Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve was on a Church assignment in the African nation of Ghana when he received word of the history-making earthquake that sent a portion of Chile into a literal upheaval on Feb. 27.
He presided over the Church’s Chile Area from August 15, 2002-August 15, 2004, and lived in Santiago. He said that in addition to “the wonderful members of the Church in that country,” he met many other Chileans, many of whom hold a tender spot in his heart and with whom he has remained friends.
“I got the first indication of the earthquake on CNN and then received e-mails on my iPhone,” he said in a conversation with the Church News on March 3. “I was greatly alarmed. Virtually every community they mentioned was a community I knew and had been in. It made me think of our people, our chapels, our missionaries, our friends. I could see faces and think of names all over the land, so it was a very emotional thing for me not knowing how they were all doing.
“Fortunately, as the facts have come in, we see many miracles and blessings that have been evident. At this point we know of only one member who lost his life. Any loss is tragic, but such a terrible earthquake could have been so much worse. So we have mixed emotions. We are grateful that it is no worse than it was, but sad for what it’s done to so many Chilean people in terms of death, displacement, fear and despair.”
He said that he has spoken with members of the area presidency in Santiago and with Santiago Chile Temple President Ted Lyon, the latter of whom told him that the temple is in operation.
Elder Holland said he had spoken with personal friends in Chile, including one man who is not a member of the Church.
“He is a very distinguished public figure in Chile,” Elder Holland said. “His family was on holiday when the tsunami hit their beach house. His son and their two oldest children were strong enough to withstand the force, but his daughter-in-law and their two youngest grandchildren were washed out to sea. They found the mother still alive on a small island but, to this point, they have not found the bodies of the two little children, ages 4 and 2. A story like that makes it immensely personal when you know someone who has suffered such a terrible personal loss during the disaster. We know that family so well; they are dear friends.”
Elder Holland said he felt helpless, being in Ghana while hearing of the suffering in Chile.
“When we feel so limited in terms of things we’d like to do but can’t, it is a wonderful thing to know that we can all pray, we can call down angels and plead for spiritual comfort to descend upon those grieving. Even for those who have sustained terrible loss the Spirit can bring peace, tranquility, a hope for the future. Surely it is times like these that make the gospel so very, very important to everyone.
“I can’t go to Santiago or Concepcion and do anything personally. But I can help with what the Church does through my fast offerings and my faith. I can pray and I can love the people from afar. With heaven’s help we can always convey that we care about members and non-members all over the world and that they’re in our prayers always.”