Cover Story: Pres. Hinckley tells storm victims, 'We will not forget you'

Assurance and comfort given storm victims

"We will not forget you," President Gordon B. Hinckley told Church members in storm-stricken Nicaragua and Honduras as he visited them Nov. 19-21.

To members recovering from the catastrophe wrought by Hurricane Mitch, President Hinckley declared:

"I bring to you, my brothers and sisters, the assurance, the comfort, the knowledge that as long as the Church has resources we will not let you go hungry, or without clothing, or without shelter. We shall do all that we can to assist in the way that the Lord has designated that it should be done. . . . We will help you to the extent we can with those necessities which will sustain life, to be handled and distributed by the bishops and branch presidents in the Lord's way."

In the wake of the storm that hit in late October and continued into early November, most relief efforts have centered on the temporal aspects of food, clothing, shelter and medical needs. During his visit, President Hinckley ministered to higher needs, touching spirits as he consoled members by his very presence and his words of faith, hope, comfort, reassurance and even cheer.

President Hinckley's visit to Central America was spurred by personal feelings and an intense desire to be among people he repeatedly referred to as "my brothers and sisters" and "neighbors" who had suffered great losses because of the storm.

Accompanied by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve and Presiding Bishop H. David Burton, President Hinckley met with gatherings of members in Managua, Nicaragua; and San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Upon arriving in Nicaragua, President Hinckley was joined by Elder William R. Bradford of the Seventy and president of the Central America Area. In Honduras, President Hinckley's party was joined by Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy and a counselor to Elder Bradford, and Elder Max James and Sister Donna Lee Kartchner, who serve as medical advisers in the area.

At each meeting with the members, President Hinckley spoke of why he had traveled by plane to the storm-wracked areas: "Last Tuesday [Nov. 17], about 3 o'clock in the morning, I awakened from my sleep and a thought passed through my mind, 'You ought to go down to Central America and meet with our people there and give them encouragement and faith to carry on in the terrible catastrophe in which they have suffered.' . . . A lot of arrangements were made, and we have traveled by plane . . . to get to you.

"I'm grateful to be with you. I'm grateful for your presence. I'm grateful for your faith. You are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, entitled to all the blessings of membership in the Church. You are our brothers and sisters. You are as precious to us as are the members of the Church in Salt Lake City. When you suffer, we suffer. When you are put in great stress, we feel that same stress."

Acknowledging the difficult circumstances under which the meetings were held, President Hinckley commended members for making extra efforts to attend. Some 1,300 were present at a mid-day meeting held in an indoor arena in Managua on Thursday, Nov. 19. On Friday afternoon, Nov. 20, some 7,250 members gathered in a basketball arena in San Pedro Sula. The next morning on Saturday, Nov. 21, in Tegucigalpa, about 7,500 members met in a soccer stadium for a special meeting.

At each meeting, President Hinckley and the General Authorities traveling with him addressed the members, offering messages of hope, obedience and testimony. Perhaps most comforting were President Hinckley's words of reassurance and love.

Since members in all the sites he visited had essentially the same experiences, he delivered a similar message to each congregation.

"The terrible thing through which you have passed, this terrible experience of this devastating storm is something that you will never forget," he told the members. "The rains came and they continued to come [for six days and nights] until they had washed away the hillsides and homes had tumbled down, leaving their inhabitants without shelter of any kind.

"There are various estimates as to how many have died, but we are told again and again that about 11,000 have lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands have lost their homes. What a terrible, terrible thing it is. How grateful we are that among the thousands who have lost their lives we know of only, possibly, four [members of the Church] who have perished. That is a miracle in and of itself. We have not lost a missionary in all of this devastation. We are more grateful than we can say that the Lord has preserved your lives, my brethren and my sisters, in the terrible experience through which you have passed."

President Hinckley said that someone asked him why the Lord permits such things to happen. "I don't know why He permits these things, but I do know that He has told us they will come," he said. "In the 24th chapter of Matthew, he speaks of things to come:

" 'And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.' " (Matt. 24:6-8.)

He quoted Mormon 8:29-30, which contains a similar statement.

President Hinckley continued, "The Lord has told us that these things would come. And they do come, and they strike with great power of destruction and bring suffering. But out of all this we become a stronger people, a most tested people. Your presence [in the meetings] is evidence of that fact, my brothers and sisters.

"Now, it becomes our privilege and our opportunity to help you bear the sorrow which has come your way. The Lord has laid upon us a great responsibility." President Hinckley quoted Matt. 22:36-40, which identifies the two great commandments — love the Lord and "love thy neighbor as thyself."

"My brothers and sisters, if we are true disciples of the Lord we must reach out to help those in distress. He has outlined the way. He has told us that we must reach out to our neighbors in the gospel and help them in their time of distress. It has been so from the beginning days of the Church. When the Saints were driven from Nauvoo, Brigham Young placed upon the people a covenant that those who were more affluent would help those who were poorer, that none should be left behind and that all should be blessed. . . . So it has continued until this day. That was the beginning of the great welfare program of the Church, which has been expanded and enlarged and made more effective. When catastrophe strikes anywhere in the world the Church stands ready to send the necessities of life to those who are in distress."

He spoke of the bond that unites members throughout the world, the sense of family and the outpouring of caring that come when members in one part of the world learn of the suffering of members elsewhere.

"When we heard of your distress we immediately went to work to get supplies here," President Hinckley said. "The Lord blessed us in a wonderful way that a banana boat was made available to us on which we could load beans, rice, cooking oil, powdered milk and medicines and all these things that you needed, and that a great airplane was made available to us by the United States government. We loaded on it all that it would hold to bring down here that which was needed by so many people. The end is not yet."

President Hinckley commended local priesthood leaders for their faith, devotion and hard work in looking after the temporal as well as spiritual needs of the members during the disaster. He spoke of the great service given by sisters of the Relief Society in helping victims of the storm.

He quoted Matt. 25:34-40, in which the Savior taught, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me," in regard to carying for those in need.

"It is in that spirit, my brothers and sisters, that we stand to assist you and help you in your trouble and in your times of needs," President Hinckley declared. "The Lord has said to the people of this Church: 'And behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support which thou hast to impart unto them. . . . And inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me. . . . ' (D&C 42:30-31.)

"What a tremendous thing that is," President Hinckley said. "That has been the practice of this Church from its earliest days. . . . All work together to provide for those in need. That's what you are seeing this day.

"I repeat, the Church will stand behind you as long as we have resources. We will not forget you. We will use those resources to supply your basic needs in the manner in which the Lord has ordained to accomplish this, and that is through the bishops and the stake presidents. They know the people best. They know the people and their problems. They know their needs. They suffer also, but they stand ready.

"This isn't a great government project. It's a project of brother loving brother and sister loving sister.

"That has been the history of this Church from its very beginning until the present. It was re-emphasized in a very wonderful way in the year 1936 when awelfare program was designed to help those in distress when they need it. . . .

"I hope you will get on your knees and thank the Lord for the wonderful Church of which you are a part. There is nothing quite comparable to it in all the world. There will come aid from many countries of the world to these nations of Central America, but you who belong to this Church may feel a certain security in the knowledge that your brothers and sisters will help you and assist you as long as we have the resources to do so. That is the reason that I wanted to come down here and see you and give you that assurance of our love, and of our concern and of our desire to be helpful."

President Hinckley told the members, "As the Lord blesses you through His Church, He expects you to do your part." He encouraged them to pay tithing, saying, "It's the Lord's law. He has given the commandments. He has made the promise. He has the power to fulfill the promise. It is my testimony that He does so. It takes faith when we feel that we do not have enough, but He has promised that the windows of heaven will be opened and a blessing poured down upon us.

"Let us put our faith in Him. Let us try Him. Let us take Him at His word. Let us keep His commandments. Let us walk in righteousness, never stooping to do anything that is wrong, walking in faith before the Lord as men and women of integrity, of honesty, of industry and faith." — By Gerry Avant

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