When Pastor Reuben Cedino and members of his Richmond Hill church – many of whom are from the Philippines and still have family and friends there – started seeing images of the utter devastation Typhoon Haiyan wreaked upon their home country earlier this month, it was hard to believe any of it was real: The place where many of them grew up now looked like a war zone.
As Queens’ numerous Filipino residents – many of whom live in Woodside, though there is a growing population in Richmond Hill – frantically tried to get a hold of people they knew on the Philippines’ six island hit by the typhoon, the news about situation on the ground became frighteningly worse. The deadliest typhoon to ever hit the Southeast Asian island nation, which sits to the south of Taiwan and east of Vietnam, the storm killed more than 5,000 people – and with about 1,600 people listed as missing, that number could grow, according to the Filipino government.
“Looking at the pictures, the devastation is beyond me,” said Cedino, who lived in the Filipino city of Cagayan de Oro until 2006, when the pastor moved from his home country to Queens to lead the Filipino-American United Church of Christ at 102-35 89th Ave. in Richmond Hill. “I know it will take years to build this back, and I hope people will help us.”
Immediately after learning of the destruction caused by the typhoon – which wrought the most heavy destruction on the country’s island of Leyte – Cedino and his congregation began collecting funds for the typhoon’s victims who are beginning the daunting task of piecing together their lives. United Church of Christ members are hoping to raise about a quarter of a million dollars to aid those in the Philippines.
“We can rise up,” Cedino said in an interview with Arise Television. “…We’re a poor country, and we know what suffering is all about, but we laugh – we don’t surrender easily.”
The pastor said he has also been trying to help Filipino-Americans attempting to locate family.
“Some people still haven’t heard from family or friends, and that is very difficult,” Cedino said. “I have a friend who I went to college with, and I am still waiting to hear about him. His last Facebook post was about waiting for Typhoon Haiyan, and then there has been nothing since then.”
Following the tragic disaster, Cedino said there is nothing to ask but: “What can we do now?”
For the pastor and his church members, that means raising money for the victims and hoping someday they will see photos of a home country that they, once again, recognize.
By Anna Gustafson