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Couple ready to return 'home' to storm ravaged Philippines

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Pictured: Photo by Carolyn B. Edwards
Barry and Shari Murrell left the Philippines just before Super Storm Haiyan struck the island nation in early November.

Map based on Nations Online Project
Barry and Shari Murrell and their family live in Cebu City on Cebu Island in central Philippines. Super Storm Haiyan created massive damage along the eastern coast, almost totally destroying the city of Tacloban and other communities.

Barry and Shari Murrell left their home in Cebu City in the Philippines just before that island nation was devastated by Super Storm Haiyan on Nov. 7. The couple, who worked as missionaries in that country for over 30 years, were coming home to Texas for a rare extended visit.
Their four children and four grandchildren remained behind. "We kept track of them via Skype until the power went out," said Shari, "but they are all fine." The storm did its most intense damage to cities on the eastern coastlines of the country, with the eye passing about 100 miles north of Cebu.
The category 5 storm left over 5,200 people dead, a result of winds of over 190 mph and a storm surge that was 20 to 30 feet high and 20 miles long. "There is just no way to escape that," said Barry.
Early aid efforts were hampered by heavily damaged roads and infrastructure, but the Philippinos' resilience in the face of disaster soon came to the fore, said Barry. "Food and fresh water are the biggest needs right now, but within four or five days the government had established some order."
According to the Murrells, the people of the Philippines have a very strong sense of family. "There are no nursing homes in the Philippines. Children take care of their elderly relatives. And they are the most hospitable people in the world. The people are bringing food and other needed items in to government centers where volunteers are working 24/7 shifts to distribute the stuff where it's needed," Barry explained. "There is also a big effort to relocate people to relatives living out of the devastated area." In fact, over 800,000 people were able to evacuate their homes before the storm struck.
The recovery will take a long time, however. It's estimated that damage exceeded $288 million, with some 4.3 million people displaced.
Barry Murrell, the son of Ernest and Jere Murrell of Tarpley, grew up on the family property. He graduated from Bandera High School in 1979. With a fistful of scholarships, he went to Texas A&M to accomplish Plan A - to major in physics. "By the end of that first semester, I knew I didn't want to study physics. Unfortunately, I didn't have a Plan B!"
An aunt and uncle were leaders in a church in Bryan and they encouraged him to sign up for a missionary training program. Shari's dad was a leader in that program and Barry soon found himself falling in love not only with a lovely young woman, but with a very different career path than he had envisioned for himself for many years.
In 1980 they married just prior to being sent to the Philippines for an 18-month internship. "That assignment stretched to over 2 years and we had our first child there," said Barry.
As a young man, Barry had spent most of his life right here in Bandera County. "I didn't even know where the Philippines was!"
For 30 years, he and Shari partnered in their missionary work, hosted by the Churches of Christ. Every two or three years, they came back to Texas to visit family, but the island nation became their true home.
They set up The Bible Study Center in Cebu City with the evangelistic aim of teaching people how to study the Bible and learn what it has to say about Jesus and the Christian church.
"I feel like our work gave us a chance to make a difference," said Barry.
One in 10 Philippinos lives outside the country, earning money to send back home. The average wage is about seven dollars a day with 80 percent of the people living below the poverty level. "There is no middle class," explained Barry. "There are the few very rich and then there are the very poor."
Most of the people live in the crowded cities where the jobs are. Cebu City, the second largest city in the country, is physically the size of Kerrville, but five million people live there.
Despite the crowded conditions, poverty and pollution of their home country, the Murrells plan to spend the rest of their lives there. They will deal with the rain and humidity, the multitudes of gigantic roaches and huge rats. "It's the people," they say.
They also enjoy the food. They eat a lot of rice, and "so many different kinds of tropical fruits. The bananas are wonderful! There are many different kinds and you just pick them from the trees." Their children grew up there and are doing missionary work, too. And the grandchildren are right there as well.
The country is also very technologically advanced. "When we started there, we had to send news to the family via telegram," said Barry. "Now, everyone has at least two cell phones, everybody Skypes, emails or does Facebook."
After 30 years as missionaries, the Murrells have retired. Now they have started an English as a second language (ESL) school. Most of the ESL schools in the Philippines are taught by Indians and Koreans. "We can offer them the bonus of having 'native speakers'," said Barry. The ESL schools are popular with people hoping to find employment outside the country.
Barry Murrell not only found out where the Philippines are, he came to call it home. Home is Cebu City, where he learned that Ferdinand Magellan wasn't the first to circumnavigate the globe. He was killed in Cebu City, where the locals honor Lapu Lapu, the man who defeated the Portuguese sailor, as a national hero. It's a different world, but a world made better by the Murrells.