Sunday, November 17, 2013

17 November 2013 - Reassigned to the Philippines Bacolod Mission

   Hey Mom and Dad I am here in Bacolod at the mission presidents house and they wanted us to email you and tell you to look at their facebook for pix or something like that... Im honestly not exactly sure. But.. oh they want you to add my president- Marlo Oliveros Lopez.
   This place is beautiful and I am excited. I will be learning Cebuano and Ilanggo and I am really excited. The president has about 270 missionaries so he is organized talaga. I do not think we are emailing tomorrow. We are having orientations tomorrow. I am having an interview with the president in about an hour or so and so I think I will ask him for a blessing. He has a son at BYU. I am doing good from what I can tell hahaha and am excited to get back into the flow of missionary work- pray its a fairly smooth transition. Thank you for your love and support. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!! Take pictures for me please.

All My Love,
Sister Ralph

Elder Panganiban! One of my favorite Philippinos who is going to a different area than me )=

The pix with the older man is Elder Ardern. He is the area 70 that risked his life for us and flew into Tacloban and was there until each of us were out and safe. He is a hero. He is the one who called my family.
This is me and my companion and my AP's that I love to death. They are both going home rather than being transferred to a temporary area.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pictures from Manila MTC....

Tacloban Missionaries prior to reassignments.

Can't miss Sr. Ralph...

The gym with Tacloban missionaries at the Manila MTC.
In front of the Manila Temple with the Ralph Family Shirt that was saved.

Friday, November 15, 2013

My Story - News From Manila MTC

Manila Temple
Well turns out that I have time right now and my anak (companion?) wants to email so here we are emailing again. Haha there is free time because all of the missionaries get a chance to go through the temple. So I will try again to share my thoughts with you.
   I think we all have heard enough about the devastation, death and starvation going on right now in Tacloban. Unfortunately, other than prayer and fasting there is not much more many of us can do right now.

   So I want to try and paint a picture for you of what I had to leave behind. The few days after the storm were hard and frustrating for me and my companion. We walked all day for three days just to see more and more suffering and we felt overwhelmed and had no idea where to start, but we also got to spend more time with members. I love the members of Carigara 1st ward. Despite the fact that they ALL had nothing- no dry clothes, no money, no food, no water they were soo happy.
   Monday morning we went to the church where there the Alecha family was staying. 

The church where the Alecha family was staying.

They had all just eaten the little amount of rice they had to divide amongst each other and of course they offered us their food and we declined. About 20 minutes later Sister Alecha found out that Sister Agreda and I had not eaten a few meals at that point and when we turned down the little food she offered she began to cry- sob actually. She loves us so much and was so willing to give everything she had, even though she had 6 children to feed and nothing else. I love these people so much.

A member's home
I was so upset that morning, just because I felt so helpless and did not know how to help and I just cried. But I had all these members around me and they would not have it. They did everything in their power to get me to laugh and smile. We ended up playing games and laughing despite the reality of our situation. The night that I was taken from Carigara, I was sitting at the church building with the members and they were all sitting around me and talking about how they wanted me to stay with them forever and how much they loved me.... I did not want to be anywhere else in the world. I said over and over again that there was no way I was leaving and I kept telling them to stop joking about me being pulled out because at the time it was just a joke. Who would have thought 30 minutes later it actually became true and I would not even have a chance to say goodbye to these people who have changed my life. How I love them. Not one of them asked- why did this happen? Why me? Why us? They just smile and are happy despite the million reasons they had to complain- despite the fact that they knew there would be people coming with guns wanting whatever food they had left in a short time. They exemplify hope like nowhere else I have seen in my life.
A wealthy widow member gave money to the bishop to buy food for members without anything. These bags of food would be for the Alecha family and an investigator family for the week. That would be all they had to eat.
 But Brothers and Sisters I want to testify with my heart and soul that God lives. God, Our Loving Heavenly Father, Our Creator.... He Lives and He is in control. As I was packing my little bag through flooding tears to leave Carigara forever, I fell to my knees and pleaded with Father for a few specific requests and each one was granted to me. Each and every one. They were granted in such a way that I could not doubt that God heard my prayer and answered it specifically due to my prayer.

God has never been more real to me in my life. I can not deny Him. He is in Everything. I have seen the countless miracles that had to happen for ALL of us missionaries... for all 203 to be alive.. its a miracle. Each of our lives is a miracle. My life... my being alive is a miracle. I felt the presence of angels around me as we waited for the airplane at the airport. I know that the power of the priesthood is real. I felt that power as the Elders directed us and protected and comforted us.
Waiting for evacuation at the airport. This picture does not do it justice.
  I know that despite the intensity and tragedy of the storm my ability to remain calm through the actual storm was a gift from God. I was able to focus on the reality of God rather than the possibility of death.
    My love and testimony of the Book of Mormon is 100 fold. After I was in Tacloban the first time I read the Book of Mormon..... its hard to describe. But the words came alive to me. I could see what was happening in the words of the prophets. I felt like I understood a little bit better of what they felt and what they saw. The Book of Mormon is not just scripture... everything in those pages actually happened!!! It really happened, its not just stories to help us come closer to Christ that someone made up. They happened!!! Those prophets lived, they saw angels, they saw Christ. They were not perfect men. They were not God.... they were simple people like you and me. They were men who CHOSE, who chose to trust Christ, to have faith. I think I fell into the trap of thinking that the prophets had it so much easier because they had God with them and they were given the ability to endure the stoning and death because they were prophets. I pictured their lives like movies... how every conversation is dramatic, there is music playing in the background that adds to their power or ability to break the cords that bound them, I pictured God distinctively answering every prayer almost immediately .... but its just not like that. The stripling warriors....not one was killed. They were taught by their mothers....I am alive and I have a mother who knows.
   Brothers and Sisters we are just as capable of receiving direction and revelation as those in the Book of Mormon. We are capable of becoming like those in the Book of Mormon, more importantly like our Savior.
   I am sure many would expect that after such an experience as I have had that my testimony would become this fat big list of new things I never knew before... this is not the case. After such an experience what I already knew has become more intensified, more a priority, more the center of my life and my purpose. My desire to share, to spread the news has increased and my desire to be who my Savior wants me to be has increased.
   I have a message. I have a message for the world and I am so grateful that I am a missionary right now in order to share what I have learned through the spirit with the world. God lives. God loves us and we simply need to trust Him.
   I love you all so much. I love who you are and I love Our Savior who allows us to become so much more.
Sister Sarah Ralph

 Addendum from Sarah's mother:
I'm adding some comments from people who have sent emails to us from Manila.
Hello Brother and Sister Ralph,
   My name is Amber Folkman and I am expat living in Manila with my husband and two young boys. I had the opportunity to volunteer at the temple today and help the sisters pick out a new wardrobe.
I had previously read the post that you shared on Sarah's blog. I hope you don't find that too intrusive. Being an LDS expat in the Philippines during this time has me clinging to any others I can. I was able to find Sarah and give her a huge hug and pick out some clothes. She is so beautiful and despite the severe trauma they have had to be a part of she was happy, chipper, friendly and a ray of sunshine. She stuck out to me. She seems like a strong young woman. The only time she shed a year was when I mentioned making a trip to Winco in her honor. ;) We previously lived in Woodinville for 5 years prior to here so I know Kent well.
   I know you are proud of her and you should be. I am so impressed. She is being well taken care of. If there is anything you would like me to do I would be more than happy to.
Hugs and prayers to you and yours,
Amber Folkman

This one is from a Brother Morello via his sister Sharon:
   I received this message from Bro. Morello, someone we have known for years, who is from Ohio. He and his wife are on Public Affairs in Manila. I had send him a message via facebook. He sent me this message late yesterday evening. I thought I would it on to you. Sarah, all your family and those in the Philippines continue to be in our prayers daily. 
Sister Missionaries shopping for "necessary" items that were left behind.
    "I am in the same building as your niece. Please pass on to her parents that she loves them. She looks good, but a little shaky. I gave her 2 big hugs. She has been checked out by the doctor and will share her story with us in public affairs. She has also done a little shopping at the missionary donation area. You can keep up current developments at"


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Phone Conversation with Sister Sarah

Dear Friends and Family,
   I don't know if this is the place to put this message. I need to write this down before some of the thoughts and feelings are lost.
   We received a call this morning at 5:00 from Sarah in Manila. She is now at the MTC and will probably be there for about 4 days before being assigned to a mission close to Manila. It was a very emotional phone call as she started to cry as soon as she heard her father's voice on the phone. She was very grateful to talk with her dad and mom. We asked questions about where she was and how she was doing. We asked how the area was and what happened and what she saw. I am going to attempt to paraphrase my understanding of what happened.
   Sarah and her Filipina companion and another companionship of sisters, one Filipina and one from Toole, Utah were housed in an apartment in Carigara an hour west of Tacloban. They were told that a typhoon was coming and that they should have water and food. They stayed in their apartment through the storm which struck early Friday morning and lasted about 2 1/2 hours. Sarah said that they prayed a lot and the building shook badly but they were protected miraculously as their bedroom where they were was the only one not flooded. She did say water was coming in through the ceiling and stained their clothes brown but she felt that they were protected. After the storm passed and they went outside they saw that only concrete buildings were left standing, over 85% of the buildings were destroyed. She said that all the members of the church had homes damaged except the bishop who housed lots of people for two days before his home caught fire from a kerosene lamp accident and was totally destroyed. The church building where they were assigned had the roof collapse. She didn't mention any injuries or deaths in her area just complete devastation. She said that they didn't know what to do since there was no equipment to work with, no electricity, no communication, no food available and no water. People who didn't have water were using the water in coconuts to drink. She spent four days checking on families and walking to different areas to help. The ward mission leader in their area came to check on them soon after the storm passed and was very helpful later as they were evacuated. Sarah was very upset about leaving the people of Carigara, especially since they were so destitute with very little before the storm and nothing after it ravaged their community.
   On Monday night she and the other sisters were contacted by the people sent out to "search and rescue" the missionaries. She was told to take 5 minutes and grab a bag of stuff and go. She took a pillowcase and stuffed it with her journal, scriptures, a skirt, and a change of garments. Her camera was in her purse but she left all of her luggage, clothes, phone and camera charger and every else behind. That was when she started to cry, she was in tears because she was leaving people that she loved.
   They were loaded in what she described as a van/jeep type vehicle. Again her ward mission leader was there to help them get evacuated and rode in the van with the missionary sisters. She was told not to look out the windows or be seen as they traveled on the road to Tacloban which was filled with desperate people who would stop any vehicle that might have food in it or appeared to have "wealth". The stake president, who had lost his home and had been awake for the past 4 days caring for his members, was the driver. They had to drive very slowly as the road was filled with people trying to get to Tacloban for food. During this trip and a little while in Tacloban were the times that she feared for her life. She said they passed people stealing rice and then trying to protect it from others. As they entered Tacloban she said there was a terrible smell and the bodies of people were just piled up. She was very upset about the bodies of all the babies and little children that she saw. There were people who just sat there with a vacant expression on their faces. No food, No water and they just sat there.  She said that every building was damaged. She had a hard time seeing the devastation and destruction. They were taken to the mission home compound which had one usable room of the 3 buildings, a church, the mission headquarters and the mission home. All the buildings had been flooded and damaged badly. She was told to stay inside and not let anyone see her because they would be a target for attack or theft. From the mission home they were taken to the airport in a van. The Elders walked around the van as the sisters were inside and told to not be seen. They moved slowly for the 2 miles to the airport. At the airport, they had tickets to get on a plane but not all the missionaries were allowed on so she was sent back to the mission home.
   Sarah heard of some of the missionaries escaping the storm with their lives, being flooded in buildings where they barely had a little pocket of air at the ceiling. She said one brother was making his way to the church building with his brother and sister and both his siblings were killed in the time between buildings in the space of 20 feet from building to building. Sarah was so grateful for their escape from harm but related that one companionship of sisters didn't fare as well. They had to cling to the roof of their building in the storm because of the extreme damage to their apartment. All the missionaries in Tacloban city were flooded out of their homes. She knows that it was a miracle that not one missionary of around 240 was killed. There were a lot of close calls but not one missionary was killed.
   Late that evening they again drove to the airport for a flight to Manila. Even with tickets and money exchanging hands they weren't sure if they would be able to get on the plane. While they were waiting for a flight, an American pilot came over and saw that they were missionaries. He told them to get on the plane quickly and he shepherded them on board a cargo plane. They arrived in Manila where they were fed and allowed to call home that night. It was 10:00 pm which was 5:00 am Tuesday morning Seattle time.
   Sarah left her luggage, clothes, and essential supplies... everything behind. We asked her to tell us what her address would be when she knew it so we could send her some supplies. She needed sleep as she said she hasn't slept in 4 days. She was so grateful to everyone in the MTC. They were very solicitous to her needs for which we as her parents are very grateful. Her main concern was for the people that she left behind. She was told that they would be sent back as soon as possible but it will take months if not longer.
   Sarah's next concern was for her siblings. She wanted to know how her siblings were doing. She hadn't heard from them in awhile and she wanted news from home. She said that some of the Elders were using skype to call home but she didn't want us to see how bad she looked after so many days without "conveniences". She did say there were things that she couldn't talk about right now and we didn't press her for more. She seemed very tired and drained. As her parents, we were drained after hearing what she had experienced but also very grateful to our Heavenly Father for protecting her and keeping her safe. We are so grateful for all the prayers sent heavenward on her behalf. When we told her of all the people who sent messages and comments on Facebook she was overwhelmed. We know that God lives and He loves His children. Not all of His children need to stay in mortality for long and perhaps He takes the most innocent and sweetest souls to His rest early for a reason that we cannot comprehend now but we will eventually see the wisdom in His plan for each of us, individually and collectively.   
Asking for God's continued blessings to All,
Sister Sarah's mom

Pix from Mormon Pinoy Newsroom: The the Manila MTC

Monday, November 11, 2013

No Message from Sarah this week due to Typhoon Haiyan

Space Station view of Typhoon Haiyan next to Philippines.
Due to Typhoon Haiyan Sarah has been unable to contact anyone so I've decided to post some of the images and information we've had about the storm.
Wind measurements for the Island of Leyte where Sarah is located 120-200 mph with gusts to 260 mph.
 From a News Report
The death toll from what is thought to be the most powerful storm on record has now reached at least 10,000.
Typhoon Haiyan battered the Philippines with 170mph winds on Friday, swallowing coastal towns and leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.
Earlier estimates suggested 1,200 people had been killed but it has since emerged that 10,000 died in the central Philippine province of Leyte alone.
According to the police, up to 80 per cent of the area in the path of Haiyan in Leyte was destroyed.
"The governor said based on their estimate, 10,000 died."
At least 800,000 have fled their homes, while thousands of Brits are thought to be stranded in the Philippines.

2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. DataBlog 11/11/13
Typhoon Haiyan: how does it compare with other tropical cyclones?
Typhoon Haiyan, described as the as the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded history, hit the Philippines with winds of 195mph. How does it compare with other tropical cyclones?

The eye of the storm went right over Sarah's area of service in Carigara on the Island of Leyte.
Hitting the Philippines with winds of 195mph, typhoon Haiyan has been described as the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded history.
The category five storm - which has also been called Yolanda in the Philippines - is reported to have had speeds at landfall of 195mph and gusts of up to 235mph, meaning that it is believed to be stronger than the world's last strongest tropical cyclone, hurricane Camille, which was recorded as making landfall in Mississippi with 190 mph winds in 1969.

The church website has released the following news and updates from 11/8-11/11, 2013 PST
Typhoon Haiyan Update: Church Leaders Establishing Contact with Members, Missionaries
Salt Lake City — 
UPDATE (11 November 2013 - 10:45 a.m. MST) In recent hours, Church leaders have made significant progress establishing contact with missionaries in the Philippines Tacloban Mission. All missionaries have been contacted with the exception of 24 missionaries serving primarily in one location where communications have been especially difficult. Church representatives are doing everything possible to contact missionaries and have been providing updates to family members of missionaries regarding their status as soon as they become available. Local Church leaders continue to determine the safety and well-being of Church members in the impacted areas and to seek out ways to assist others affected by the typhoon. 
UPDATE (10 November 2013 - 11:00 p.m. MST) Elder W. Craig Zwick, an executive director in the Church's Missionary Department, reported this evening that, "Church leaders continue to make contact with missionaries throughout the Tacloban Mission in the Philippines, and all those we have been able to reach are safe. We anticipate that as we continue to re-establish communication, the remaining missionaries will be located and found well. We unite our faith and prayers with others in behalf of the people of the Philippines." 
UPDATE (9 November 2013 - 9:00 p.m. MST)  In the hours following Typhoon Haiyan, Church leaders in Salt Lake City have been in continual contact with regional Church leaders. Twenty of the 21 missions in the area have reported that all missionaries are safe. In the Tacloban Mission there are still some areas where communication has not been re-established. Elder W. Craig Zwick, an executive director in the Church's Missionary Department, reports that, “approximately two-thirds of the missionaries in the Tacloban mission have been contacted and are well. We know that all missionaries were provided a 72-hour kit, were moved to safe locations before the storm and are in areas that were less impacted than the city of Tacloban.” Continued updates will be provided as they become available. 
UPDATE (8 November 2013)  
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expresses condolences to the millions affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and is providing shelter, food, water and other basic supplies to evacuees and displaced families.
 An estimated 700,000 people are now displaced. In areas impacted by the storm, particularly in the eastern coastal regions, transportation, power and communication networks are down.
All Mormon missionaries serving in the Church’s 21 Filipino missions are accounted for, with the exception of some serving in the Philippines Tacloban Mission. Before the typhoon, missionaries had been moved to areas where they would be adequately sheltered, and the Church is working to establish contact with Tacloban mission leaders.
“A Church Welfare Department employee is traveling to the island of Leyte with communication equipment to establish contact with the Tacloban mission president,” said Stephen B. Allen, Missionary Department managing director. "We plan to be in communication with those in Leyte by Saturday in the Philippines.”
Efforts are also underway to make contact with Church members. More than 14,000 members and others have sought refuge in 200 Church meetinghouses.
As daylight comes, the Church anticipates that missionaries throughout the country will begin assisting those in need.
Local Church leaders will spend the weekend assessing further needs of both members and the community. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

3 November 2013 - All Saints Day Holiday

So this week was fairly normal- I played basketball last p-day and am still called a boy, but I enjoyed myself. Lots and lots of puntedness this week, meaning that we did not teach nearly as many lessons as we would have liked because people were gone, there were holidays, etc. Here there is no Halloween but all of the Catholics on November 1st and 2nd travel forever to the graves of their relatives who have passed and they light a candle there. Lots of families put up tents and party and drink and go crazy around the tombs of their relatives. Haha, we were not allowed to work during that time so I didn't get to see a whole lot. So we started teaching Raul again at his own house which is a step in the right direction for us but then we found out that he believes Christ only paid for His own sins in our last visit..... yeah not sure where we lost him on that but we have MUCH to discuss in our next visit. Sister Agreda is sooo good at just being patient with our investigators and so we are going to continue teaching him (=..
Raul and his grandson
   So we had to go to Tacloban this week to get our support and it was crazy getting back. It was like 5 o clock- right around when it starts getting dark and there were no more vans going back to Carigara but there were a ton of people. Everyone was desperate to get home -- My companion was running literally, chasing after vans to find a ride home. I just laughed because we all looked like a bunch of chickens running around. We had to pay twice the amount to get a ride home but we made it so we are grateful.
   Mary Pierce, she is the one sleeping in the picture. I love her! She got baptized this last February and is just a joy in my life here. We are getting so close because I've been bugging her and bugging her to work with us. We went on splits this last Saturday and she just has come so far from where she was not even a year ago. I pray for her to be strong despite the really hard family situation she has. She has helped me so much!
Mary Pierce, convert last February

   Jessica! Ahh!! LOVE HER! She is our new investigator and she is GOLDEN! She is getting baptized on November 20th!! AHH!!! She is 20 and just loves everything about the Gospel. She has incredible faith and is not just learning the gospel but applying it in every way she can. We are so excited for her!
   Leslie is our other investigator. Its taking a little but more time for her to come to church as she has two little babies and Philippines don't go out when it rains.... of course it rained this last Sunday. So we will continue to be patient and encourage her. She loves reading the Book of Mormon and every lesson we have had with her has been overflowing with the spirit so we are really happy about that. We are excited for her as well!
   I apologize for the fairly short uneventful email. I am learning so much but a lot of what I am learning are not things that I can express in an email. But I am grateful that I know that the Lord is in charge- not me. I am grateful He knows me better than I do. I am grateful He trusts me more than I would trust myself, haha. I love this Gospel so much! I am grateful for parents who raised me in such a way that it is a part of who I am. I am learning slowly how to study, how to others and the spirit. It's not as easy as it sounds.... practice, practice. I love my Savior and I know He lives and loves each of us. I love you all and hope you all are safe and well and Happy!
   All My Love,
Sister Ralph
My favorite little boy!!!