Phillippines missionaries with Texas ties weather storms and papal visits

TACLOBAN, Phillippines—For Carl and Suzie Miller, two IMB missionaries with Texas ties, bracing for Typhoon Hagupit in December 2014 was nothing new. They have been in the islands for almost 30 years and weathered the devastation of Haiyan the previous November. 

Hagupit, known locally as Ruby, proved less damaging than Haiyan and was downgraded from a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph to a tropical storm before exiting the islands following at least four landfalls Dec. 6-10, stated PAGASA, the Philippine national weather agency. 

The Philippines National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported that over 4 million people in 944,000 families were affected by the storm.

Much damage occurred in the province of Eastern Samar, in the eastern part of the Visayas islands where Carl and Suzie Miller work.

 “We visited the area shortly after the typhoon struck. In fact we even beat some of the NGOs arriving because they came the southern route and used the capital of Borongan as their staging area,” Carl Miller said. The delay was caused by a bridge that had washed out north of the capital. “The NGOs had to go back the way they came, follow our route up the western side of Samar and then cross over the mountains in the middle of the island the next day.”

The Millers found extensive damage but little loss of life in Eastern Samar in Ruby’s wake. “We have a hard time ourselves making any kind of objective assessment, having come through Typhoon Haiyan the year before,” Miller said. “We had a three-person team of experienced Filipinos come and do an assessment of six different villages on two different rivers where we have work.” 

As representatives of other NGOs also busily worked, the Millers delivered food and aid to four villages, an effort sponsored by Baptist Global Response.

“Through funds from BGR, we were able to bring food packs to 460 families on two different rivers in Eastern Samar after Typhoon Ruby struck,” Suzie Miller noted. 

The largest of the villages helped was the barangay of Aroganga in the municipality of Dolores, the site of an IMB training center and the home of two Filipino national partners and their son. Dolores was in the eye of the storm; Aroganga is located 1.5 hours up river from the center of the municipality. 

“BGR is also working on our island of Leyte with housing reconstruction in a town south of us damaged by Typhoon Haiyan. We are still finding some people living in tents,” Carl Miller said. To date, BGR has constructed 56 houses and donated 31 computers to a local branch of Visayas State University, Suzie Miller added. 

While Typhoon Hagupit proved less damaging than expected, the low pressure system that lingered over the Philippines for days afterward washed out bridges and caused massive mudslides, said the Millers.

No sooner had the winds and rains from Hagupit diminished than another tropical storm hailed the visit of Pope Francis to the predominantly Catholic region in January.

“The pope’s visit to Tacloban was quite eventful,” Suzie Miller said. “He arrived in the middle of a tropical storm and was able to leave town before the brunt of the storm hit!”

The pope’s five-day Philippines visit was accompanied in Tacloban, the capital city of Eastern Visayas, by prayers from what the Vatican might deem an unexpected source.

“The president of the Women’s Missionary Union for Central Visayas came to Tacloban to lead some of the women in a 14-kilometer prayer walk,” Suzie Miller explained, adding that the women prayed along the pope’s scheduled parade route the day before his visit to the city and prayed for the pope from assigned stations as he passed the next day.

“Thousands turned out in pouring rain under storm warnings to see Pope Francis and hear what he had to say,” said Suzie Miller who called the papal visit “a very meaningful time for our city” which had lost so many only 14 months before in Typhoon Haiyan.

The Philippine islands are a long way from Texas, since 2000, the stateside home of the Millers.

Carl was born in Oklahoma but raised “all over” in an Air Force family; Suzie hails from South Carolina. The pair met at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, became engaged and deployed with IMB to the Philippines after Carl pastored five years in Indiana.

On furloughs, the Millers visited his parents, who had relocated to Texas, at Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington. In 2000, the couple moved their stateside church membership to Tate Springs, staying in the church’s mission house twice until a church building expansion required the house’s demolition. Since then, the Millers have stayed in a mission house belonging to Woods Chapel BC, near Tate Springs. The Millers’ son Steven and his wife, Rachel, are active members of Tate Springs and Carl and Suzie remain members of the church.

“We have a very good, close relationship with Tate Springs and Woods Chapel,” Carl Miller said. “Both churches have sent mission volunteers to help us before and after Typhoon Haiyan. More are scheduled to come in 2015.”  

The Millers have six children: five boys and one girl, two of whom currently live in Texas. 

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