On February 4, 1976, a terrible 7.9 earthquake shook Guatemala. It was said to be the largest earthquake in Central America in modern history. The epicenter was near the Honduras border and was felt for hundreds of miles. The towns of Patzicia and Chimaltenango were hit the hardest. More than 22,000 people were killed, including 24 members of the Church. Thousands more were injured. Hundreds of thousands were left homeless.
For photographs of some of the desolation, see: http://stargate.jpl.nasa.gov:1080/inv/hazards/eqhousin/geq0027.jpb http://stargate.jpl.nasa.gov:1080/inv/hazards/eqhousin/geq0025.jpb
Elder Randall Ellsworth and his companion had been sleeping in the Patzicia chapel when the quake it. A beam hurled down on Elder Ellsworth's back, pinning him for a time, crushing his back. He was very seriously injured. His legs were paralyzed and he had kidney damage. But if he and his companion had instead been sleeping in the small house that they had been using, they would have been killed. The chapel was a complete loss.
Elder Ellsworth was taken to Guatemala City for emergency medical treatment and later flown to a hospital near his home in Rockville, Maryland.
In October 1976 General Conference, Elder Thomas S. Monson related: "A television newscaster conducted with Randall an interview which I witnessed through the miracle of television. The reporter asked, 'Can you walk?' The answer, 'Not yet, but I will.' 'Do you think you will be able to complete your mission?' Came the reply, 'Others think not, but I will.'"
Elder Ellsworth received a letter from President Spencer W. Kimball. He told the reporter that he would cherish this letter. "With him praying for me, and the prayers of my family, my friends, and my missionary companions, I will return to Guatemala. The Lord wanted me to preach the gospel there for two years, and that's what I intend to do."
President Monson said: "And God did not forget him who possessed an humble and a contrite heart, even Elder Randall Ellsworth. Little by little the feeling in his legs began to return. In his own words, Randall described the recovery: 'The thing I did was always to keep busy, always pushing myself. In the hospital I asked to do therapy twice a day instead of just once. I wanted to walk again on my own.'"
Soon, the Missionary Committee authorized the return of Elder Ellsworth to Guatemala. He recalled: "At first I was so happy I didn't know what to do. Then I went into my bedroom and I started to cry. Then I dropped to my knees and thanked my Heavenly Father."
In about August, 1976, just six months after the earthquake, Elder Randall Ellsworth returned to his mission in Guatemala.
"On his return to Guatemala, Randall Ellsworth supported himself with the help of two canes. His walk was slow and deliberate. Then one day [in 1977], as he stood before his mission president [Guatemalan pioneer, John Forres O'Donnal], Elder Ellsworth heard these almost unbelievable words spoken to him. 'You have been the recipient of a miracle,' said the mission president. 'Your faith has been rewarded. If you have the necessary confidence, if you have abiding faith, if you have supreme courage, place those two canes on my desk and walk.' After a long pause, first one cane and then the other was placed on the desk, and a missionary walked. It was halting, it was painful--but he walked, never again to need the canes." (Thomas S. Monson, General Conference, October 1986)
In 1986, Randall Ellsworth received his Doctor of Medicine degree from Georgetown University.
In 1989, Elder Monson further said: "John Forres O'Donnal visited my office not long ago and, in his modest manner, recounted his experience with Randall Ellsworth. He then said to me, 'Together we have witnessed a miracle. I have kept one of the two canes placed upon my desk that day when I challenged Elder Ellsworth to walk without them. I would like you to have the other.' With a friendly smile, he departed the office and returned home to Guatemala. This is the cane given to me. It serves as a silent witness of our Heavenly Father's ability to hear our prayers and to bless our lives. It is a symbol of faith. It is a reminder of courage." (Thomas S. Monson, General Conference, April, 1989)