Elder Ulisses Soares was scheduled to preside over a stake conference in El Salvador the morning of his departure following a nine-day Central America ministry.
But the stake was located two hours away from San Salvador, and he needed to leave for the airport around 10:30 a.m. If Elder Soares went to the conference, he wouldn’t make his flight.
“So do you know what they did?” asked Elder Soares, recounting the experience. “They rented buses. They brought everybody to a chapel by the temple, a central location that was closer to the airport. And they brought 700-plus people.”
The Salvadoran members were willing to do whatever it took to have an opportunity to listen to the words of Christ through one of His Apostles, he said.
“When I entered the building, 30 minutes before the beginning of the stake conference meeting, all of these members who had traveled a considerable distance were seated in the chapel reverently waiting to begin the meeting.
“I just felt the power of the Spirit emanating from those people. It was a beautiful experience that I will never forget.”
The sacrifice of these members was representative of what Elder Soares saw in the Central American membership of the Church: “I was really impressed by their spiritual resilience,” he said. “There is so much goodness in them.”
Elder Soares and his wife, Sister Rosana Soares, visited Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador from Feb. 7-16. They were accompanied by Elder José A. Teixeira of the Presidency of the Seventy, and his wife, Sister Filomena Teixeira, along with members of the Central America Area presidency, Elder Juan A. Uceda, Elder Brian K. Taylor and Elder Alan R. Walker.
Throughout his visit, Elder Soares ministered to Latter-day Saints during leadership meetings, missionary meetings, stake conferences and member devotionals. He also met with government and interfaith leaders and media.
Latter-day Saints in Central America
Central America is home to 802,075 members of the Church and six temples — Guatemala City Guatemala, Quetzaltenango Guatemala, Tegucigalpa Honduras, Panama City Panama, San Salvador El Salvador and San José Costa Rica.
A second temple for Honduras has been announced (San Pedro Sula) and a third for Guatemala (Cobán). A temple in Managua, Nicaragua, will also be built.
In reference to the third temple being built in Guatemala, Elder Soares said, “For the size of the country, you see the strength of these people.”
While ministering to Latter-day Saints in Guatemala City, Elder and Sister Soares participated in a special family broadcast to all Central America Area members on Feb. 9.
“As I contemplated what to say to our members in Guatemala, I felt impressed to address how we can live in this world, facing challenges every day, and yet still come closer to Christ,” Elder Soares wrote in an Instagram post after the broadcast.
During a meeting with local leaders in Costa Rica on Feb. 13, Elder Soares extended an invitation from then-Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the October 2013 general conference — “pray, personally and in your family, for missionary opportunities.”
“The response from that group of leaders was so positive,” Elder Soares said. “They were so excited about seeing the Church grow in that country.”
For many in Central America, life is tough. In El Salvador, for example, members often move from one neighborhood to another due to gang violence, Elder Soares said. And many of the Area Seventies and stake presidents he met with were teenagers or young adults during El Salvador’s civil war, which lasted 12 years.
“But in the middle of all this, these people have faith because they are so resilient,” he said. “They want to do what the Lord asked them to do. They try to follow direction they receive from prophets, seers and revelators and their local leaders. And they just find joy in what they do in the Church.”
Reflecting on the challenges and hardships they face, Elder Soares said, “I cannot complain about anything in my life. I just can’t.”
“The people in Central America have reverence for spiritual things,” said Elder Teixeira, remembering the members’ countenances during their meetings. “This is a place where faith in Jesus Christ is part of the DNA of the people. You see it all over.”
Elder Teixeira added, “I came away with this wonderful feeling that the future of the Church is bright, and it will continue to grow.”
Government and interfaith leaders
“The visit of Elder Soares to our area gave many Saints the opportunity to receive a powerful testimony of a member of the Twelve,” Elder Uceda said. “As he met with several religious and political leaders, he opened doors for our Church. His visit was a real blessing to us.”
While in Guatemala City, Elder Soares met with President Alejandro Giammattei in the Guatemala National Palace on Feb. 11. They spoke about President Giammattei’s initiatives and his thoughts on humanitarian efforts and nutrition of the children in the country.
“I think he can bless the lives of the people in Guatemala through his service to the nation,” said Elder Soares of President Giammattei. “And we as a Church, we want to join him in his effort to help people here in Guatemala through humanitarian initiatives that we have already implemented in this beautiful country.”
Watching Elder Soares bear testimony to the president of Guatemala was a highlight for Elder Teixeira. “It was a great blessing to be with Elder Soares, to see him minister to all kinds of people, from heads of state to common members of the Church,” he said. “It was just a remarkable thing to see Elder Soares in action in his sacred calling.”
Elder Soares also met with Guatemalan journalist Brenda Martinez, who interviewed him about the importance of family. The published article highlights keys to achieving a united family in which harmony resides.
While in Costa Rica, Elder Soares met with Carlos Benavides Jiménez, the president of Costa Rica’s legislative assembly, in the capital city of San José on Feb. 14.
When presented with a small statue of the Savior, Elder Soares said he had tears in his eyes. “He valued that so much because of his Christianity,” he said.
Elder Soares also met with Archbishop José Rafael Quirós, who leads the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Archdiocese of San José, and whom Elder Soares described as “a very good friend of the Church.”
Accompanying Elder Soares to Costa Rica was a special privilege, Elder Walker said. He noted Elder Soares’ humble, Christlike manner in interacting with members and nonmembers alike.
“Elder Soares has a special sympathy and warmness when reaching out to friends of the Church, including government officials and interfaith leaders,” Elder Walker said. “He is able to relate to others and extend a hand of friendship even to those who believe differently. Elder Soares is a true minister and an especial witness of Jesus Christ.”
Of traveling with his wife, Elder Soares said, “You cannot describe the joy you feel when you have your wife with you, supporting and helping and sharing her feelings with everything that is happening. It was a blessing.”
He also expressed gratitude for the companionship of Elder and Sister Teixeira. Because of their conversion stories and experiences in the Church, “people connect with them so easily,” he said.