“President Hinckley Visits Members in Florida, Central America,” Ensign, Apr. 1997, 74–74
In the first trip to Central America by a President of the Church in two decades, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited that area from 19 to 26 January. During his week-long travels, he visited seven countries, met with almost 88,000 members and missionaries, gave 19 major addresses, met with government officials in Costa Rica and Honduras, and gave 3 press interviews. En route he attended the 19 January conference of the Jacksonville Florida West Stake, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first stake in Florida.
Accompanying President Hinckley on this tour were his wife, Marjorie, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Dantzel. Several times throughout the trip, Elder Nelson delighted audiences by speaking to them in Spanish, their native tongue.
Elder William R. Bradford of the Seventy, Central America Area President, and his wife, Mary Ann, accompanied the group throughout its visits to Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Assisting President Hinckley during the regional conference in Guatemala were Elders Lino Alvarez and Julio E. Alvarado, counselors in the Area Presidency.
More than 5,000 members from the six stakes within the boundaries of the original Florida Stake attended two sessions of conference and heard President Hinckley talk about pioneers. President Hinckley reminded those in attendance of the sacrifices of early Latter-day Saint leaders in the South, including Elder Charles A. Callis, a former president of the Southern States Mission and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, who helped organize the first stake a half century earlier.
“It was the great crown of his life to see a stake in the South,” President Hinckley observed, “this part of the world which he loved so dearly, among the people whom he loved so dearly.”
President Hinckley then urged those in attendance to be pioneers themselves. “Today there are 100,000 members of the Church in this great state of Florida,” he said. “There are 22 stakes, there are four missions, and there is a beautiful temple in Orlando. You are part of the great growth of this Church across the world. …
“We have an obligation, a great work to do,” he continued. “We cannot stand still; we have to move forward. It is imperative we do so.”
Those attending the conference filled the chapel, cultural hall, and overflow areas, including classrooms. In addition, a large tent was erected in the parking lot, where more members gathered.
Panama City, Panama
Following his stop in Florida, President Hinckley traveled to Panama City, Panama, where on Monday, 20 January, he spoke to more than 3,000 members gathered for a 9:00 A.M. meeting.
“When you were baptized,” he told those in attendance, “you set aside things of the world. Each Sabbath day when you partake of the sacrament, you renew that covenant which binds you to your Father in Heaven.”
In Panama, as in Florida, President Hinckley spoke of the sacrifices made by early members of the Church. He told the story of Sister Hinckley’s grandmother, Mary Goble, who crossed the plains as a teenager as part of the Hodgett wagon train that accompanied the ill-fated Willie and Martin Handcart Companies, suffering frostbite and eventual amputation of her toes.
“Be grateful for the pioneers,” he said. “Today we are beneficiaries of their great faith. From their establishment in the mountains there has gone forth the blessings of the restored gospel to the peoples of the earth.”
President Hinckley also urged the members to be worthy of a temple recommend. “Having a temple recommend will be … a reminder of your faithfulness. If you are not qualified to receive one, today is the day to resolve to qualify yourselves.”
Following his meeting with the members, President Hinckley and those traveling with him met with 177 missionaries serving in the Panama Panama City Mission.
San José, Costa Rica
That afternoon, President Hinckley and his party flew to San José, Costa Rica. First he met with more than 200 missionaries serving in the area, reminding them that thousands of people around the world were praying for them.
Next President Hinckley met with José Maria Figueres, president of Costa Rica. During that visit, President Hinckley spoke with gratitude of the warm welcome extended to the missionaries serving in the country. Along with Elders Nelson and Bradford, President Hinckley presented a copy of the proclamation on the family to President Figueres.
Then President Hinckley met with more than 6,000 members, calling them the “strength of the Church in Costa Rica” and emphasizing the importance of fellowshipping new converts.
“Every one of us has an obligation to fellowship those people, to put our arms around them … in full activity,” he said. “We must reach out each day. I wish with all my heart that in Costa Rica every man, woman, and child who is baptized would remain faithful and active. That can happen if all 6,000 of you make up your minds to reach out and help the new convert. … They cannot do it alone. … They need your help. Only as we reach out to help others are we truly Latter-day Saints.”
He concluded his remarks by encouraging those present to live the gospel. “Let us live our lives in such a way that people will notice us and be constrained to follow us,” he said.
Approximately 21,000 members live in Nicaragua, where President Hinckley and his group went next, meeting with 2,400 members in a 9:00 A.M. meeting on 21 January.
“How we love you,” the Church leader told those in attendance, as he spoke of the importance of testimony and loyalty and belief in the Church. He acknowledged the many challenges the members face, saying, “I know that you have many problems in your lives. You wonder where your next meal is coming from. You have suffered so much in years that have passed. I am grateful better days are here. I hope and pray the blessings of the Lord will be poured down on you.”
Speaking with some emotion, he continued, “The Lord loves you and He looks upon you with a great love. … I will never forget this wonderful sight in the city of Managua, Nicaragua.” Calling the Church a great anchor in a world of unbelief, President Hinckley told the audience that the Church of Jesus Christ was there “to help you, to educate you, to provide social opportunity for you, to give you the word of the living God.”
While in Nicaragua, President Hinckley also met with missionaries serving in the Nicaragua Managua Mission, as well as with the area’s district presidents.
Next the Church leader traveled to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. First on his agenda was a meeting with the 191 missionaries serving in the Honduras San Pedro Sula Mission.
“It is important that [new members] be so well converted that they will never leave the Church they have taken upon themselves,” he told the missionaries. “That they will remain faithful, active, and diligent, living the gospel and doing everything expected of them as Latter-day Saints. Please, please, please be sure your baptisms are converts to the Church.”
In a meeting that evening, President Hinckley spoke to more than 8,000 members gathered at the National Stadium. “I hope [the Church] is the greatest thing in your lives,” he said. “I hope you live it, love it, pray about it, send your sons and daughters in the mission field for it, and serve in it wherever you are called.”
On 22 January, President Hinckley arrived in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. Here he was interviewed by a press representative of La Tribuna, met with 224 missionaries serving in the Honduras Tegucigalpa Mission, paid a courtesy visit to James E. Creagan, U.S. ambassador to Honduras, and held a fireside with more than 15,000 Saints in an outdoor soccer stadium.
In his interview with La Tribuna, President Hinckley explained that the Church encourages its members to be involved in the political process and to exercise their franchise. When asked what his message to the people of Honduras would be, he replied: “Be good people. Live together in peace. Respect one another. Work together with appreciation for one another. If we as a church can do anything to help in these matters, we wish to do so. We hope our people are a credit to this nation and invite all people to come and learn and become a part of us.”
In his meeting with the missionaries, he encouraged those who were learning a new language. “Spanish has become the second language of the Church,” he explained. “Never lose that skill.”
He then met with Mr. Creagan, who asked about missionary work in Honduras and acknowledged the Church’s humanitarian assistance during serious flooding in the San Pedro Sula area.
That evening, President Hinckley met with thousands of members in an outdoor meeting. He spoke of the knowledge and opportunities available to Church members: “When you were baptized into this Church, there came upon you … an understanding of the great and sacred things of God. You are a chosen generation, my brethren and sisters, preserved in the great plan of the Almighty to come forth in this day and time to receive the blessings of the eternal gospel. Be grateful to the Lord for the light and knowledge and understanding of His marvelous revelations in this day and season.”
San Salvador, El Salvador
Next the group flew to San Salvador, El Salvador, where President Hinckley was interviewed by a reporter from La Prensa Gráfica. He also met with 374 missionaries from the El Salvador San Salvador East and West Missions.
During his meeting with the missionaries, President Hinckley spoke of his earlier interview with the press reporter: “He asked me, ‘What do your missionaries have to offer to the people of El Salvador?’ I told him you offer a better way of life! They do not realize they are sons and daughters of God whose lives can be rich and wonderful and purposeful. You have the Word of Wisdom to offer. You offer them a better way of life with their families. You have the great blessings of the house of the Lord to offer to every man and woman who lives worthy of this marvelous thing. … You offer the way of eternal life with all the happiness, with all the joy that God our Eternal Father would wish His children to have.”
That evening President Hinckley met with approximately 10,000 members, many who had traveled hundreds of miles. During his address, President Hinckley spoke to the parents in the congregation. “Fathers and mothers, you have nothing more precious than the little children to whom you have given life. Take care of them, teach them, love them, rear them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. God will hold those accountable who do not do so.”
The group spent the last two days of their Central American travels in Guatemala, where more than 35,000 members listened to addresses in two sessions of the Guatemala City Central–North regional conference. In conjunction with the conference, President Hinckley spoke at a priesthood leadership meeting attended by some 1,000 leaders from 12 stakes. He also addressed a gathering of 700 missionaries and held a press interview.
In his remarks in the concluding session of the conference, President Hinckley bore his testimony about the importance of the Word of Wisdom, tithing, and the priesthood. He spoke about the importance of the missionary program, observing that “every one of you, with very few exceptions, is a convert to this Church, and what a difference it has made in your life.”
He emphasized the importance of the temple. “We have in this land the only temple in all of Central America,” he said. “Are not the other nations just as deserving? But it was determined to build it here, and here it stands for you to use. I hold in my hand a temple recommend. I have one; Elder Nelson has one; Elder Bradford has one. We all must have a temple recommend. … I hope that every adult would secure a temple recommend and treasure it and live worthy of it and use it.”
The following people contributed to the report of President Hinckley’s travels in Central America: Luis Alvarez, Patricia de Fuentes, José Alberto Santos, Angel Manuel Valle, Sandra Jaar, President Darryl Townsend, Jenny Diaz, Mario Gabriel Jimenez, and Romelia Garcia.