts Foursquare leaders in the Philippines, Ted Vail notes the importance of giving to a trusted organization such as Foursquare Disaster Relief. Calling Filipinos an integral part of the Foursquare family, Ted says Americans should respond to their needs.
“We want to be there for them in their time of trauma and pain, whatever that looks like,” Ted says.
Visit the Foursquare Disaster Relief website to make a donation now.
By: Ken Walker, an award-winning freelance writer in Huntington, W.Va.