Central America visit in Hurricane's wake brings hope, adds joy
Pres. Hinckley inspires, uplifts

Members in Central America left in a bleak situation from the destructive Hurricane Mitch were filled with joy and hope by the visit of President Gordon B. Hinckley.

President Hinckley traveled to Central America Nov. 19-21, and spoke to some 19,000 members in three hastily arranged member meetings. He also visited areas of severe destruction. (Please see Church News, Nov. 28, 1998.)

The three meetings were arranged just 48 hours in advance, and announced midweek in a country with few telephones. Yet the turnout of members was substantial.

Elder William R. Bradford of the Seventy and president of the Central America Area observed that "whenever word gets out that the prophet is coming, it ricochets off every tree in the country."

"It was a visit that filled our hearts with hope," said Pres. Edwin Raul Ferman Zelaya of the Choluteca Honduras Stake. Nine busloads of members from this stake made the four-hour trip to Tegucigalpa to hear the Church president.

"Personally, my impression is that the members knew they had the opportunity to hear the words of the Lord's servant here on the earth."

Pres. Pedro Jose Aviles Zapata of the Managua Nicaragua Stake said, "For our members, the visit of the prophet was one of support and consolation. We were filled with joy to be able to see him and know that he had come to our homeland more than once."

Elder Bradford said, "President Hinckley was inspired to come. His visit created an additional level of hope and enthusiasm in the minds of our members. A lot of them were completely overcome by the idea that the prophet, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve, and Presiding Bishop H. David Burton would come personally. They assured the members that they were not forgotten, that they were in the prayers of the Saints and they would be looked after as long as there were needs."

Elder Bradford said that the needs of the members are being met.

"We don't think there has been any area where [members] were adversely affected who haven't been cared for."

He said most of the supplies already received from Salt Lake City have been distributed. Some further shipments are still en route from Salt Lake City, including equipment such as wheelbarrows, shovels and carpentry tools for long-term clean-up and rebuilding.

If additional supplies are needed, these supplies will be procured either locally now that the supply routes are open, or from Salt Lake City.

He said the number of people who require assistance is now much smaller than before. Estimates of more than 10,000 members who might need more assistance have been revised downward to fewer than half that number. The amount of long-term assistance will depend on the number of people who do not find employment.

A predicted epidemic of cholera has not materialized. However, other illnesses have proliferated. One is conjunctivitis, an eye infection that is highly contagious and becoming more prevalent. Another is a fungus that grows on feet when people are in wet areas continually. Medicines for these diseases are no longer available locally.

"When President Hinckley came, he brought all the medicine they could carry on the plane that he came in, precisely for those two diseases, and it was exactly what we needed. We left these medicines in Managua, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, so our members have had medicine."

He said the additional water left from the storm has developed into mosquito-breeding grounds and subsequently the number of cases of [mosquito-spread] dengue and malaria have increased.

Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy and first counselor in the area presidency said, "To know that the prophet was concerned about them was to know that our Father in Heaven was concerned about them and was mindful of them."

Elder Robbins accompanied President Hinckley after leaving the meeting in Tegucigalpa. "As he was sitting in the car, President Hinckley quoted the hymn: 'Have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need? Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad? If not, I have failed indeed. Has anyone's burden been lighter today Because I was willing to share? Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way? When they needed my help was I there?' (Hymns, No. 223.)

"I said, 'President, you have touched many hearts.' "

The area presidency said the priesthood channels are performing well and the work is distributed evenly among the leadership.

In Nicaragua, said Pres. Aviles, "We have been hit by floods and natural catastrophes, and also at times, social problems. However, the Lord is with us. I believe the Lord sent him so we would not be without the Lord's words in our difficulties."

One difficulty facing families in Nicaragua is the lack of the basics of life.

"This is an agricultural country and 70 percent of the people were employed in agriculture," said Pres. Aviles. "Many others were dependent on agriculture, such as those who sell fruit on the roadside. Now they have no jobs until the agriculture is restored."

Other difficulties remain for homeless families who built their homes on a flood plain near the shores of Lake Managua because no other property was available to them. Sanitation services and latrines formerly used were knocked out by the floods and the water contaminated.

In Honduras, Pres. Ferman of the Choluteca stake said 74 homes in his stake were destroyed and an equal number seriously damaged.

"We had at one time about 1,000 people in our meetinghouses. At this time we are finding places for them to live -- in improvised homes, with their relatives, or in other places. The last family still housed in the meetinghouses moved out yesterday."

The meetinghouses are now being cleaned by members, who are working with enthusiasm, he said.

Pres. Ferman said one bishop who lost his home stayed in a community shelter where he was put in charge of a group of homeless people. He declined Church assistance and offers of shelter in order to stay close to the group, which greatly depended on his leadership.

Now, new challenges face the residents of Choluteca, he said.

"There is great fear in the city of an epidemic of respiratory, skin or gastrointestinal illnesses. While there are problems of health among the members, there are not any serious cases," he said.

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