Missionaries Return to Tacloban

Contributed By By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News staff writer

  • 27 March 2014

Young people serving in the Philippines Tacloban Mission visit with one another before receiving new assignments. The missionaries, evacuated after Typhoon Haiyan, are now returning.  Photo by Noel Maglaque.

Article Highlights

  • Missionaries are returning to the Tacloban Mission, more than four months after Typhoon Haiyan swept across the central Philippines.

Elder Kyle Marlin of Star, Idaho, weathered Typhoon Haiyan in his apartment in Guiuan—a city on the far southeastern tip of Samar Island where the massive storm made landfall November 8.

He’s one of the missionaries Latter-day Saints across the globe prayed for after the storm struck, one of the missionaries leaders worried about.

That’s because Elder Marlin and his companion, Elder Norman Disbarro, were the last missionaries found safe after surviving the deadliest storm on record in the Philippines.

Void of telephone, cellular, or Internet service and with roads and bridges damaged or destroyed, it took Church leaders three days to reach the elders. The companionship was immediately evacuated with the other 204 elders and sisters in the Philippines Tacloban Mission.

Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Seventy and President of the Church’s Philippines Area hugged Elder Marlin extra tight when the final group of evacuated missionaries reached Manila. “This hug is from your mother,” Elder Nielson said during the embrace.

In the days after the storm, “we were able to find all of our missionaries but these two,” said Elder Nielson.

Elder Nielson said he promised the missionaries’ families that the Church “would go get them. We were concerned,” he said. “Once we knew the elders in Guiuan had been found, it was a wonderful feeling of gratitude to know that all 204 missionaries had made it safely through the storm.”

Now, more than four months after Typhoon Haiyan swept across the central Philippines, Elder Marlin has returned to the Tacloban Mission.

He was among a group of 20 missionaries who transferred back to the Philippines Tacloban Mission in early March—joining 117 who have been returning since the beginning of February, said Elder Nielson.

The final 24 elders and sisters, who have not completed their missions during the last four months, will be returning between now and April 1, said Elder Nielson. Some of those missionaries will be serving in Tacloban—where Church leaders have found four apartments with electricity and water in an area that remains largely without power.

At the time of the storm, Elder Marlin and Elder Disbarro were serving in Guiuan—a city directly in the path of the eye of the storm.

“The wind was so loud,” Elder Marlin recalled. “It was like a big, angry beast. … We heard windows breaking again and again and again. The glass was flying everywhere.”

When the storm took their door and the wind came roaring into the apartment, they did what came naturally—prayed.

Four months after Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines on November 8, a boat washed ashore stands in Tacloban as a reminder of the storm’s strength. Photo by Noel Maglaque.

“After that we got a really good feeling,” Elder Marlin said.

The house was destroyed as the elders took refuge inside it, shielding themselves from the wind and glass with a mattress. Water rose in the building “but didn’t get too high.”

Some 300 miles away in Manila, Elder Nielson looked carefully at a map. He realized that the eye of the storm had moved directly over the Guiuan peninsula. “Reports from the area caused us concern for the safety of our members and missionaries,” he said.

In the days after Typhoon Haiyan devastated Guiuan, the missionaries visited local members, trying to help anyone they could.

Elder Marlin didn’t know anyone was worried about him, that thousands of Church members and leaders were focusing their prayers on him and his companion.

Elder Kyle Marlin of Star, Idaho, orange shirt, and Elder Norman Disbarro, sitting at Elder Marlin’s left, were the last of 204 missionaries in the Philippines Tacloban Mission found safe after Typhoon Haiyan struck November 8. They met in the Area Presidency conference room at the Philippines Area Office after being evacuated from Guiuan, Philippines. Photo by Elder Brent H. Nielson, LDS Church.

“I spent most of the time trying to figure out what I could do for the members,” he said. “I tried not to think about anything else.”

After three days, a Church employee—who had traveled nine hours one way—located the missionaries. He took pictures and assured them things were OK.

The following day, Elder Marlin and Elder Disbarro joined 13 other missionaries in their zone and began a rough journey by truck along damaged roads. The group would also travel by boat before flying from Legaspi to Manila.

Elder Marlin understood that all the Tacloban missionaries needed to leave the disaster zone so Church leaders could concentrate on the needs of local members and because they didn’t want the missionaries to be a draw on severely limited local resources.

By the time help arrived, Elder Marlin and his companion were almost out of food. A day earlier they had eaten with members and agonized over ingesting extremely limited food supplies.

Yet leaving was not easy.

“Before I left, the branch mission leader told me, ‘Don’t forget about us, Elder Marlin. We need you here.’”

Now Elder Marlin hopes he will get the chance to visit Guiuan again.

Philippines Tacloban Mission President Jose V. Andaya, with his wife, Yolanda Andaya, stand outside the Tacloban, Philippines, airport. All but two dozen of their missionaries, evacuated after Typhoon Haiyan hit November 8, have returned to their mission. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver, Deseret News.

That may not be a possibility—even though he has returned to the Tacloban Mission. Missionaries are not yet serving in all the areas severely damaged by the disaster, Elder Nielson said.

“They are on the island of Samar and in Southern Leyte,” he said, noting the Area Presidency wants to ensure there is electric power and water available before missionaries return to an area.

Church leaders—including Elder Ben B. Banks, an emeritus General Authority who served in the Philippines—continue to travel through the mission, identifying places the missionaries can safely live and teach.

No one could be more happy about the missionaries returning than Philippines Tacloban Mission President Jose V. Andaya.

“We will build the Tacloban Mission again,” he said.

When the last of his missionaries return, he said, there will be much work to do. Many in the area are now looking to the Church. “They feel they want to be taught because of how the members are being taken care of.”

President Andaya said sacrament meeting attendance is increasing across the disaster zone. “It is a good thing—there are plenty of investigators.”

This is the “turning point” in the lives of many, said Sister Yolanda Andaya, President Andaya’s wife.

Elder Brent H. Nielson, President of the Church’s Philippines Area, greets missionaries, evacuated by Typhoon Haiyan, in Manila. Photo by Noel Maglaque.

“We try to look on the positive side,” she said. “Many miracles happened.”

The results of Typhoon Haiyan will linger in Tacloban for a long time, she said. Many will now “open the door to these missionaries,” added President Andaya.

Elder Marlin, now serving in Southern Leyte, said going back to the mission was “the best feeling.”

The “mission is going to come back to life; it is going to rise up,” he said. “It is going to be back to what it used to be. It is a great place.”