During his recent assignment to Central America, President Russell M. Nelson spoke with Mario Valle, a member of the Nicaraguan Congress.
The gracious congressman thanked the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “for all your Church is doing for our people.”
The Church, of course, has a well-established history of assisting the nations of Central America in the aftermath of natural disasters and through other humanitarian projects. But its influence in this part of the world goes beyond temporal aid. Hundreds of thousands here are enjoying rich blessings offered by the restored gospel. The temples that dot the area are uniting families forever. And members are finding joy as they serve their families, neighbors and fellow Latter-day Saints
“I am very optimistic about the future of the Church in Central America,” said President Nelson in a Church News interview.
The 11-day trip, from Aug. 20-31 — which included stops in Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua — was President Nelson’s first international assignment since becoming the President of the Quorum of the Twelve. He met with thousands of priesthood leaders, missionaries and members of all ages in training conferences and devotionals. He shook their hands, listened to their questions and invited them to know happiness through the temple and the doctrine of Christ.
He was greeted with love and warmth at each gathering. The members appreciated President Nelson’s visit. They thanked him with smiles and handshakes. They sang the hymns of the gospel with vigor and enthusiasm.
“The Central American members understand that the gospel is a gospel of joy,” he said.
One or more members of the Central America Area Presidency — Elder Kevin R. Duncan, Elder Adrián Ochoa and Elder José L. Alonso — accompanied President Nelson at each meeting.
“We have a great area presidency in Central America,” he said. “They are able, committed and knowledgeable — they are a great team.”
The capacity of the local priesthood leadership stretches beyond the area presidency. President Nelson saluted the seasoned corps of Area Seventies that hail from Central America. Strong stake presidents, district presidents, bishops and branch presidents, he added, are shepherding the local members.
“They are wonderful men,” he said. “They asked good questions and have a great understanding of what they are doing.”
President Nelson presided over two priesthood leadership conferences in Central America — one in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and the other in Managua, Nicaragua. “In Honduras we spoke to priesthood leaders from 13 stakes and five districts. In Managua, there were leaders from nine stakes and five districts.”
The apostle has deep ties to Central America. In 1990, he and Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated the nations of El Salvador and Nicaragua for the preaching of the gospel
“It was very nice to come back a quarter of a century later and see the tremendous growth that has occurred,” President Nelson said.
When then-Elder Nelson and Elder Scott dedicated El Salvador and Nicaragua there was a single temple (the Guatemala Guatemala City Temple) operating in Central America. Today there are six temples — including those in El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, and a second in Guatemala. Such substantial temple building has forever changed the Church in this region.
“Having the temples closer to the people has been a great, great blessing in Central America,” he said. “The members have responded by submitting more of their own names for use in the temple. There has also been a sharp increase in the names acquired through indexing.”
The maturity of the Church in Central America was also evident in the member devotionals and stake conferences.
“In Honduras, we had a meeting for married couples that was broadcast throughout Central America and reached more than 9,000 people,” he said. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 people attended each stake conference.
Another highlight was a youth devotional that was broadcast to meetinghouses across the Central America Area. Some 15,000 youth and their leaders participated. President Nelson was uplifted by the “faith and maturity” of the young Latter-day Saints.
He arrived for the youth devotional in Managua a half-hour early “and the place was packed.” The apostle shook hands with all the young people squeezed inside the stake center.
“I also had the privilege of speaking to every missionary in Central America,” he said. “There are 3,341 missionaries in 18 missions and I spoke to them all — either directly or via Internet broadcasts.”
The Central America members face the same concerns as members across the globe. They worry about crime, the future of their youth, the dangers of pornography and providing for their families.
“We teach them the doctrine and try to inspire them and build faith,” said President Nelson. “It all comes down to building faith in God and strengthening individual members and families so they can qualify for all the blessings that come in the temples.”
The Lord’s gospel, he added, “is the hope of the world.”
Elder Duncan said the apostle’s visit lifted the spirits of Latter-day Saints across Central America.
“[President Nelson] lifted our hearts to heaven as he helped all members to increase their faith in Jesus Christ and His plan of happiness.”
[email protected] @JNSwensen