The Rev. Dr. Noah R. Panlilio has kept busy since he began his term at the Malta and Northwest Malta United Methodist Churches in July.
“I started a seniors fellowship, which they didn’t have for 10 years or more, a men’s breakfast fellowship, and we just got the youth group going,” Panlilio said. “I also initiated world religions study.”
He is also reaching out to community groups like the Lions, Freemasons, and Kiwanis to establish partnerships in community service projects. He recently completed a drive to collect clothing and other supplies for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan and he will lead a mission group of his congregants to the Philippines next year.
A native of Manila, Philippines, Panlilio has been a U.S. citizen for 20 years and has served at churches in the Philippines and in Illinois. He is also a volunteer pastor at Oak Crest Retirement Center in DeKalb.
“I am a civic-minded pastor,” he said. “I don’t only work with church, I work with community.”
Panlilio spoke with MidWeek reporter Curtis Clegg last week about the recent typhoon, his life in the Philippines and his church service.
MidWeek: How did you end up in Malta?
Noah Panlilio: I came from the city (Chicago). I emigrated here 25 years ago. I studied here and I studied in the Philippines, and I decided to stay here in 1990. I was a pastor in Chicago and in the southwest suburbs, and then in Kendall County and DeKalb County, and back to the city, and back to DeKalb County.
MW: What are you doing to help the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan?
NP: I have made an appeal for calamity relief donations, and our church is spearheading it. We mainly need easy-to-open non-perishable foods. If it’s not easy-to-open, they still need to find a can opener. We need personal hygiene items, first aid kits, flashlight batteries, school supplies, shelter items like blankets or pop-up tents, and gently-used clothing. This particular area experienced a 7.2 earthquake in that same region two weeks before so they had a double whammy. (This typhoon) was way way stronger than (hurricane) Katrina or Sandy. It looks like the pictures where they dropped the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. They ran out of the plastic bags that they use to bag the bodies.
MW: Did Manila ever get hit by a typhoon, cyclone, earthquake or other natural disaster while you were living there?
NP: Oh yes, but not of this magnitude. We would get monsoon rains, and typhoons in category 1, 2, and 3. During monsoon rains you expect flooding.
MW: It must be difficult to watch news reports about the damage in the Philippines.
NP: I don’t even like to watch the footage anymore. It’s heartbreaking. You want to do something and you want to be there, but you’re here.
MW: What are the long-term needs of the survivors in places like Tacloban?
NP: Long-term needs would be the restoration of shelter for them, and jobs. This is where the church comes into the picture – to build peoples’ morale and spirituality and hope. Right now, I was told there is a lot of chaos with people looting. Assistance is trickling in, and I don’t know why it’s trickling like that. The USS George Washington is there, and the naval floating hospital is there and some people have been evacuated by C-130s. ...The government now is also the problem, it’s still a corrupt government.
MW: What about the political climate? Did the insurgency affect you or your family?
NP: When I was growing up in high school and college, we were under martial rule. President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law when I was a freshman in high school. We had curfews, a lot of upheavals, and when I was in college I joined the Parliament of the Streets. I joined rallies and demonstrations against the rulers, which (inflicted) a lot of injustices, arbitrary killings, and military atrocities. If you are very vocal against the government, all of a sudden you disappear. ...There was no Congress, there was no Senate. It was just him and the military. Most of this military and (civilian) people who were part of that scheme are still in the government right now.
MW: How is your family adjusting to small-town living?
NP: I’m very adaptable in any living situation.
MW: Is it stressful to adjust to a new city or town every few years?
NP: Yes it is, it’s every four or five or six years. I was fortunate because I’m closer to my daughter (in Yorkville). Before I was 10 minutes from O’Hare on the north side of Chicago, but from Malta I can be in Yorkville in 25 or 30 minutes.
MW: Where in DeKalb County were you before?
NP: In Sandwich. My wife, actually my ex-wife, is from Yorkville, and that’s near Sandwich.
MW: So it sounds like you’re not a complete stranger to small-town living.
NP: No, and in fact, I live in Ashton and I got my first drivers license in Dixon.
MW: Where did you study divinity?
NP: In the Philippines and here and in Europe. I was in Switzerland - Geneva - to study under the World Council of Churches. I thank God for the opportunity (to travel).
MW: Isn’t Catholicism the prevalent religion in the Philippines?
NP: Yes, the Philippines is 85 percent Roman Catholic and the rest are Protestant or members of other faith groups. ...The Methodist Church was the first non-Roman Catholic Christian group that set foot in the Philippines in 1898, when we were sold by Spain to the United States for $20 million, the same time Cuba and Puerto Rico were sold. That is why I speak Castilian (Spanish).
MW: How many languages do you speak?
NP: Two regional dialects and the national language, Tagalog, and English.
MW: Are you bringing and new programs or activities to the Malta churches?
NP: I always intend to reach out to the people who are unchurched, to develop leaders within the church for church growth, and I plan to expand ministries not only to the Malta community but to nearby communities. In fact, next year I am leading a volunteer mission to the Philippines, to bring medical and dental assistance, and to rebuild churches in rural areas. This was already planned even before the hurricane came. I already have four people from Malta who are coming.
MW: Has the church in Malta always had 9/11 ceremonies or is that something that you started?
NP: Yes, we are the only church that did that here. I am a certified law enforcement chaplain, and on 9/11 I was the chaplain for the Lemont (Ill.) police department. I initiated the 9/11 memorial service from that day on, and they are still doing it every year. I thought we could do it here too.