We met Mike at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in the Philippines when my family and I arrived there from Argentina in 2013 to pursue graduate studies. He was living for a while in his great-uncle’s home. Soon he became one of our son’s best friends.
Our Neighbor As A Journey
Sometimes it involves more than just giving money.
By Marcos Gabriel Blanco
We met Mike at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in the Philippines when my family and I arrived there from Argentina in 2013 to pursue graduate studies. He was living for a while in his great-uncle’s home. Soon he became one of our son’s best friends. This 11-year-old Filipino boy taught Gabriel to climb trees of every kind. As parents, we were happy to see Gabriel developing a friendship with this ever-smiling pal.
One day, however, Mike returned home to his parents, who lived in Batad, Iloilo, in the Philippines. Gabriel regretted his friend’s departure deeply. This sadness soon deepened to concern, however, when he learned that Typhoon Haiyan had affected Mike and his family.
With winds of up to 195 miles per hour, Haiyan destroyed everything in its path as it raged through the islands. It was the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record, killing thousands of people in that country alone. Haiyan was also the strongest storm recorded at landfall, and unofficially the strongest typhoon ever recorded in terms of wind speed.*
“Dad, what can we do to help Mike?” Gabriel asked.
“I think we can send him some money for food,” I answered.
Gabriel approved my suggestion, and so we provided financial assistance for Mike’s family. Gabriel, however, didn’t stop there.
“Can we go there to help him?” Gabriel begged.
“We will see,” I responded.
Responding to the Call
It is no coincidence that the parable of the good Samaritan—probably the most well-known parable of Jesus exemplifying the call to love our neighbors—involves the story of a trip (Luke 10:25-37). In this parable a certain man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho fell among thieves, who left him nearly dead. First a priest and then a Levite arrived at the place where the victim was lying, but they passed by on the other side. Then an unlikely hero, a Samaritan, “as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion” (verse 33). The Samaritan did not pass by on the other side. He took the journey to his neighbor.
My son’s insistence moved me to action. I posted our project on Facebook. Soon some of my friends and colleagues in the South American Spanish Publishing House in Buenos Aires, Argentina, replied, indicating that they were willing to help. Within just a few weeks we had raised enough funds to assist Mike and his family. We contacted church leaders at the local Adventist mission headquarters, who appointed Jun (Julieto) Gonzalez as our local guide. Jun is the chaplain of West Visayan Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist institution near Mike’s house in Batad. All was arranged for our trip—a journey to our neighbor.
Surprise for a Friend
After a one-hour flight we arrived at the city of Iloilo, capital of Iloilo province, on Panay Island. We then drove almost 80 miles to reach Mike’s home. The landscape bore witness to one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded.
Mike’s home is in a fishers’ town by the sea. We reached there in the afternoon. When Gabriel saw Mike playing on the beach, he grabbed a bag with toys that he had brought and ran to him. Mike could not believe it! It was his friend Gabriel, there in his own village!
The most urgent need of Mike’s family was to repair their fishing boat, which had been severely damaged by the typhoon. While we were discussing the situation with Mike’s father, Mike and Gabriel played with some sticks—remains of the houses that had succumbed to the force of the storm. Children of their age can play even in the midst of the tragedy.
One by one some of Mike’s relatives began arriving, all with the same need: to repair their fishing boats. The next day we were able to purchase the materials needed to repair four of the fishing boats, as well as the engines of all the boats. In addition, we helped the people to rebuild their homes. As for Mike, however, the most important thing was that his friend had come to visit him—and to know that his friend truly cares for him.
This journey to our neighbor was a life-changing experience for me, both as a Christian and as a parent. My son encouraged me not to bypass our neighbor, and I’m grateful that he did.
Even though we are now home again, Jun will continue to visit Mike and his family and share with them the message of Jesus’ love. We will also continue to keep them in our prayers. Perhaps the typhoon disaster, as horrific as it was, will also be a life-changing experience for them—one that will result in eternal life with Jesus.
Marcos Gabriel Blanco is editor in chief of the South American Spanish Publishing House in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and a doctoral theology student at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines.