News Story

Canadian Missionary Tells of Faith and Survival in the Philippines

The only Canadian Mormon missionary serving in Tacloban, Philippines, during Typhoon Haiyan has returned home to Canada. He is now sharing his story of survival from the Philippines’ deadliest typhoon on record.

Elder Brandon Archibald was nearing the end of his two-year service as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Philippines Tacloban Mission. In anticipation, Archibald’s parents had booked flights to the Philippines to pick him up and tour the mission. That plan changed when it became obvious that a typhoon was headed for Tacloban.

“We were given time to prepare,” notes Archibald, who was serving as a zone leader with his companion in Tacloban, just two kilometres from the ocean. “We evacuated eight missionaries from surrounding areas and brought them into the city because they were living in remote, little cities. We thought it was best to bring them in to be with more missionaries. … That turned out to be a good choice.”

Back home in Raymond, Alberta, Archibald’s parents, Stephen and Allison Archibald, saw the news of the approaching typhoon, so they began to pray for their son. “We were blessed not to worry,” said Stephen. “We believe the missionaries are protected by the Lord.”

The missionaries secured rope, food and water and were instructed by their mission president to stay inside their apartment, despite it being a beautiful day. By four in the morning, the wind started to howl and it began to rain hard.

“We barricaded ourselves against the doors and watched the wind take a metal railing on our balcony — bolted into a cement wall — and break it like a twig. Damage was done to the aluminum roof. A window popped out like a vacuum. Soffit was bent and ripped down over the balcony and ended up helping us keep the door shut. Metal was tossed around like paper. People’s houses were thrashed and destroyed.

“It was a very perilous situation, but [among the missionaries] there was a general feeling of calm, peace and safety. Heavenly Father blessed us with faith that we would be OK. We felt there were angels attending. We could feel we were being protected.”

The missionaries waited for communication all day. They witnessed groups of panicked people running for higher ground, but the missionaries stayed together in their apartment as they had been advised.

When the storm subsided the next morning, the missionaries cautiously emerged from their apartment. They began hiking through the devastation toward the mission office, over 15 kilometres away. “It looked like a war zone,” reported Archibald. “Power lines were down, transformers were destroyed and buildings were stripped. … It felt like a dream. Everything we knew and loved was gone.”

As they arrived at the damaged mission home, the missionaries immediately set to work cleaning it up so that the office could be operational and provide relief for others.

“All of the missionaries were OK, so we were relieved,” said Archibald. “Despite the traumatic circumstances, they kept serving — whether it was cleaning or distributing relief goods. … Everything worldly that we owned was forsaken. … We just lost ourselves in the work.”

Archibald said that as the missionaries began to distribute government-provided relief packages, the people “were beyond happy and grateful. … You could see a light in their eyes, and they were immediately comforted.”

The next day the military came and replaced the missionaries, who were told to evacuate the area. With a curfew now imposed on the city, the missionaries left at four the next morning and walked for approximately an hour and a half to the airport.

The prospects of getting a flight out of the disaster area were dim, Archibald said. “We waited for hours and hours. But we didn’t lose our faith.” They eventually spotted an American soldier who was able to help them and who, incidentally, was also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We were very, very relieved.” The soldier received permission to evacuate the missionaries to Manila on a C-130 military transport plane.

The missionaries from Tacloban were greeted warmly in Manila and supplied with donated clothing. Elder Archibald had left Tacloban with only his scriptures and as much as he could squeeze into his backpack. His passport and birth certificate had been washed out with the storm, so getting out of the country was no small feat. With the co-operation of several different parties and “a lot of prayers,” he was able to obtain the documents required to return home.

But before returning to Canada, he had one brief and important pit stop to make in Salt Lake City, Utah. His parents drove from Raymond, Alberta, to greet Elder Archibald and reunite him with his younger brother Bryson, a missionary in training, preparing to leave for the Philippines Cebu Mission.

It is not often that siblings are assigned to serve in the same country, and Brandon Archibald is thrilled that his younger brother will be directly providing relief to the people he just left. “An interesting bond has formed between us. My brother is not afraid to get to work.”

Their father agreed. “We feel there is a special reason these two brothers were called to serve in this area; this may be the reason. Bryson is picking up where his older brother left off.”

Elder Brandon Archibald believes that the things he learned during his missionary service over the past two years ultimately prepared him for what he needed to know in the last week of his mission. “God knows each and every one of us, and His love for us is real. He has great power.”

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