vballano / July 4, 2018

Seeing God in Disasters: The Fury of Typhoon Ondoy

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The Philippines is one of the most-disaster prone countries in the globe as well as the most religious country in the world in terms of belief in God (Smith 2012; Abad 2001; Abad & de los Reyes 1994). Being situated in the West Pacific Basin, the country is visited by an average of 20 typhoons annually (NDRRC 2011). And whenever the country is ravaged by major typhoons, personal stories and narratives about God’s saving power abound among disaster victims.

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This is particularly true among victims and survivors of Typhoon Ondoy (International name: Ketsana), one of the most devastating tropical storms that hit the Philippines in September 2009, affecting more than 4 million people and relocating thousands of victims, mostly Catholics, in government-owned resettlement areas.

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Despite the harrowing disaster experience of Ondoy and the inhuman conditions in government relocation sites, many relocated urban poor victims continue to express a strong belief in God’s saving power and share their stories to others of how God saved and made them better religious Christians during and after the disaster. This includes 3 urban poor mothers who were victims of Typhoon Ondoy relocated in the government-owned Southville 8A Resettlement area in the Province of Rizal who claimed that they were saved from the typhoon and from the inhuman conditions in the relocation site by God’s saving power.

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In one of my research studies on the religiosity of the victims of Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) in the Philippines, one of the strongest typhoons to hit the country, three Filipino mothers who were urban poor and who survived from the disaster, narrated to me vividly on how God saved her and her family from rising flood of the dangerous typhoon.

The first informant was Aling Sonia, 28 years old, a mother of six also claimed that God saved them physically from harm:

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I said in my prayer at that time when the floor water was rising: My God, spare me from danger because my children are still very young. I am also pregnant and am about to give birth. Please save us from danger. Come what may, if we are left without belonging as long as we are all saved. And my prayer was answered. We were rescued/brought to a higher place and were brought to the evacuation center of Barangay San Isidro before we were given a house unit in the relocation.”

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The second one was Aling Anita, 45 years old, an ambulant vendor with 6 children, for instance, claimed that God personally saved her children from the typhoon by performing a miracle. She believed that God sent her friend to save her children from the flood:

“The rain was so heavy on that morning. I peddled breakfast from one house to another every morning. While walking, somebody told me that the flood was already very high in our place. The makeshift houses there were already washed away. I hurriedly went home but was stranded because of the high flood on the roads. I was very worried but I kept on praying fervently that God would save my 6 little kids. At that very moment God heard my prayer. Somebody told me that a friend of mine who resided far from our place saved my children. I later learned that my friend remembered that I was vending every morning and that no one might save my children. So she went to my house even if it is far. Her arrival was on time. She was able to bring all my children to higher ground before our house was swept away by rampaging water. I was really thankful to our Lord God for saving my family from Typhoon Ondoy.”

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The third one is Aling Betty. She has no full-time or part-time job or any gainful livelihood program she participated in the relocation site. She said she joined the soap-making seminars and other skills training in the site. But there was capital or support from the government available to start her own small business. Asked about their future in the relocation site, Aling Bettyline says:

“I don’t know how we can continue to survive here in the relocation. God is our only our hope that He will not abandon us. We are worried about our current conditions in the housing. The government has abandoned us. No permanent job, no sufficient income. How can our needs be satisfied especially for our children who are still studying, what about their future?”

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Deprivation Theory and Religiosity

A key question in sociology of religion is: Why do people become religious?

The stories of these three urban poor Filipino women confirm one explanation that aims to answer the question on why people become religious is the deprivation theory. This theory maintains that “religious commitment is the result of compensation that religion provides in situations where individuals meet obstacles in life in search for alternative goals” (Furset & Repstad, 2006, p.111). According to this theory, grievances in life, such as poverty, lack of safety or imminent danger in disaster situations, difficult personal problems, and other forms of deprivations in life, can make people religious and prayerful to God.

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There are different types of deprivation theories in sociology. But the economic deprivation theory, in particular, explains that poverty can make people religious. The more people experience financial hardships, extreme poverty, or material deprivation in life, the more they become religious.

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Photo credit: Pexels.com free photos

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  • Jonathan Diesta says

    Filipinos have truly a strong faith in God and the fact that we are religious. We are asking for forgiveness if we commit mistakes, we are acknowledging God through thanksgiving after we overcome challenges and receive blessings in life and asking for help or supplication if we need courage, strength, patience and love. In times of disasters, we Filipinos, pray to God to face the obstacles and asking for strength.

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