Prophet teaches, motivates Caribbean islanders

Arubans are a linguistic lot. Wander through their tiny island off the Venezuelan coast and you'll likely hear people gabbing in Dutch, English, Spanish and the local Papiamento.

The prophet's historic visit was the realization of a dream for many.
The prophet's historic visit was the realization of a dream for many. Photo: Photo courtesy Alberto Martineau

But a prophet's March 16 visit left many LDS Arubans speechless. After listening to the counsel of President Gordon B. Hinckley and Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve, typically loquacious members such as Pepe Gonzalez say they were simply too overwhelmed to speak — or sing.

"During the last hymn we could not sing, there was too much crying; everybody was crying," said Brother Gonzalez, president of the Aruba San Nicolas Branch. "There was such an impressive spirit."

President Hinckley and Elder Oaks stopped on the West Indies island en route to the Montevideo Uruguay Temple dedication. They were accompanied by their wives, Marjorie Hinckley and Kristen Oaks. There they met with about 180 members, offered support and counsel and challenged those gathered at the Aruba chapel to build the kingdom in their 75-square-mile homeland.

The prophet said that the Lord's Spirit is being felt throughout the world — including Aruba and her neighboring islands.

"I think the time will come when there will be thousands of members here in Aruba and Curacao," he said.

President Hinckley commented on the beauty of the Aruba Branch meetinghouse, encouraging the members to make it a haven of beauty for all Arubans. More chapels would be needed one day, he added.

Members from Aruba and neighboring islands gathered March 16 to listen to President Gordon B. Hinckley and Elder Dallin H.Oaks.
Members from Aruba and neighboring islands gathered March 16 to listen to President Gordon B. Hinckley and Elder Dallin H.Oaks. Photo: Photo courtesy Office of the President

"You will need larger buildings than this building, and that will all depend on your faithfulness, you pioneers," President Hinckley said. "You are the pioneers of this land, and the Church will grow as you live the gospel and let it be seen in your lives. You have something so very, very special, my brothers and sisters. You have membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

Roland Odor, a member of the Aruba Branch, believes it's the first time a prophet has walked on his island. President Hinckley's visit, he added, "is evidence that miracles do happen."

"Having the prophet visit Aruba was only a dream for me; we are a small island," Brother Odor said. "But we always hoped one day he would come."

Aruba is an autonomous member of the Netherlands, located just 18 miles from Venezuela. For centuries the land drew outsiders seeking richness through gold and oil. Now Aruba and its Caribbean beaches are global tourist targets. The Church is still young here. President Gonzalez remembers when the first Aruban branch was organized in 1986.

Congregations in neighboring islands such as Bonaire and Curacao have also developed. A few from those islands were even able secure a flight to Aruba and listen to President Hinckley's words.

The prophet offered simple counsel — repeating inspired words he has offered in other corners of the world. He reminded the Aruban and other members to pay full tithes, observe the Word of Wisdom and live the teachings of the Book of Mormon.

"President Hinckley told us to embrace the new people that come into the Church and make them feel welcome," President Gonzalez said. "He told us to remember to help the missionaries."

Elder Oaks spoke of the Book of Mormon's special witness of Christ and the teachings of the Savior, Himself.

The apostle told the Church News that President Hinckley was "warm, loving and encouraging" with the members.

"It was fun for Sister Oaks and me to sit on the stand and look into [the members'] faces," Elder Oaks said. "They were just riveted on every word and every expression of the prophet."

Brother Odor said he was touched by the prophet's assurance that the LDS Arubans and their island neighbors are not alone.

"[President Hinckley] told us we are part of a family of 11 million people and that we were going to grow through missionary work," he said.

Sharing the gospel can be difficult in Aruba. The island enjoys a high standard of living and her residents hail from many lands. Still, the Aruban members say they have been given a spiritual shot of motivation.

"We were hungry for President Hinckley's visit," President Gonzalez said. "It recharged our batteries."

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