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Elder Cook visits Central America and reports missionaries are safe, members strengthening homes

After returning from a trip to the Church’s Central America Area, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reported that the faithful Church members there are receiving the blessings of living the gospel of Jesus Christ.

That is manifest in the fact that the number of members attending the temple and doing family history work has increased in Central America, as well as tithing and fast offering faithfulness.

“The members and missionaries were extremely reverent and responsive,” said Elder Cook, after returning from the Jan. 21-31 trip.

Elder Cook said effective local leaders and members are helping and guiding the rising generation and working on increased religious devotion in their homes. Missionaries serving in the area are safe and effective, he added.

Elder Cook and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, were accompanied on the trip by Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Debbie Christensen, and members of the Central America Area Presidency — Elder Kevin R. Duncan, Elder Adrián Ochoa, and Elder Jose L. Alonso, all of the Seventy.

Elder Cook said, “The Area Presidency and their wives, Sister Nancy Duncan, Sister Nancy Ochoa and Sister Rebeca Alonso, are providing incredible service.”

The leaders visited El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala. In addition, Elder Cook traveled to Belize and and portions of the Cobán Mission in Guatemala — visiting Latter-day Saints who have rarely been visited by an Apostle. Elder Christensen visited Panama and Nicaragua.

The Church has 19 missions and six temples in Central America.

As part of their assignments in Central America, Elder Cook and Elder Christensen conducted a review of the Church’s Central America Area; held priesthood leadership and stake conferences, member devotionals and missionary meetings; participated in an adult broadcast that originated in El Salvador, and met with government leaders.

Elder Christensen said in every setting members arrived early in anticipation of learning from Elder Cook.

“With the emphasis on strengthening Sabbath observance at Church and in the home, we are seeing great progress,” he said.

Elder Cook said the leaders also emphasized ministering through ward councils.

“A lot of effort has been devoted to helping ward councils and priesthood quorums minister to members,” said Elder Christensen.

Elder Cook said he emphasized the help and support the Church in Central America gives, and must continue to offer, to the rising generation.

During the visit, the leaders met government leaders, including El Salvador President Salvador Sánchez Cerén. “He was very respectful and enthusiastically talked about faith, family and religious freedom,” said Elder Cook.

In addition, Elder Cook and Elder Christensen met with the former president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias. Dr. Arias is a 1987 Noble Peace Prize winner.

“He is recognized for his efforts to help establish peace in Central America. He provided both background and good counsel on security issues,” Elder Cook said.

Of missionary work, Elder Cook said, despite reports in the media about security in Central America and the Zika and Chikungunya viruses, “everyone we talked to — including stake presidents, mission presidents and other leaders — report the same thing: the missionaries are safe.”

The missionaries also reported feeling safe, he added.

On Feb. 1, the World Health Organization declared that birth defects and other neurological conditions are possibly linked to the mosquito-borne Zika virus. However, the virus only mildly affects those who are not pregnant. Elder Cook said the Zika virus is not different from what the Church has experienced in other parts of the world with dengue fever. “The Missionary Executive Council is on top of this issue and our primary message is that our missionaries in Central America are safe,” he said.

Missionaries serving in Central America come from broad and diverse backgrounds, Elder Christensen said. “The work is progressing.”

He added that the number of missionaries serving in other parts of the world from Central America is an indicator of the strength of the Church in Central America. “Families are preparing missionaries to faithfully serve elsewhere.”

Despite living in situations that can be precarious, Latter-day Saints are keeping their families together, Elder Cook said.

“It is very clear that any time there is a disintegration of families — whether it be because of civil war or migration — the impact on the rising generation can be significant.”

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