LDS Relief Society leader to Mexican quake victims: I know your pain

Sister Reyna Isabel Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, visits with earthquake survivors in Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, Mexico, Friday, Nov. 3, 2017. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Esli Dan Hernandez Gomez
Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

“Sé por lo que estás pasando” — “I know what you are going through.”

A familiar phrase in both Spanish and English — but when uttered sincerely, those seven simple words can unify people during tough, tragic times.

Sister Reyna I. Aburto recently visited with earthquake survivors in Mexico. She interacted with them as a Mormon general auxiliary leader and a fellow survivor.

An earthquake forever impacted the life of the second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency over four decades ago. In 1972, a powerful quake struck Sister Aburto’s hometown of Managua, Nicaragua.

The memory of that deadly night — just two days before Christmas — is still painful to visit. She was sleeping soundly when everything began to shake with great violence. “I woke up to the middle of a nightmare. … It did not seem real,” she said softly.

Her 10-year-old brother, Noel, was killed. Her father was badly injured. And her home was destroyed in an instant.

Over time, the family was able to rebuild their home and their lives. But, 45 years later, Sister Aburto still grieves for Noel.

“We were very close,” she said of her older brother. “He was very protective of me. I don’t remember us ever arguing or fighting. We would go to school each day holding hands.”

Noel was never far from her thoughts when she met earlier this month with earthquake survivors and government leaders in quake-weary Mexico.

Two major earthquakes recently devastated regions of southern Mexico and Mexico City within a two-week period. On Sept. 7, an 8.2-magnitude temblor hit the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas in southern Mexico. The second rocked Mexico City on Sept. 19 on the anniversary of the 1985 quake that killed thousands in the sprawling capital city.

The two catastrophes claimed hundreds of lives and damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of homes and businesses. Counted among the victims were several Latter-day Saints.

The Church is providing humanitarian relief to impacted areas in Mexico to help people of all backgrounds continue their recovery.

Sister Aburto began her travels on Nov. 3 in the Oaxacan town of Juchitan de Zaragoza, an area still littered with rubble from fallen homes and buildings. She offered the people hugs and much-needed words of comfort and hope.

During her travels in Mexico, she spoke at four different evening devotionals for local Relief Society women. At each gathering she shared her own earthquake experience. She spoke of the pain of losing Noel. And she assured the women they could survive, find hope and, together, look forward to better days.

She also shared a survivor’s message: the light of Christ comes to everyone — giving them the strength that they need.

“I told the sisters that we can raise ourselves from the rubble. We should not look at ourselves as victims, but as survivors,” she said. “It is possible to begin again.”

Sister Aburto said countless people — including relatives, friends, neighbors and strangers — stepped forward and helped her own family in the moments, days and months following the 1972 Managua quake.

She witnessed that same such selflessness in Mexico.

“People came together in each town and worked to rescue people who were trapped. You could see the Lord’s hand,” she told the Church News.

She also met with the Juchitan de Zaragoza’s municipal president, Gloria Sanchez Lopez, and discussed the Church’s ongoing relief efforts. Several government leaders noted the Latter-day Saints’ capacity as they organized, made assignments and got to work.

The Relief Society leader later gathered with quake victims and civic officials in the nearby town of San Francisco Ixhuatan. In her meeting with municipal president Cesar Augusto Matus Velasquez, Sister Aburto spoke of the importance of families and presented Mr. Matus Velasquez with a copy of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” and a picture of Jesus Christ.

He thanked her for the Church’s ongoing efforts to assist his community in the aftermath of the disaster.

“We are building bridges with the local governments,” she said. “They tell us, ‘Your [members] helped without expecting anything — you’re not in this for money, for votes or for power.’ ”

Sister Aburto also visited Mexico City and Morelos, where the Church has partnered with Operation Smile to provide medical care for injured quake victims.

Operation Smile opened three mobile medical units in Morelos to house patients that could not be treated at the local hospital due to the effects of the disaster, according to Mormon Newsroom.

Difficult days in Mexico remain. The recovery in quake-impacted regions is expected to stretch across many months. Some school children are still being taught under the cover of tents and awnings.

But the Latter-day Saints that welcomed Sister Aburto and the other visiting Church officials are looking out for one another — and to better days ahead.

“They have an eternal perspective,” she said of the members. “The have the Holy Ghost — and that helps them stay positive and plan for their future.”

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