Sarah Jane Weaver: How President Nelson’s ministry in Central and South America brings ‘power to the people’

It was so quiet in Guatemala City’s Estadio Cementos Progreso stadium — filled with 22,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — that I wondered if something was wrong with my hearing. I shook my head and listened again.

All was silent.

The reverence was hard to reconcile with my own experience.

It was Saturday and not far away hundreds of locals crowded Guatemalan markets — filled with brightly colored fruit; the aroma of cooking meat, rice and beans; and happy chatter.

Produce is sold at a market Panajachel, Guatemala, on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke in a devotional in Guatemala City on Saturday, Aug. 24.
Produce is sold at a market Panajachel, Guatemala, on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke in a devotional in Guatemala City on Saturday, Aug. 24. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

But here in the stadium, where Church members began lining up at 10 a.m. for the 7 p.m. devotional, things felt different. Latter-day Saints sat quietly waiting to glimpse their prophet, President Russell M. Nelson

In this country of great contrast — a country defined by lush, green foliage and the remnants of ancient civilizations, as well as a bustling city center and some poverty and crime — the stadium was filled with a faith that felt tangible.

Read all of the stories from President Nelson’s visit to Central and South America.

Before entering the stadium, President Nelson sat at a nearby meetinghouse with a few young single adults. As he entered the room, he embraced Yury Velasquez. Velasquez’s cousin, Kenneth Velasquez, had been missing for several days; Velasquez had learned a few hours before that his cousin had been murdered. 

Velasquez said that at the prophet’s touch, he was filled with peace. President Nelson promised him “when one door closes, another door opens.”

President Nelson had not been in the country long. He had not visited the vibrant markets or spent time observing the green landscapes. He wasn’t “sight-seeing,” Sister Nelson would later explain. He was “Saint-seeing.”

That’s what I know now that I didn’t know before watching President Nelson greet a man grieving his beloved cousin and 22,000 other Guatemalan members. When a prophet visits, the members are strengthened. When a prophet visits, countries are elevated.

Elder Enrique R. Falabella, a General Authority Seventy who was born in Guatemala and now serves as president of the Church’s South America Northwest Area, said with President Nelson’s visits come a  “renewal of faith” among Church members in Central and South America.

“The words of the prophet bring power to the people,” he said. “They feel his love. They are renewed.”

Because of President Nelson’s visit, the members in the area feel “the Lord is looking to us. … The people feel the Lord is sharing His blessings with the children and youth and families.” They feel “God is taking care of us personally.”

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson meet with youth in Guatemala City on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson meet with youth in Guatemala City on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

As a result “our hearts fill with love for the prophet.” 

Elder Falabella said after President Nelson visited his area in October and November of 2018 during his first ministry to South America as president of the Church, sacrament meeting attendance increased.

“It is interesting to see the reaction of the members of the Church to the prophet’s visit,” Elder Falabella said. “He radiates faith and testimony among the Saints.” He asked members to be “willing to keep the commandments. Just preparing for an event makes them better.”

When President Nelson landed in Central America last month, he immediately reflected on the past. “The lands of Central America and South America are studded with ruins — remnants — of ancient civilizations,” he said. “One wonders what life must have been like among those people.

The sun sets on Mayan temple I in Tikal, Guatemala, on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke in a devotional in Guatemala City on Saturday, Aug. 24.
The sun sets on Mayan temple I in Tikal, Guatemala, on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke in a devotional in Guatemala City on Saturday, Aug. 24. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

“Add to that the message on the title page of the Book of Mormon, that it is ‘written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel,’ we not only learn more about those ancient inhabitants, but we learn that the Lord cares for His children in this hemisphere, both in ancient times, and in modern times.”

Members in Guatemala waved white handkerchiefs as President Nelson left the stadium. President Nelson returned the sweet gesture. Again the   reverence and respect of 22,000 defined the moment.

Of his visit, President Nelson simply stated, the Lord “loves these people, and they love their Savior, their Redeemer and their Lord. The Church is growing in all of Latin America, and we are honored and blessed to serve along with them.”