One can easily understand why Elder Stephen Brousseau answered a reporter’s questions Sunday while sounding a bit groggy.
The 19-year-old missionary was concluding a physically exhaustive, emotionally gut-wrenching week he had never anticipated and will never forget.
This time last week, Elder Brosseau was serving in the San Nicolas area of the Philippines Laoag Mission. He and his companion were anticipating several weeks of mission-directed quarantine in their apartment to protect themselves from the COVID-19 outbreak.
But Elder Brosseau’s plans — along with those of many other missionaries serving in the Philippines — changed dramatically on Tuesday, March 17.
“I got a text saying: ‘Pack your bags — you’re leaving the country’,” he said. “It was all pretty abrupt.”
On Sunday, Elder Brosseau returned home to his Orem, Utah, home. He’s one of more than 1,600 foreign-born full-time missionaries evacuated from the Philippines over the past couple of days.
Most of the departing missionaries left the Pacific Island nation aboard five Church-chartered commercial planes arriving throughout the day Sunday, March 22, at the Salt Lake City International Airport.
Utahns such as Elder Brosseau were picked-up at the airport by parents, family or other friends. Other missionaries from outside Utah were expected to travel to their final destinations on commercial flights.
“It has been a whirlwind day,” said Mike Brousseau, the missionary’s father.
The past week for Mike and Tracy Brousseau has been challenging and often worrisome. “But we’ve just tried to have faith that our son was in the Lord’s hands and that He would bring him home safely.”
Meanwhile, Elder Brosseau admits his return home was far different than he had imagined when he began serving 17 months ago. But despite feeling a bit jet-lagged, he was at peace and looking forward to a home-cooked meal and some restful sleep in his own bed.
“I’m OK with things because it’s something I obviously can’t control.”
A statement released by the Church on March 17 said missionaries returning early from the Philippines would “return to their home countries for new temporary assignments. They will begin their new assignments after completing a 14-day period of self-isolation at home as a precaution.”
Elder Brent H. Nielson, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department who also formerly served as the president of the Philippines Area, offered perspective after last week’s announcement: “We are disappointed that borders across the world are closing and our missionaries have such a small window to be home.”
The good news, he added, is that in the Philippines well over 50% of the missionary force are Filipinos and “they won’t miss a beat.”
“They are well trained and they know the language and they will keep the work going,” he said. “Once this passes, we look forward to finding great opportunities to missionary work throughout the world.”
Elder Brosseau said he’s grateful he was able to bid text farewells to many of the Latter-day Saints in his assigned ward in San Nicolas prior to leaving the Philippines. He was also uplifted by his mission president and his wife, President Mark M. Peterson and Sister Cathlene Peterson.
“We met together as a group where we were able to ask questions and sing our mission song together,” he said. “There was a mixture of emotions — but [the Petersons’] counsel gave us all peace.”
Shawn and Pauline Orgill from Idaho Falls, Idaho, received an email telling them their son, Elder Tim Orgill, would arrive at 3:30 on Sunday and asking them to come to Utah to pick him up.
“You just feel for these missionaries,” Shawn Orgill told the Deseret News, “because you know this is not how they wanted to leave the Philippines.”
Pauline Orgill said her son had served 20 months.
“He loved his mission and he loved the Philippines, so it was tough on him that he didn’t get to say goodbye to everyone there they way he wanted to,” she said. “But he always tells us, ‘Trust in the Lord, He has something in store for us.’”
Like most of the other “just-arrived-home” Philippines missionaries, Elder Brosseau doesn’t know when or where he will next perform his missionary duties.
“I’ve just been told to keep being a missionary, study and stay at home.”