The media have dedicated extensive coverage to the massive destruction and desperate living conditions in Haiti following a 7.0 earthquake on Jan. 12, and rightfully so.
But what was life like in Haiti before the earthquake struck, particularly for the thousands of Church members living there?
In speaking with former mission presidents and their wives who served in Haiti, two major themes kept emerging: the nation's physical infrastructure was already exceptionally poor prior to the Jan. 12 earthquake, and the strong faith of Church members will abide and endure in spite of the present trials.
Michael F. and Maria Moody are the president and matron, respectively, of the Papeete Tahiti Temple. From 2000-03, though, President Moody presided over the Haiti Port-au-Prince Mission.
"The transportation system in Haiti is not good," President Moody said. "The roads are such that it takes hours to go a few miles.
"A lot of people don't have electricity. They wouldn't necessarily have electronic communication, computers and so forth."
Sister Moody noted the extreme deforestation of Haiti — a condition that she said is caused by the practice of Haitians using any and all available wood as cooking fuel.
Janet Miller lived in Haiti from 1998-2000 while her husband, Donald K. Miller, preceded President Moody as mission president in Haiti. In the decade since returning home to her native Canada, the Millers have stayed in touch with many of the missionaries they served with — including the current mission president, 30-year-old Kerving H. Joseph.
The sights and smells awaiting Sister Miller upon her arrival to Haiti in July 1998 are forever ingrained into her memory.
"The previous mission president picked us up from the airport that was teeming with people," she said. "And of course the smell is the first thing that hits you because there's garbage everywhere, just rotting garbage.
"As we drove up to the mission home, I had been led to believe it was in an upscale neighborhood … but there were pigs and chickens and goats everywhere, and people were scrambling for water."
Sister Miller, who describes the physical conditions of her time in Haiti as "a two-year camping trip," hopes some long-term silver lining will emerge out of the tragedy induced by a natural disaster.
She said that perhaps the earthquake will bring attention to Haiti. "The world has ignored Haiti, and North America has ignored Haiti for so long," she said. "It's a travesty because we're an hour and a half plane ride off the coast of North America, and yet the plight of these people has not been in the forefront at all.
"The thing that I find interesting is that we've been home for nine and a half years, and in that time — other than a few roads that have improved — things have not changed in Haiti. In some ways they've gotten worse. Maybe this will bring Haiti to the forefront [of the global conscience]."
Strength of the saints
A strong base of local leaders buoyed the thousands of converts who joined the Church when the Moodys presided in Haiti (currently, more than 15,000 Church members live in Haiti).
"There's a great strength and a great leadership among the members there — they're remarkable," Sister Moody said. "In several wards, I attended as fine a Relief Society lesson as I would have in the Wasatch Front [in Utah]. At other times we were just working and learning how to teach. You have that very broad spectrum."
During the time the Millers lived and served in Haiti, nearly 85 percent of converts remained active in the Church through the first 18 months following baptism.
"It was the most amazing place to serve because the people are absolutely wonderful," Sister Miller said. "They are loving. They are very stoic and so they don't smile a lot unless you speak to them and then they will respond. …
"But because of the way the people are, they're going to come back. They will bounce back."
President Moody understands the enormity of the tasks entailed in not only rebuilding but also improving Haiti. Nonetheless, he sees a Haitian future where the Church continues to grow heartily, regardless of the trials that may attempt to thwart and hinder the spread of the gospel.
"The Church has really blossomed and grown exponentially," he said. "The Church is strong, and the Haitian people are an innately spiritual people. Regardless of whatever happens in that country, the Church continues to go forward."