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President Nelson visits Puerto Rico a year after Hurricane Maria battered the island

It’s been almost a year since Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico — exacting an almost unimaginable toll in both human life and property damage.

Repairing the island’s critically wounded infrastructure proved a long and tedious. For months, electricity and running water were mere wishes for many Puerto Ricans.

Today, utility service has essentially returned in full. And for a visitor, things likely appear normal. But for the more than 3 million people who call Puerto Rico home, Maria's emotional wounds remain fresh.

The legions of Puerto Rican Latter-day Saints aren’t immune to the disaster’s lasting sting. Members endure uneasy flashbacks “when there’s even a small power outage,” said San Juan Puerto Rico Stake President Wilfred Rosa.

Audona Agosto stirs a boiling pot of food on a makeshift stove in what is left of her home, as Hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico continue on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018.
Audona Agosto stirs a boiling pot of food on a makeshift stove in what is left of her home, as Hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico continue on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

And, of course, the hurricane’s Sept. 20th anniversary will be a day of mourning for the many who lost loved ones. No one on the island wants to ever repeat the Hurricane Maria experience. It was horrible — no qualifiers needed. “But the experience had made us closer and stronger,” said President Rosa. “We have grown so much over the last year.”

The spiritual recovery continues for Puerto Rican members. They are counting down the days until Sunday, Sept. 2, when, for the first time in many years, the president of the Church will visit the island.

President Russell M. Nelson is scheduled to speak at a Sabbath-day member devotional at San Jose’s Coliseo de Puerto Rico. He is expected to be accompanied by his wife, Sister Wendy W. Nelson, along with Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Ruth Renlund.

“Everyone is thrilled,” said Puerto Rico San Juan Mission President David Smart.

For many full-time missionaries, listening to counsel from the Church president and a member of the Twelve on Puerto Rican soil mark an unforgettable event in a year defined by such moments.

In the hours leading up to Maria’s late September arrival, 55 sister missionaries found shelter in the mission home in San Juan. Almost 100 elders gathered in the mission office, a converted meetinghouse that included a gym and a stage.

Days later, the young missionaries were evacuated from the devastated island. The first wave of returning missionaries arrived in Puerto Rico a few days before Christmas. Subsequent waves have since returned. With each passing month, the mission creeps closer to its pre-hurricane missionary complement.

“We now have missionaries in every location where they were before,” said President Smart.

Now he and his missionaries are eager to listen to a prophet’s voice. “Everything we will be hearing on Sunday will be coming from the Lord — and we know it’s for us,” he said.

The Nelson’s and the Renlund’s visit to the Caribbean won’t be limited to Puerto Rico. They will be in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on Saturday, Sept. 1, for a missionary meeting and a member devotional that will be broadcast to several regions across the Church’s Caribbean Area.

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