In the days leading up to his recent trip to northwestern South America, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles experienced a powerful prompting.
Elder Rasband felt strongly that he should visit the Latter-day Saints in western Ecuador whose lives were forever changed on April 16 by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed hundreds and injured tens of thousands.
He was told such a visit was impossible. Elder Rasband would be on a tight schedule during his June 3–13 tour of Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. Additionally, there were questions about the road conditions leading to the quake-impacted cities of Portoviejo and Manta.
“Still, I felt like we somehow needed to get to those areas,” he told the Church News.
His determination would be rewarded. On June 13 — the final day of his 10-day trip — Elder Rasband and his wife, Sister Melanie Rasband, traveled to Portoviejo and, a short time later, to Manta.
“It was one of the highlights of the trip,” he said.
Elder Rasband expected a few local priesthood leaders and perhaps a few members to attend the hastily organized gathering in Portoviejo. “But when we arrived and went inside the stake center the chapel was filled,” he said. “I was speechless. I could not believe it.”
Seated on the front rows were members who had lost loved ones in the quake, along with “pioneers” of the Church in the region. Elder Rasband shared a message of love from President Thomas S. Monson. He also assured the quake-weary members that they were not forgotten. He told them they were the subject of many prayers. He thanked them for caring for one another.
And then, in one of the few times since his call to the Twelve last October, he bestowed an apostolic blessing.
“It was as if my hands were on their heads,” he said. “All the words came to my mind at that moment.”
Before leaving, the Rasbands exchanged one-on-one greetings with all assembled.
“I received more abrazos [hugs] than at any time in my life,” said Elder Rasband with a smile.
They then drove 30 minutes to Manta, where the local chapel was filled with hundreds. Once again, they shook hands and exchanged hugs with all who came forward. Afterward, they rushed back to Guayaquil to catch their flight home.
Elder Rasband marvels at how the initially unplanned trip to the quake areas came together “like clockwork. It was divinely orchestrated from A to Z,” he said.
He was uplifted by the faith, courage and charitable actions of the members. “We all had a great sense that the Ecuadorian people were rallying to the cause and helping one another.”
Elder Rasband said the Lord’s hand could be traced throughout his trip. Elder and Sister Rasband met with thousands of members of all ages — both in person and via interactive devotionals broadcast over the internet.
They were joined at different segments of their travels by the South America Northwest Area Presidency — Elder Juan A. Uceda, Elder Carlos A. Godoy and Elder Hugo Montoya — and their wives, Sister Maria Isabel Uceda, Sister Monica Godoy and Sister Maria Montoya.
In each country, the Rasbands and the other Brethren and their wives visited with missionaries. Elder Rasband encouraged the young elders and sisters to always remember that “they are to find the Lord’s elect” and to establish multi-generational wards and stakes in their own lands.
Elder and Sister Rasband and the others also participated in several devotionals for young people. The youth gathering in Bogota was broadcast across Colombia and Venezuela, while a similar meeting originating in Lima was seen by youth in Peru and Bolivia. A third youth devotional in Guayaquil was seen throughout Ecuador. At each youth devotional, young men and young women asked questions of Elder Rasband and the others. “Their concerns are the same as youth living anywhere else,” he observed. “They have the same issues.”
In a series of Priesthood Leadership Conferences, Elder Rasband and the Area Presidency met with local stake presidents, bishops and quorum leaders. Again, they addressed universal concerns — including societal challenges to the family, issues of religious freedoms and the dangers of pornography.
Elder Rasband noted the capacity of the local priesthood and Relief Society leaders that ensures a bright future for the Church across northern South America.
Temples, he added, are further evidence of the wonderful growth of the Church in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. Temples operate in each of those nations — and, in each nation, new temples are either under construction or have been announced.
“In all three countries, the Lord, through His prophet, has chosen to build new temples to bless the people.”
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