SAN JUAN — For Esteban Ojeda and his wife, Anali, Hurricane Maria will always be regarded as a family paradox.
They vividly remember the violence of the deadly storm as it tossed and churned outside their home in southern Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. “It was starting to get really scary,” said Esteban.
But even in that moment of primal terror, the family discovered spiritual peace. Just days earlier, a special visitor to the island — President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency — promised the Puerto Rican members that if they prayerfully read the Book of Mormon all would be well.
So with Maria raging outside, Esteban and Anali gathered their family about and opened the Book of Mormon.
“We felt at peace inside our house,” said Esteban. “The words of the prophets and apostles rang true.”
On Sunday, Sept. 2 — almost a year after Hurricane Maria’s arrival — Esteban and Anali traveled under sunny skies to San Juan to hear the counsel from another of the Lord’s prophets, President Russell M. Nelson. From their shared vantage point in the member choir, the couple watched as the Church’s 17th president entered the Coliseo de Puerto Rico arena and began teaching divine lessons of peace during a Sabbath-day member devotional.
Find safety and joy by living the commandments, he counseled. Be kind to one another and protect your family. And then the 93-year-old leader graciously dismissed his interpreter and shared his testimony and apostolic blessing in Spanish.
President Nelson “taught us today that we could find peace during difficult times through Christ,” said Anali after the devotional. “That’s how we overcame this past year, through Christ.”
Tomorrow’s great optimism
During his remarks, the Church president noted his deep admiration for the Puerto Rican Latter-day Saints who served and remained faithful during the awful weeks and months following the hurricane.
Better days await, he promised.
“As you individually grow to become more of the person God wants you to be, you can know for yourself that better days are ahead for the people of Puerto Rico,” he said. “You can face your tomorrows with great optimism, knowing that the best days of your life are ahead for you and for your loved ones.”
Listening to their 93-year-old prophet testify in Spanish triggered smiles and tears for many in the audience. Many others scribbled vigorous notes in their journals and notebooks as they listened to the messages of President Nelson, Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Caribbean Area President Walter F. Gonzalez (a General Authority Seventy), Sister Ruth Renlund and Sister Zulma Gonzalez.
“It’s been nearly a year since Hurricane Maria came,” said President Nelson. “You have not given up. We are proud of you. You faithful Saints have lost much, but through it all, you have fostered your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You have learned that He is aware of you and that He loves you. And He will continue to help you as you keep His commandments.”
Members of the Church worldwide have prayed for the Puerto Rican people, he said. Many have volunteered in relief efforts. The leaders of the Church at all levels remain mindful of the Puerto Rican members and are committed to their care.
“Most important, the Lord knows you,” he said. “Puerto Rico and other islands of the sea are very important to the Lord. These islands are rich with the blood of Israel. You are a vital part of God’s promises. Those promises are to be fulfilled by people from the islands of the sea. Those prophecies pertain to the gathering of Israel.”
That “gathering” is spiritual, he added. People of the world are being gathered “into the fold of Jesus Christ” in each of their respective lands. And in their native lands, they take upon Christ’s name, are baptized and faithfully keep God’s commandments. But even with those blessings, God’s children can expect difficulties. “That is part of life. It’s why we’re here. We are here to have a body and to be tried and tested. Some of those tests are physical; some are spiritual, and your trials here have been both physical and spiritual.”
President Nelson testified of Christ’s role as the Atoner. Through His sacrifice, the Savior made immortality a reality for all. Meanwhile, the exalted blessings of eternal life are available to all who seek and follow Him. “By keeping God’s commandments, we can find joy even in the midst of our worst circumstances.”
Take care of one another
The Church president counseled the Puerto Rican members to keep their families united and strong in faith. Husbands should be kind and considerate of the wives. “The best thing you can do for your children is to love their mother. Your highest priesthood duty is to care for your wife.”
And to the wives: “Love your husbands. You are partners.”
Even those dealing with harsh personal difficulties can find strength in Christ, declared Elder Renlund. Joy and hope reside in Christ, who gives life direction and purpose.
“Christ being the center of our lives changes everything,” he said. “It gives us power, stability and direction. And no matter what’s going on in our lives, if we focus on (Christ), we’re safe.”
Life offers many choices, he added. Seek and follow the direction of the Holy Ghost. Do what God “would have you do.”
“That is the course to follow,” said Elder Renlund.
Personal revelation is essential in times of difficulty and trial, he added. “I don’t need to tell you that life doesn’t always turn out the way we expected.”
In their brief devotional remarks, Elder and Sister Gonzalez and Sister Renlund encouraged the Puerto Rican members and their friends to watch closely the example of President Nelson and the other prophets and apostles. There is safety in following their lead while seeking personal revelation.