By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (November 13, 2013) — Leofin Blanco had few uplifting words for his Filipino congregation, Community Covenant Church, on the Sunday after Typhoon Haiyan shredded much of their homeland.
Instead he shared the tragic story behind the hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul,” which was written by Horatio Spafford in 1873 shortly after he learned that the ship on which his four daughters were traveling to England had collided with another vessel and sank within minutes. All four of his daughters drowned.
“I couldn’t just say, ‘Thus says the Lord,’ ” he said today. “I thought it would be better if they heard the testimony of someone who had gone through tragedy.”
He wanted the congregation to know that trust would be possible although he has no expectation that it would come easily.
Earlier in the service, his wife, Merly, shared with the congregation her own thoughts, which Blanco said are being voiced by Filipinos across the world. She told them, “Many of us are asking, ‘Where is God? Has God forgotten us?’ ”
They are the same laments expressed throughout the book of Psalms, Blanco notes.
Philippines officials have said they expect the death toll in their country to reach into the thousands and that 660,000 people have been left homeless. Aid still has not reached many remote areas.
Just three weeks earlier, a 7.2 earthquake shook the same area and claimed the lives of 198 people.
Blanco said most people in the congregation did not have relatives in the storm-ravaged central section of the country. One member heard from a brother who lived in the flattened capital city of Tacloban the day after the storm hit.
He had been able to make it to Manila and make contact, but she has not heard from him since and remains concerned about his welfare.
Blanco said he was grateful for the prayers that have been offered around the Covenant. The church, which shares a building and worships jointly with Immanuel Covenant Church, will take special offerings over the next two weeks and contribute them to the Covenant World Relief disaster response fund.
Blanco said he still is uncertain what he will preach this Sunday. “I can’t be preaching celebration. It would be disrespectful to my people.”