There’s an expression we’ve used a thousand times over:
“A picture is worth a thousand words.”
It’s a phrase that rings through the mind with each click of a button, each fingertip scroll on a phone, each look at the memory-rich photos in the family living room. Yet there’s a truth to those words that can strangely echo deep within our souls if we truly allow it.
For a short week in January, a fearless band of Americans and Filipino transplants descended on a little corner of the globe: a grief-stricken area of the Philippines known as Tacloban.
Just a short two-months prior, a violent and horrific storm emerged from the ocean’s core and wrecked havoc on that area and the lives of the Filipino people that once called it home.
Typhoon Yolanda was a fierce beast-of-a-storm with a vicious hunger that roared and left a graphic trail of devastation, rising death tolls, and needs more poignant than the human stomach can handle.
No matter how desperate the despair was, this band of hard-working foreigners came together to see heaven invade earth in this tiny sliver of the world.
A place desperate to hear the Father’s heart whisper,
“You are not forgotten.”
For six days, God’s kingdom came in the form of hot meals, manna packs, the organization of supplies & donations, and sweat, tears and elbow-grease poured into relief-projects. It also came through the guidance of the Holy Spirit when our footsteps were redirected to a labyrinth of new faces, bowed heads, and encounters with people that bit-by-bit drew us and them closer to the Father’s heart.
In the broken cement archway of what once resembled a home, we heard story after story of what should’ve filled our hearts with grief, yet instead filled us with resounding hallujahs that echoed the chorus of thanksgiving from the heavens above.
It’s difficult sometimes to go, experience and then move forward from something as impactful as disaster relief work. Though our hearts swell in memory and thanksgiving, we still return home. We click the buckle of our plane’s seat belt tight around us and head back to the chaotic rhythms of our over-scheduled life. Then in the quiet crevices of time, the memories come alive again as fingertips fall across the screens of our phones, a modern day 35mm camera. A brief, but lasting glimpse of the memories and faces of the land and people our hearts have grown to love in so many unforeseen ways.
While the wreckage of a raging storm lay in the visual crumble of those pictures, we simply don’t see the anguish and grief that we were once so certain was there. Instead, in the photo of a young girl’s toothless grin, her infectious giggles are actually what come to mind. We remember the joy of songs and silly faces in a puddle-filled back alley, and they envelope our inner being and draw us closer into the Father’s heart.
We remember the mother, who through tears, shared the fear that rose inside of her as the storm’s waters swelled around her, now desperate to provide for the four children who helplessly cling to her side. Her smile followed the tears and were a beacon of the hope and joy that can bring sunshine on the cloudiest of days in Tacloban.
Through a single picture, the floodgates open up from deep within and we remember the joy of a tiny corner of the globe. A place that could easily be forgotten, yet serve as a reminder of the joy that sprung forth from the rumbles of grief.
A single picture. A thousand words.
We’re no longer left with the question of what impact did we make, we’re left knowing the joy that we’ve received… and the joys that they’ve hopefully received as well.
We press forward, marching to the anthem of our hearts poured out for the Philippines.
Bangon Tacloblan, you are not forgotten.