Salvador Cariaga: Turning tragedy into triumph

Clockwise from top left: Image of the typhoon's destruction; Salvador Cariaga speaking at Oklahoma Christian University about the relief needs in the Philippines; one of the 600+ baptisms in Arapal and the surrounding area since the typhoon.
Clockwise from top left: Image of the typhoon's destruction; Salvador Cariaga speaking at Oklahoma Christian University about the relief needs in the Philippines; one of the 600+ baptisms in Arapal and the surrounding area since the typhoon.

Oklahoma Christian University graduate Salvador Cariaga (83) is the executive director of ministries for Shepherd’s Hill International. OC president emeritus Mike O’Neal (68) is on the board of trustees for the ministry, which includes the Give A Goat initiative in Salavdor’s home country, the Philippines.

On November 7, Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines with the strength of a Category 5 hurricane, claiming almost 4,000 lives and injuring more than 12,000 people.

In the aftermath of one of the most destructive storms in Southeast Asia’s history, Salvador and Shepherd’s Hill were on the ground in the Philippines providing relief.

These excerpts from Salvador’s Facebook page show his passion for the people in his home country along with the real-time triumphs and trials of Christian disaster relief.

November 7 Lost contact with our Arapal brothers and sisters. The eye of the storm must be over the camp by now. There will be no live updates for a while. Wind and rain will continue raging for 4-6 hours before everything subsides. Their silence is deafening. Prayers please ...

November 8 Rescue. Relief. Rebuild. Renew.

November 8 LATEST DISASTER REPORT IN ARAPAL: GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS!

The good news is that my worst fear did not happen; there are no major or many casualties in our area. I have not gotten much update on death or injury yet, but the fact that I have not gotten much is good news.

The bad news is that my second worst fear happened. Collateral damage is complete. All our buildings in Arapal were destroyed, even Arapal Children’s Home is now roofless. There was no report of injuries of those who took shelter there (We have a concrete and rock basement that can hold 100 people). But all the huts were either gone or uninhabitable. Goat houses disappeared as expected.

Outside of our 100 acre campus is even worse. They were facing the brunt of the wind. We had their hills to protect us, somewhat. There are deaths reported there. Their devastation is more complete. The wind and rain smashed their houses at will. Initial reports give a very grim picture of our neighbors.

November 9 Arapal Livelihood Center, Arapal Christian Camp and Arapal Children’s Home were destroyed and decimated by the recent typhoon. Seven years of hard work, gone in seven horrifying and traumatic hours. Fortunately, lives were saved in the building BANDS (Body and Soul) Ministries donated. About 50 people huddled in the basement while the roof was mercilessly ripped off, but failed to harm them. With God’s help, we will rebuild. We will restore.

November 12 Distributing food and tarp in Arapal now. Got generator set and chain saws. Gerry Bastonero and crew taking more relief supplies to be distributed in and around Arapal Christian Camp. Hope to set up a temporary refugee camp there soon. Working on logistics and coordination. The government is overwhelmed. Too many people homeless. Meeting today in Fort Worth with US Relief Organizations BANDS Ministries, Christian Relief Fund, Healing Hands, Shepherd’s Hill, and other groups to help the Philippine disaster victims.

November 20 On the way to the disaster area. Prayers please. Thank you.

November 27 Worship is not limited to a physical structure. Even underneath a plastic tarp (during the day) or the moonlight (evening service), Arapal Christians and visitors continue to worship. I find open air worship more spiritually intimate than enclosed buildings.

December 1 I have been involved with a lot of disaster works in the Philippines since I was a kid. The Philippines is the most disaster-prone country in the world, unfortunately. However, I have never been hit so close to home before. This time, “HOME” is ground zero. People who are victims are not just faceless folks I just met and may never meet again, not that they are less important. This time, I have known the disaster victims’ faces, names, stories, and families for years. I have given them goats, seeds, and chicken.

On behalf of my people, please extend your help if you have not done so yet. The US Board of Trustees of Shepherds Hill committed to send 100% of your donation to the disaster work in the Philippines. This is a volunteer driven organization led by Dr. Mike O’Neal, former president of Oklahoma Christian University. For more information, please contact him at mike.oneal@oc.edu or send your gift to Shepherds Hill, PO Box 11000, Oklahoma City, OK 73136. Contributions will be promptly acknowledged by volunteer Dr. Elaine Kelly and will be tax deductible.

December 2 Have a house full of international disaster volunteer workers. More arriving.

December 5 I am in Arapal, Cebu. 6am here. No electricity in this disaster area for another three months or more. Nice paradise weather this week. 70s & 80s. Am in my tent. I can hear villagers hammering and rebuilding. Enjoying sunrise, sound of birds, chicken and goats. God is good!

December 6 Another beautiful sunrise in Arapal. A new day. A new beginning. God is good.

December 8 DISASTER WORK can also be a DISASTROUS LIFE. Lots of conflicts, jealousy, brush fires to put out – from the victims to the volunteers. Goats are so much easier to handle and herd. He he he.

December 14 Worshiping with the faithful on a hilltop church few miles from Arapal. Under a tarp roof because chapel roof and walls have been yanked away by the typhoon. Only the foundation is left. Although their building was crushed, their spirit is not destroyed.

December 24 Feeling very MERRY today. The container has been unloaded and cleared. Several sleigh were filled and on their way to ARAPAL. HO HO HO!

December 31 HAPPY NEW YEAR! Going out to deliver rebuilding materials with young volunteers today. House to house. First day of the year is the best day to help rebuild homes and lives. If you wish to join me sometime this year, please let me know. This is a long and massive effort. We need all the help we can get. Help us REBUILD ARAPAL!

January 3 MORE BAPTISMS TODAY IN ARAPAL. We need new fresh volunteer church workers, teachers, preachers, even if just for two weeks so that our worn out laborers ‘in the vineyard’ can get some rest. We also need to follow up on our new brethren, mentoring them and guiding them every day so that they will stay. School is starting next week. Our volunteers will be depleted down to 80% or more. Please share or email cariaga@yahoo.com for information.

January 4 FROM VOLUNTEERS TO VICTORS. 15 young men and women were baptized in this beautiful San Remegio beach yesterday near Arapal. They are all high school students from Lambusan who served as disaster volunteers during Christmas break.

January 5 Dodong Cabarles baptized most of the 65 who came forward today in Arapal. He has worked tirelessly here for years with only a little success in building up the church. This week, this little man became a giant in many eyes, including mine. His years of sacrifice and hard work suddenly came to life. His message and delivery has also stepped up like I have never heard him preach before. God shined upon him brightly after the storm.

January 11 Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Europe, Canada, and the US have been extremely generous in helping make it possible for us to do relief and rebuilding work in Arapal. We would like to thank all our donors, especially the Americans, for their help. I will again share in our church today that I am just a conduit, not the source. But ultimately, God is the ultimate source of all. We are all just stewards. Happy Lord’s Day everyone. God bless …

January 21 Almost eight years ago, Angel was fighting for her life as she tried to outrun the rush of incoming mudslide from the mountain. It buried her whole village and took the lives of her loved ones along with over 2,000 others. Her grandmother who was running with her fell, but urged her to keep running. She did not make it. Her sister who was also with them was covered with mud, but Angel and an uncle rescued her. Her grandfather who raised Angel and her sister Lyka survived, but mysteriously died a week later.

Last Sunday, Angel handled a class of what must be about 100 kids with grace and ease. She is one of our many partners who were once victims, but became volunteers. Theirs are stories of turning tragedy into triumph.

January 30 Another incoming typhoon due to hit landfall. Prayers please.

January 31 In my tent. Typhoon Signal #2. Wind blowing harder and harder in Arapal. Raining off and on. Just had 13 baptisms late today IN THE OCEAN. 23 this week. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want …”

January 31 All is well here now. Stopped raining. Wind is not as strong. Everyone safe. No report of major damage or any injuries here in the camp. Praise God. Thank you all for your prayers and concerns. Will update more later.

February 15 God does not waste hurt or hunger. Many of the people who followed Jesus in the hills were after bread. He provided them more than bread to eat. He gave them the bread of life. Happy Lord’s Day!

February 16 I asked the patriarch of this family who will donate a valuable land for our new church in Arapal, what led them to decide to donate a valuable property. He said, “I heard of Arapal and what you have been doing through my employees and relatives. I think what you are doing is great and I want to support that.”

For over eight years, we have labored in Arapal serving the poorest of the poor. Never it crossed my mind, that the rich were watching us through the eyes of the poor. And it was even further from my mind that rich and poor land owners will donate properties for our new church buildings around Arapal.

God works in mysterious ways. God is Great!

February 24 Over 300 souls have been baptized since after the big typhoon in Cebu. We have been averaging 500+ in our Sunday morning attendance for three months now. Yesterday, we had more than 730. 32 souls accepted Christ. One of those who was born again was Willy Claren, a retired police colonel. He came to church Sunday to donate a piece of land for one of our new church buildings. He told me before our morning service that he liked what we are doing in his community and want to help. He had no plans of being baptized, but when the invitation was extended, he came forward and was immersed. People come to Arapal for various reasons. Many come for aid, others want to help, while some are just curious. God meets people at the point of their needs and draws them to Him. That is what’s happening in Arapal today. Please share.

February 24 One of our new temporary staff members gave her share of roofing material to let a neighbor have it instead. She said, “They need it more than I do.” A typhoon disaster victim lost her home the second time due to fire, one of our longtime staff workers donated pots and pans from their own personal funds. Today, we have volunteers bringing sacks of potatoes, cassava, pounds of fish, fruits, and vegetables. With school being out, there are over 300 men, women, and children in Arapal today. We are becoming a huge close-knit family here. Imagine what our lunch is going to be like. he he he

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:42-47

February 26 Activities are super full. Another baptism yesterday. 300 volunteers working. Some brought chicken, vegetables, fish, and fruits. One lady brought her whole family to cook special Filipino desert of “puto ug bodbod’ from scratch. It was a culinary demonstration of native food for everyone to see and later on enjoy. Building relationships. Building communities. Building churches. Praise the Lord.

March 9 Every Sunday, our pictures will show that there is always something new in Arapal. Again, our stage is bigger and better. The “Big Tent” is now longer again to accommodate more people. 722 attended our morning worship and 19 more souls were added to the Lord, including an 80 year old man who wanted to be baptized with his ‘new’ necktie on. LOL!

March 16 This 80+ year old lady came with a bag of mongo beans as her offering. She was proud of her gift. Her response to my interview cracked the audience. She has a great sense of humor and obviously a sincere will to serve the Lord.

March 21 The burden of sustaining this momentum, discipling and mentoring new members, developing an organizational structure that meets the needs of our new brothers in Christ is quite heavy and complicated. We still have an ongoing relief and rebuilding work to do, along with our existing programs of livelihood, children’s home, Christian camp, Christian schools, etc. In April and May, we will be conducting VBS in 20 different sites around Arapal and Cebu.

Please pray for this work, that God may give us the wisdom what to do and the means to capitalize on this extraordinary situation and opportunity. Growth this fast and this big in a disaster situation is full of complications, confusion, and conflicts. Majority of our workforce are young and inexperienced. Our key leaders have been stretched and stressed. We have no blueprint or pattern and had to start from scratch and make things up as we go. We need your prayers and support now more than ever.

April 8 VBS starts today in four different villages around Arapal. Targeting 20 or more different sites. Teachers mostly teenagers. Prayers please.

April 22 355 attended Sunday morning worship service in Arapal. 120 Sunday night. Six souls accepted Christ, one of them is Fernando Naparuta. His parents, brother and sister were killed in the Leyte disaster (mudslide) eight years ago. He joined our team this summer as a volunteer. From victim to volunteer, to victory in Jesus.

April 24 GIVE A PIG. Oink! Oink! Arapal Livelihood Center has been developing its organic pig farm for over two years. Now we are ready to expand by sharing our knowledge and experience to help fight poverty and break the cycle of dependency through organic pig raising. For more information, please message me or email me at cariaga@yahoo.com or donate directly to Shepherds Hill, PO BOX 11000, Oklahoma City, OK 73136. Note: Give a pig.

May 2 In Arapal, we have been partnering for almost six months with various individuals, churches, and non-profit groups (local and international). Among them are BandS Ministries, Disaster Tech Lab, Disaster Missions, Christian Relief Fund, Ecoweb, Peace Relief Mission, etc. We are grateful to all our partners and welcome any new ones who wish to come.

May 3 500 Families around Arapal still need disaster aid in forms of roofing, walls, nails, gutter, wood, etc. Rebuilding mission will go on for another six months to a year. Lots of homes still need repair. We are budgeting about $100 per household. Please help. Send your aid through Shepherds Hill, PO Box 11000, Oklahoma City, OK 73136. Kindly share this with your friends, family, or home church.

May 11 There are now 21 new converts here in the islet. One of the converts is Arse Lopez. He is one of the patriarchs of this place with 12 children and 40 grandchildren. When l first approached him for Bible study in his village, he answered, “We need to hear God’s word in this island.”

May 13 27 Souls were baptized in the last few days in Arapal and surrounding areas, 18 of them in Arapal Island. Over 350 attended worship in Arapal Sunday morning, over 50 attended Sunday night in the islet. 603 have now accepted Christ since typhoon Yolanda (Hainan) six months ago. To God be the glory. Praise the Lord!