On Sept. 1, President Russell M. Nelson and Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles participated in a Caribbean Area member devotional in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Following the historic gathering, which included a message from President Nelson delivered entirely in Spanish, the visiting Brethren sat down with several Latter-day Saint news organizations, including the Church News, to discuss their historic visit to the Caribbean.
Some questions and responses have been edited for length and clarity:
What counsel do you have for members in the Caribbean as they seek personal revelation to better minister to one another in a troubled world?
President Nelson: We travel around the world, and wherever we go people ask, “What can we do to have a better life and become closer to the Lord?”
The answer is the same for all people: God gives everyone blessings and challenges. The blessings of life and the opportunity to learn and develop faith are the same for all people. That’s a great gift.
And wherever we go, there are always challenges. In some places, it is too hot and in some places it is too cold. In the Caribbean, we have too many hurricanes. And so it goes.
The answer for everyone is to get close to the Lord Jesus Christ and keep His commandments. The Lord has promised us that if we keep His commandments we will prosper in the land…. His thoughts will govern your thinking and His plans will become the foremost part of your own plans.
What advice do you have for the Caribbean members to strengthen their marriages and families?
President Nelson: These are challenges all over the world — how do we strengthen our families and how do we raise children who are obedient?
The challenges are the same throughout the world. If you can learn to love the Lord, your capacity to love your companion is increased. If you can love the Lord first, then your capacity to teach your children is increased.
Your children will be more obedient. They will be sweeter. They will be kinder. They will be more intelligent if you read them the scriptures. Correct them in private and praise them in public.
Would you share your feelings about the people of the Caribbean?
President Nelson: I love the people of the Caribbean Islands. I first came here in 1994 and I’ve been here many times since. I remember in 2002 I was able to come here with President Thomas S. Monson. That was a blessing for the people and for me.
We have a message of hope for all the world: Come to the Lord Jesus Christ and keep His commandments and your families and your countries will prosper.
Last year’s hurricanes presented great hardships for many Puerto Ricans, including Church members. Yet many Puerto Rican members say it was also a period of personal growth and increased unity in wards and branches. How does the gospel allow us to grow even during periods of struggle and even sadness?
President Nelson: It is possible to find joy in life even through the most difficult circumstances. The hurricane that came a year ago damaged Puerto Rico mercilessly. Yet hundreds of Latter-day Saints came to help out. They distributed relief supplies, food and other commodities that were needed.
I think some of the most difficult challenges in life are opportunities to build faith. Once you start to focus on the Lord and your fellow men, you can keep His first two commandments even more perfectly than when things are rosy.
What are your expectations and advice for the Caribbean’s rising generation?
Elder Renlund: If I were giving any advice to the rising generation in the Caribbean — to the youth and the young adults — it would be to re-read President Nelson’s talk at April general conference.
In that talk they would find, number one, that they should receive their own testimony of the restored gospel to know that they have a Heavenly Father who loves them and to know that Christ has restored His work to the earth. Also, that they can gain their own testimony of the Book of Mormon.
Then it doesn’t matter what else is going on, they have something that is very sure.
How does a visit from a prophet of God bless those he visits?
Elder Renlund — In our meeting with the Dominican members, something very historic happened: the prophet of God spoke in Spanish to all assembled. It’s the first time it’s happened in this dispensation. It brought a spirit and a look to the faces of the people. It was the language of the Spirit that spoke to them because we have a prophet who, through the [magnified] gifts God has given him, can communicate in Spanish to the people.
I watched him interact with babies, with grandmothers and with parents. He brings people closer to the Savior. That’s what President Nelson has always done — he directs people to the Savior and to our Heavenly Father and Their work. He invites Heavenly Father’s children home.
What counsel would you give members living in Puerto Rico or other areas of the Caribbean who are trying to decide if they should remain in their homeland or relocate to the mainland of the United States?
Elder Renlund — What one should do with one’s life is very individual. Every member of the Church has been blessed with the Holy Ghost. Our counsel to people throughout the world is to stay in their homelands and to strengthen and build up the Church. But we don’t tell people what to do. We trust that they will be inspired by the Holy Ghost as to what to do.
If the Holy Ghost is directing a person to stay put and build the Church, their families and their lives in the place where God has already placed him or her, then that’s what he or she should do.
Likewise, if one is inspired by the Holy Ghost to make changes in one’s life, we don’t get in the way of that.
Any concluding thoughts?
Elder Renlund — It is unbelievable to be with the prophet, President Nelson. It is a thrill I wish everyone could have.
President Nelson — Whenever one of the Twelve Apostles comes to a country, that country will be blessed. To have two of the 15 men who hold the holy apostleship here in this country is a very important, historic step. The [Dominicans] will be blessed because of the fact that the Lord’s Apostles have been here and taught and loved the people.