Central America: 'Hastening the work of salvation'
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“You are working at a time when the Lord’s work is greatly hastened,” Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told a group of more than 700 missionaries from three different missions in Guatemala City during a recent trip to Central America.
“Hastening the work of salvation” was a common theme during Elder Cook’s visit to the area. He was accompanied by his wife, Sister Mary Cook, along with Elder Ulisses Soares of the Presidency of the Seventy, and his wife, Sister Rosana Soares. Also participating was the Central America Area Presidency: Elder Carlos H. Amado, Elder Kevin R. Duncan and Elder Adrian Ochoa and their wives, Sister Mayavel Amado, Sister Nancy Duncan and Sister Nancy Ochoa.
The Brethren visited and spoke with missionaries, local leaders and more than 10,000 members in person and thousands more via the Internet in gatherings across the area from Jan. 17-26. They were joined in their various duties by several Area Seventies, including Elder Pedro E. Abularach, Elder German Laboriel, Elder Cesar A. Morales, Elder Ricardo Valladares, Elder Alejandro Lopez, Elder Angel Duarte, Elder Jared R. Ocampo, Elder Jose E. Maravilla, Elder Sam M. Galvez and Elder Valeri V. Cordon.
Elder Cook returned from his Central American tour impressed and inspired by the day-to-day devotion of the members — and the capacity and dedication of the area presidency and the local leaders.
“Central America is a strong area of the world that is growing in convert baptisms and activity of the members,” he told the Church News. “Remarkable things are happening there. The whole area is a great example of the hastening of the work in the Church.”
The Central American members, he noted, are being shepherded during this pivotal period by an area presidency that is accomplishing wonderful work.
“The Central America Area Presidency is teaching, training and testifying in a way that is building the kingdom in that region of the world,” Elder Cook said.
The area president, Elder Amado, for example, has spent almost a quarter-century serving faithfully as a Seventy in several corners of the world. The Guatemalan native was called as Central America’s first General Authority in 1989. “Elder Amado has been an absolutely incredible General Authority for all of the time that he has served,” Elder Cook said. “He has a way of teaching that is powerful, doctrinal, interesting and, when appropriate, funny. He grabs the hearts of people and he lifts their faith.”
Such steady service, Elder Cook added, has earned Elder and Sister Amado the love and respect of countless members. “They have won the hearts of people throughout Latin America.”
Besides conducting a thorough review of the area, Elder Cook and the other visiting authorities presided over a variety of meetings with missionaries, local leaders and members. There they witnessed the global opportunities of the gospel working in the lives of individual Latter-day Saints.
In speaking to a group of employees in a meeting that originated in Guatemala City and was transmitted live via the Internet to Church service centers in Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, Elder Cook said, “In Central America we have three new temples and three new missions. You are helping to hasten the work. You are laboring in the vineyard. Hastening the work combines both missionary work and work for the dead,” he told the more than 400 employees in the various locations.
During a special stake conference in Momostenango, Guatemala, Elder Cook told the congregation that they have a duty to share the word of Jesus Christ in Guatemala. He also emphasized that the organization of heaven will be families and encouraged members to do their family history work for their own families.
Elder Cook frequently took time to shake the hands of members and missionaries. After shaking hands with hundreds of missionaries in the Montufar chapel in Guatemala City, he said, “It was wonderful to shake your hands and look into your eyes. I will tell the Twelve when I report back to them how I felt when I shook your hands.” Such interactions, he said, “are a precious thing.”
During the Montufar chapel meeting, Elder Cook emphasized four topics of counsel to missionaries:
1. You have been called as emissaries of the Savior, so love His children. Love all people.
2. Love and respect your companion.
3. Love your mission president and his wife.
4. Love the Lord.
Elder Cook noted, “There has never been a time when it is more important for you to become part of the wards and branches where you are assigned. Know the people. Be a part of the spiritual direction of the ward.”
The Church leader told the missionaries at the missionary training center in Guatemala City, “As one of the apostles, my most important reason for being here is to bear testimony of Jesus Christ and the Atonement. The Atonement overcomes death and, with repentance, it can overcome sin.”
Elder Cook enjoyed meeting with other large congregations of faithful, dedicated Latter-day Saints in El Salvador and Costa Rica, while Elder Soares was warmly received by members at gatherings in Honduras and Nicaragua.
While speaking to the missionaries from the San Pedro Sula East and the San Pedro Sula West missions in Honduras, Elder Soares taught from the Book of Ether. He said that the Brother of Jared hewed out the stones in great faith so that the Lord could do what was necessary to provide light in the barges. (See Ether 3:1-6.)
“Think of your missions as the rock,” he continued. “You have to cut [the rock] by planning, working, studying and obeying. The stones represent all the work that we can do in the mission. After we have done all that we can do, we ask the Lord to touch the stones so that we can see the miracles.”
He added that the Central American members are blessed to serve in a time when the Lord is hastening His work.
On Thursday, Jan. 23, Sister Soares spoke to a capacity crowd of youth at a special devotional in the El Benque chapel in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. She related the Bible story about Moses enabling the children of Israel to prevail in battle against the Amalekites by holding up his arms. She counseled the young people that their motto should be “the Lord is my standard.” Like the children of Israel, they will lose their battles if they lower their standards.
Sister Cook delighted many groups of missionaries in Central America as she shared her love for music with them and directed them in singing an intermediate hymn. In Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, she asked the missionaries to think of hymns that express obedience, one of the Christ-like attributes listed in chapter six of Preach My Gospel. She said, “It’s a lifelong journey to become perfected in Christ. The Holy Ghost can bring a hymn or song to our minds when we need it. The work is hastening. You are part of an army that is teaching the nations.”
Speaking to a group of new missionaries at the missionary training center in Guatemala City, Elder Amado talked about the calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith and said, “This work is urgent, and the apostles and prophets are focused on it.”
He encouraged missionaries to be happy so that investigators will want to be as happy as they are.
In Managua, Nicaragua, Elder Soares and Elder Ochoa instructed a large gathering of mission, stake and ward leaders on the purpose and effectiveness of strong councils. They encouraged participation from the congregation with questions and answers. Elder Soares asked mission presidents to stand and explain their roles in helping to teach both non-members and less active members.
He then had bishops stand. He said, “You preside over the work of salvation in your wards. Who helps you?” He asked all of the ward leaders to stand and said to the bishops, “I want you to understand that you are not alone in this work. All of us can help you.”
Some families living in the Central America Area face “great challenges” providing for their families, noted Elder Cook. “But spiritually they are absolutely magnificent. They are hard working and there is continuous improvement — both in their spirituality and in their temporal situation.”
In a Church News interview, he marveled at the number of young men and young women in Central America who have answered President Thomas S. Monson’s invitation to serve missions and forward the work.
“What a special privilege it is to see them working together in love and unity and harmony.”
Central America, he added, can truly be called a land of temples. Six temples are operating in the region, stretching from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, to Panama City, Panama.
“The work for the living and the work for the dead are both hastening at the same time, and the people are responding,” said Elder Cook. “The Central American members love their temples. They are doing family history work and going to the temple for their own endowments and for their ancestors. That’s marvelous to behold.”