COVID-19 and ILC Churches in the Philippines, Russia, and South Africa

LCP President Antonio Reyes leads Easter worship for residents in the immediate vicinity of the Lutheran Center in Tiaong, Quezon Province, where he and his wife were stranded when the nation-wide quarantine began. The church here has also been distributing rice, milk, and hygienic products.

WORLD – The coronavirus pandemic continues to affect nations around the world, and churches are responding with practical and spiritual care. In this report, we highlight the work of International Lutheran Council (ILC) member churches in the Philippines, Russia, and South Africa.

Philippines

The Philippines has reported 9,485 cases of COVID-19 so far, with 623 deaths. The country entered into quarantine measures on March 15, 2020 in order to combat the spread of the disease, and those measures have been extended at least through May 15. Authorities have called on citizens to refrain from attending mass gatherings and to ensure social distancing.

In response to the spread of COVID-19, the Lutheran Church in the Philippines (LCP) responded immediately, encouraging all members of the church to abide by and respect the government’s directions. Through the church’s website and social media channels, the LCP has published a wide variety of resources to assist church members during this time of crisis. These resources have included the broadcast of worship services online, the publication of written devotionals and sermons, and posting regular prayers and inspirational articles.

Faith Lutheran Church in Batuan City, Philippines, distributes face masks to local residents as part of their practical support during the coronavirus pandemic.

On the local level, pastors and congregations are also reaching out with practical support to the people in their communities. Faith Lutheran Church in Batuan City, for example, has distributed face masks, as well as food supplies, to families in need. Similar distributions of foods and other necessities have taken place in Tiaong, Quezon Province; Patag, Opol, Misamis Oriental; and in Sitio Suapog Barangay Camachile, Bulacan, among other locations.

In a prayer posted on the LCP website, President Antonio Reyes writes the following: “I come to You in behalf of those affected by COVID-19. You are the Great Physician and healer. You have healed people of old and You can do the same today.”

“Protect those serving on the frontline around the world: doctors, nurses, and others in the medical profession,” he continues. “Protect and bless the government representatives. Give wisdom and good health to those working for the antidote of the virus, that they may develop the cure.”

“Lastly, I pray for Your mercy and grace in Jesus, because it is really You who heals our sickness… Help us to be patient… Come, Lord Jesus, save us from this predicament. Amen.”

Russia

Russia reports 145, 268 cases of COVID-19 as well as 1,356 deaths so far. Different regions have enacted quarantines and lockdown procedures, with many citizens ordered to self-isolate.

SELC Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin leads Easter worship in Novosibirsk, Russia.

As late as Easter, the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) noted that its churches were still able to be open, even as they worked diligently to comply with sanitary requirements, doing everything possible to ensure the safety of members.

In an Easter letter to all parishes of the church, SELC Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin asked members to reflect not only on their physical health during the crisis but also on their spiritual health. “After all,” he wrote, “not only temporary health but also eternal life is given to us by a God who has died for us and has risen, for Whom no doors can be an obstacle.”

Noting that the current pandemic meant many parishioners were unable to attend church, Bishop Lytkin encouraged members to remember that the Eucharist will be waiting for them when they are finally able to return to church. “If current circumstances and restrictions keep you from this for the time being, please remember that in the church every service with the Holy Communion is a little Easter. And this is the main joy of Easter: Christ has risen to be with us and not to leave us; therefore, He is always waiting for us at the altar.”

South Africa

South Africa has reported 7,220 cases of COVID-19 and 138 deaths. A national lockdown began on March 26, 2020, with the country entering into a period of gradual easing of restrictions beginning on May 1.

LCSA Bishop S.M.A. Modise Maragelo leads members in a live-streamed service.

From the beginning, the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (LCSA) called on its members to heed government calls for lockdown, with the Office of the Bishop postponing and suspending all church activities.

Like many other churches around the world, the LCSA has embraced a number of various mediums of communication to ensure continued spiritual care for members. This has included recording and live-streaming sermons, as well as sending regular messages to members via the church’s Facebook page.

Individual members and congregations have also reached out to the needy with food parcels where possible.

“It could seem at times as if things were out of control,” acknowledged LCSA Bishop S.M.A. Modise Maragelo. “But things never get beyond the control or the reach of God. Because of the fact that He is in control, we can always look to Him and we can always trust Him.”

“We trust God to give compassion and dedication to medical professionals,” he continued, “and wisdom to researchers as the world faces this pandemic.”

“Fear and panic have been the order of the day,” he said. “Yet there is hope because God is still alive and still in control.”

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For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

Philippine Lutherans sign protocol agreement with Missouri Synod

LCP President Antonio Reyes and LCMS President Matthew Harrison sign the protocol agreement.
LCP President Antonio Reyes and LCMS President Matthew Harrison sign the protocol agreement.

USA – On June 8, the Lutheran Church of the Philippines (LCP) and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) signed a protocol agreement during a meeting in St. Louis, Missouri.

The agreement outlines how the two church bodies will work together going forward in such areas as higher education (theological education), cooperation in mission work, communications, and other programs. It further highlights that the basis for fellowship between the two churches is their joint witness to the authority of Holy Scripture and subscription to the Book of Concord.

The protocol agreement was signed by LCP President Antonio Reyes and LCMS President Matthew Harrison, as well as LCP Vice President Felipe Ehican and LCMS Director of Church Relations Al Collver.

The Lutheran Church of the Philippines has approximately 25,000 members. The LCMS has approximately two million members. Both churches are members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.

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Lutheran Church in the Philippines elects new president, requests prayers following Typhoon Hagupit

LCP-convention

PHILIPPINES – Rev. Antonio Reyes was elected President of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines (LCP) at their 23rd General Convention held October 20-24 in Baguio City.

The theme for 2014’s National Convention was taken from 1 Peter 3:18—“Christ suffered and crucified for you, the righteous for the unrighteous.” Outgoing President James Cerdeñola preached for the opening service of the convention at St. Stephen Lutheran Church.

President Cerdeñola was first elected president of the church body in 2004. He will be remembered as the president who oversaw the reunification of the Filipino Lutheran church. In 2012, after 24 years of division in the church, both sides of the two factions voted to reconcile at a joint convention.

President-Antonio-Reyes
President Antonio Reyes speaks at a Church Workers Disaster Response conference sponsored by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in November 2014. (Image: Facebook)

President Reyes was elected after the second ballot in a close election. He had previously served as President of the Visayas-Mindanao District of the LCP and further served as the LCP’s Disaster Response Leader—work that was of vital importance following 2013’s devastating super typhoon.

In November 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan claimed more than 7,000 lives and devastated multiple communities. The Lutheran Church in the Philippines was hit hard by the typhoon, with churches, parsonages, and members suffering devastating losses. In response, the LCP immediately began offering disaster relief. It was supported in this ministry work by its partner churches in the International Lutheran Council, contributing nearly $700,000 USD in relief aid by May 2014.

In December 2014, worries that another super typhoon could devastate the Philippines were allayed when Hagupit hit the Philippines in a weakened form December 6. It landed as a category 3 typhoon but by December 9 it had been downgraded to a tropical depression. While at least 27 people were killed during Hagupit’s journey through the country and a number of rural communities were affected, the damage was less severe than expected. In the lead-up to Hagupit’s landing, the government had evacuated 1.7 million people.

“God answers prayers indeed,” said President Antonio Reyes. “I am happy to inform you that no one among our brethren in Leyte has been badly affected by Typhoon Hagupit, which turned out to be just a typhoon not a supertyphoon. This development has given me more strength and encouragement.”

“I cannot stop thanking God for you and your prayers showing your deep concern and love for us here,” he continued. “Thank you so much. This is a confirmation that with God through Christ nothing is impossible. Our joint prayers and supplication has touched His heart. Let us continue to pray for restoration of those who suffered damages. Your support and prayers are more than welcome.”

The Lutheran Church in the Philippines has approximately 25,000 members. It is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, and currently holds the position of Asia Area Representative on the ILC’s Executive Council.

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Coming Through Disaster: An update on Philippines relief

Photo courtesy of LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford.
The scene of the disaster. (Photo courtesy of LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford.)

PHILIPPINES – On November 8, 2013, a devastating typhoon rocked the Philippines. Destruction was widespread throughout the country. More than 6,000 people were killed and 4 million people were displaced. Members of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines (LCP) did not escape unscathed. Three LCP churches were severely damaged—“one totally flattened,” noted the LCP’s President James Cerdeñola at the time—and countless people were left homeless, both members of the church and their neighbours.

Following the typhoon, the Lutheran Church in the Philippines reacted quickly, sending their emergency response teams to help those in some of the hardest hit areas. Relief focused on immediate needs—like food provision and temporary shelter—as well as long-term needs, like rebuilding homes and livelihood projects. And the work continues.

It’s work that has been noticed by people in wider society as well. “When I went to these areas and talked to the people—not only among our members but also the people in the community—they were saying so many good things,” President Cerdeñola explained, “things like: ‘When the Lutherans give, they give not only to their members but also to the people in the community.’”

“It gives us an opportunity to be known as a church—as a church that cares, a church that loves” President Cerdeñola continued. “And as those great gifts were given, the Word was preached.”

Left photo courtresy of Lutheran Church in the Philippines. Right photo courtesy of LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford..
Distributing goods and rebuilding homes. (Left photo courtesy of Lutheran Church in the Philippines. Right photo courtesy of LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford).

The LCP was aided in its relief work through the support of a number of International Lutheran Council churches. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) offered $100,000 USD in immediate aid, though its contributions have since risen to more than $528,400 USD in aid for the Philippines. That number includes grants the LCMS pledged to make to match donations from ILC members and other partner churches that were directed through LCMS World Relief. The American Association of Lutheran Churches, the Confessional Lutheran Church of Chile, Japan Lutheran Church, the Silesian Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession, and the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark all responded, and together raised more than $20,200 USD for relief work in the Philippines.

Because of legal restrictions in their countries, a number of other churches sent contributions directly to the Philippines. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England raised more than $4,750 USD in relief, while the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany raised more than $130,300 USD in relief. In total, then, ILC members and partner churches have contributed more than $683,650 USD for relief work in the Philippines to date, in addition to the money and man-power the Lutheran Church in the Philippines has itself offered.

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ILC pledges Philippines relief

LCP President James Cerdeñola
LCP President James Cerdeñola

PHILIPPINES – As the Philippines struggles in the aftermath of a devastating typhoon, confessional Lutherans around the world are sending aid. More than 2,200 people have been confirmed dead, with thousands more injured and hundreds of thousands displaced. The destruction of homes and infrastructure is widespread. The Philippines’ government has said 11.3 million people have been affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

In the face of this disaster, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) is calling on its member churches to respond with prayer and financial aid. ILC member church The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) has already offered $100,000 for immediate typhoon relief, and has pledged an additional $50,000 to match donations by other ILC churches.

“As we see the devastation unfolding on our television screens, our hearts go out to the victims of the typhoon,” said Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt of the International Lutheran Council. “President James Cerdeñola of The Lutheran Church of the Philippines (LCP) was with us in Germany when the disaster struck. I have prayed with him, and promised the ILC will do what it can to help the people of the Philippines.”

ILC churches are already collecting donations. The Japan Lutheran Church has promised 500,000 yen, and the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK) reports it began collecting funds this past Sunday. ILC churches wishing to contribute to the fund are encouraged to contact the ILC’s Executive Secretary, Rev. Dr. Albert Collver at Albert.Collver@lcms.org. Individuals and congregations wishing to make donations should contact their church body for further information.

“As people forgiven by God, we are called to show the same love and mercy to others,” said Dr. Collver. “Helping the people of the Philippines now in their time of need is a tangible way we can share with them the love of God in Christ.”

Funds collected by the ILC will be directed to The Lutheran Church of the Philippines. Communications with the Philippines are still spotty, but the LCP’s President Cerdeñola was by Sunday able to determine the following: “We have three congregations in the areas worst hit by the storm,” he reported. “One is in Mahayag, Albuera, Leyte (a coastal town), and the pastor, Rev. Xavier James Palattao, told me that almost all houses in his area including those of our members are either totally destroyed or significantly damaged by Yolanda’s winds. The church building and the parsonage were not spared.”

In a later report, President Cerdeñola noted that the LCP’s three churches in the area “are gone—one, totally flattened.” Despite the devastation, he reports the good news that “many of our members—almost all of them actually—are safe,” though “their properties and means of living are gone.” The LCP’s own disaster response team is already hard at work, but the full extent of damages and loss of life is not yet known. An LCMS World Relief team is set to leave for the Philippines on Friday.

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Mathew Block