Danger from trees
“We didn’t think of trees,” Dawn said.
The first communication the Holbrooks had with John was an email he sent through satellite phone Monday evening, which was Tuesday morning in the Philippines. Communication still suffered a lot of interference from the weather. But he was able to let his family know he was OK. It had been three days since they had heard from him.
“We had been praying for him and his family, our family over there,” Dawn said, referring to their adoptive family. “By the time we finally heard from him we had at least 50 to 60 phone calls, texts and emails asking about him. It was very exciting (to hear from him.) We were both on the computer, and we checked the email. We stopped everything and read it.”
John had told his parents that it had taken him several tries to finally get the message out.
The email said “it had been the strongest and fastest typhoon he’d ever been in,” Dawn said. “The wind had only lasted about an hour to an hour and a half. It only lasted about 18 hours total where he’s at.
“He said they weathered it in their hut, in their bamboo hut, but when trees started falling around the village, they ran to a concrete school and camped there. He didn’t say anything about emotion or scariness.”
When a typhoon hits it is loud and constant, Dawn said.
“Rain is coming through everything you can put up,” she said. “It comes in under the eaves. The floors are wet. The beds are wet. We had a concrete house and people would shelter in our house.”
Since most people live in huts made of bamboo and grass, it is common for poles to fall and break and for roofs to have to be thatched again. Mudslides are common.
On Tuesday, John was able to call his mother while she was at work at Murray Medical Center, where she is a nurse.
“They were afraid a tree would fall on the hut,” she said. “It wasn’t something they had concerns with before. They didn’t know it would be that strong.”
When trees started falling, most everyone in the village with trees near their homes ran to the school in the storm to seek shelter. Dawn estimated the school is about 300 feet from John’s hut. Trees in the village are a mixture of strong ones like the oaks here and ones with shallow root systems, such as the pines here, that topple easily when facing such strong winds.
“He said it was very intense and they were frightened at the time,” Dawn said. John’s cousin, Lisa Jester, had come to visit John for a few months and arrived just in time for the storm to hit.
“They had no homes destroyed,” Dawn said. “There was minor damage to the roofs, but no injuries.”
Trees in the village fell just short of the huts.
“I think that’s a miracle,” Dawn said. “Because of the mountains, they were right at the bottom of the tallest mountain, they didn’t get as much storm damage as other parts of the island. The houses are not as strong as the trees. God was protecting them.”
John has said numerous times the safest place in the world to be is where God calls you.
Tim and Dawn were missionaries in the Philippines from 1994 to 2002. John was 8 when they left.
Then they went to Thailand for four years before returning to the Chattanooga area so John could attend college at Southern Adventist University to study theology at age 20. After graduating from college and a year raising money for his mission, he returned to the Philippines to help the Batangan tribe, a tribe south of the Alangan. John is being helped in his mission by his adoptive Filipino brother, Delpin. He has been there for two years.
“He was here about five years before he went overseas as a missionary himself,” Dawn said. “We didn’t realize it until the night before he went back that he identified very deeply with them, much more deeply than we thought.”
John considers the Philippines his home. He has plans to start a rubber plantation there while he continues his work as a missionary to the Batangan tribe.
John has been able to return to the lowlands because the “infrastructure is back up, and they seem to have power,” Dawn said. “He didn’t talk a lot about damage. He is on the western side, which did not get a storm surge. I know many rice fields are flattened. And they’re going to lose a lot of crops. That’s their main industry there. ... They go into debt to plant those crops. So not only is there no cash crop, but they’re in debt. They live hand to mouth. They’ll be in worse poverty.”