From Gregory Hulka: Members of the Church in southern Honduras were blessed by the visit of President Gordon B. Hinckley to Tegucigalpa on Saturday, November 21, 1998. Pres. Hinckley arrived in Tegucigalpa Saturday morning after visiting earlier with the Saints in Managua, Nicaragua and in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. He spoke under mostly sunny skies to a large outdoor gathering of approximately 7,500 members of the Church at the National Stadium, which sits high on a bank of the Choluteca River near downtown Tegucigalpa, the scene of much flooding and destruction during Hurricane Mitch. Major cleanup of the downtown area is still underway and several times during the conference, helicopters flew overhead presumably carrying relief supplies or equipment to other parts of the country.
President Hinckley was accompanied by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve, Presiding Bishop David Burton and all three members of the Central America Area Presidency: Elders William Bradford, Lynn Robbins, and Julio Alvarado. Elder Alvarado conducted the meeting, which began shortly before 10:00 a.m., and all of the visitors spoke. Stake presidents from eleven stakes and the two mission presidents and their wives, Kim Beckstead of the Tegucigalpa Mission and Roberto Ocampo of the Comayaguela Mission, also sat on the stand. The following is a rough paraphrasing of President Hinckley's talk as best as I was able to hear it and make notes:
President Hinckley told the Honduran members he had come to offer them words of comfort and assurance. He had awaken at 3:00 a.m. the previous Tuesday and began to think about the great tragedy that had befallen "our people" in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. He had a strong feeling that he should come here to visit. That morning (November 17) he called his secretary, Brother Staheli, who contacted President Bradford and soon everything was in order for his trip. President Hinckley told the members he had flown five hours in a jet to get to Central America so he could look at the people and tell them face to face of his love and concern for them and of his desire to be helpful. President Hinckley said he knew of the food and clothing and medicines that already had been delivered by the Church following the hurricane, but he felt the need to visit in person. He thanked the Chiquita Banana company and the U.S. Air Force for offering a ship and a large plane to transport quantities of Church aid from the U.S. He said the Church has also used commercial carriers to bring what the people here needed.
President Hinckley assured those in attendance that the Church has not forgotten them, but that they, and their comfort and well-being, are very important to the Church. "We want to assist you in the way the Lord has provided." The Prophet expressed gratitude to Bishop Burton for organizing his people to respond to the disaster. He gave deep appreciation to the Area Presidency and their associates for working day and night to help the members. He thanked the stake presidencies who have been faithful and wise. And he thanked the bishops and their counselors, saying he is profoundly grateful for the bishops of this Church who work on a volunteer basis with inspiration and love to help those in need. He characterized the bishops of the Church as the most wonderful group of men in all the world. He was aware of bishops who had gone out in the middle of the night to help those in distress. He also thanked the full-time missionaries who set aside their normal missionary duties to work with shovels to help move mud.
President Hinckley thanked the Lord that with all the distress we have suffered, the loss of life among our people was so small. He noted that with thousands, even 10,000, who have died, we have lost not more than four members of the Church. He declared that it was a miracle of the blessing of the Lord on us and that we should be thankful that our lives were spared by the terrible storm. He was grateful that all of the missionaries' lives were spared. He noted that though he wasn't here and couldn't quite understand what they had passed through, he imagined that the people must have been frightened. You must have wondered, he said, like those in the days of Noah when the waters began to rise, if the rain would ever stop.
President Hinckley told the members they might ask, "Why do these things come?", and answered that he didn't know, but that the Lord has said they will come. In Matthew 24 the Lord himself said terrible things would come -- wars, rumors of wars, quakes, tempests, great destruction by the elements. Mormon had said that before the coming of the Lord there would be great calamities, tumults, distress, suffering, quakes, and vapors across the land. The Prophet said, "I think we are living in that time." There is famine in Africa and trouble across the earth, and these terrible storms across Central America. He hoped we would be a more righteous people as a result of that which we have passed through. He noted how helpless man is when nature goes on a rampage. There is little we can do. But Heavenly Father is the great ruling power of the Earth. We must put our trust in Him and walk in obedience to His commandments. It is the only safety we have. We can't tell where these disasters will strike across the earth. He urged those in attendance to "let us as a result of this experience live nearer to the Lord and be more worthy of His blessings."
With great emphasis, President Hinckley said, "I want to say this: The Church will never let you down." He assured the members that if the Church has any resources, "it will stand by you in your times of need with food, clothing, medicine, and to help you with your homes." But he said it all must be done according to the pattern of the Lord. He noted that it is the bishops and the Relief Society presidents who become judges of what assistance will be given and said that it will be through the bishop's order. He declared that the Lord has inspired the Church to establish programs to assist those in need and distress. He declared, "You are our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and friends. We are under obligation to help you as you need help."
President Hinckley noted that when the Lord was asked what was the first and great commandment, he responded that it was to love the Lord thy God with all thy might, mind and strength and that the second was like unto it: to love thy neighbor as thyself. President Hinckley repeated his point, "You are our neighbors." We live far away, but you are our neighbors. He told the members that they and he were part of a great family of ten million across the earth. He promised that with love and respect for one another "we shall help you as you need help."
President Hinckley said he had been in San Pedro Sula the previous day in a chapel that was being used as a warehouse for stacks of clothing and food basics ("not enough for fancy food, but to sustain life"). He emphasized again his conviction that God has blessed us and protected us through this catastrophe. He assured those present that through His Church, God will continue to bless them according to their need after they have done all they can. He said he had seen the great quantities of mud and water. He saw the homes that had fallen and the marks left by water that had risen to the top of windows. He noted that there is yet much work to be done and challenged the congregation to put their shoulder to the wheel and work as hard as they could.
The Prophet said this would be a memory that we would never forget. He hoped that it would serve to remind us of the great blessings of the Lord in preserving our lives and of the helpfulness that has been granted us. He challenged the Saints to live the gospel more than ever before, to live the law of tithing, paying an honest ten percent no matter how little their earnings may be, to live the law of the fast and go without two meals each month, contributing the value to the bishop to bless the poor. He urged the members to feel generous and go beyond that (fast offering) to the extent possible.
Declaring once more that there can be no doubt that we are a blessed people, President Hinckley then left his blessing on the Honduran Saints in words that were reminiscent of the prophetic blessing he pronounced during his first visit to Tegucigalpa in January 1997: President Hinckley blessed the Saints that they might have food on their table, clothes on their backs, shelter over their heads, and peace, gratitude, and love in their hearts. He then left his testimony of the divinity of this work, which he declared was not his work, nor Brother Perry's, nor Bishop Burton's, nor that of the area presidency. "It is the work of the Almighty God under the direction of his living son, the Lord Jesus Christ." He asked the members to be a prayerful, thankful people and admonished them that as they returned home to meditate on the great blessings that are theirs. He called on everyone to get on their knees that night to thank the Lord for his goodness. He encouraged them to go to the House of the Lord the next day to renew their covenants through the sacrament that He would be their God and they would be His people. After closing, he bid farewell with "God be with you 'til we meet again" and "Muchas gracias". Leaving the stand, President Hinckley waved his handkerchief to the Saints and blew them a kiss. The crowd responded reverently by waving their white handkerchiefs and remained standing until the President's car had left the stadium. Those who did not have handkerchiefs used white kleenex. One little girl who could find nothing else took off her white sock to wave goodbye to the Prophet.
Members of the Church from all over southern Honduras attended the special meeting and were deeply touched by President Hinckley's words of love and support. They do not doubt that the Prophet loves them and that the Lord has blessed them and spared their lives.