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Service in the disaster's wake: Bishop Francisco Raymundo feared the worst

Francisco Raymundo remembers the recent five-minute drive from a neighborhood shoe store to his home being the longest ride of his life. Bishop Raymundo, his wife, Elvira, and a couple of their children had just stepped out of the store and into their car when the street began to roll.

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4 R Photo: Photo by William R. Cook

"Homes were collapsing right in front of us," said Bishop Raymundo, recalling the Jan. 13 earthquake that killed hundreds of Salvadorans and devastated a country. "We stayed in the car and it jumped about as if it were a toy."

Even before the shaking stopped, Bishop and Sister Raymundo were thinking of their two older children who had stayed behind. Their house was only minutes away, "but it seemed like an eternity driving home," he said.

The Raymundos feared the worst. The rumblings had leveled many structures, leaving behind a cloud of dust and debris. Power poles had snapped and hurled lines across fractured streets.

Fortunately, they found their two children unharmed and sitting outside their home, which had not been seriously damaged. With his family well and accounted for, Bishop Raymundo, who presides over the Las Palmeras Ward of the La Libertad El Salvador Stake, turned his thoughts to his extended flock.

After checking on a next-door neighbor, Bishop Raymundo made visits to several LDS families living within walking distance of his home. Then he commandeered another neighbor's bicycle and began making the rounds of his ward. Considering the damage experienced throughout his country, Bishop Raymundo was relieved to find that none of his members had been killed or seriously injured. Four had lost their homes.

Like most of the bishops, branch presidents and Relief Society presidents in the Church, Bishop Raymundo is not a seasoned, professional rescue worker. He earns a living managing a digital art department at a San Salvador printing company. Still, he knows much of service.

Like many of his fellow Salvadorans, his life was forever changed years ago through the service of two missionaries who knocked on his family's door. Several weeks after hearing the first discussion, the then 12-year-old Francisco was baptized. Despite his young age and limited Church experience, he began serving immediately in numerous callings. Later, he served as a full-time missionary to Guatemala.

Perhaps such experiences prepared him for that tragic Saturday in January. Bishop Raymundo began that day with little planned besides shopping for his children's school shoes. By night's end he had played spiritual and temporal shepherd to his ward. He remembers lying in bed at 11 p.m. Saturday, exhausted from the day's events.

Then the phone rang. It was a family from the ward. Aftershocks had left their home unsafe to sleep in.

"Can we spend the night in the chapel?" they asked. Bishop Raymundo pulled on his shoes and spent the next several hours moving the family to the local meetinghouse.

The next morning was Sunday. The bishop, as always, met with his fellow priesthood and auxiliary leaders. Then they all turned to the business of distributing donated food, collecting surplus clothes and offering the spiritual gifts a frightened ward needed in order to endure.

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