Church History
“My Calling Helped Me a Lot”

“‘My Calling Helped Me a Lot,’” Global Histories: Guatemala (2018)

“‘My Calling Helped Me a Lot,’” Global Histories: Guatemala

“My Calling Helped Me a Lot”

When Pablo Choc joined the Church in 1960, he was among the first indigenous Kaqchikel people to accept the restored gospel. The small branch in Patzicía met in a small rented hall, and Choc was content to sit near the back of the meetings. To his surprise, within a few short years he was called as branch president. A man of limited education, Choc felt overwhelmed by the call.

Though he felt inadequate, Choc worked diligently. He was asked to find a place to build a meetinghouse for the rapidly growing branch. He eventually purchased property, and, with supplies provided by the Church, branch members built the first meetinghouse in Patzicía. Choc was employed as the building’s caretaker.

In 1966 Pablo Choc; his wife, Augustina; and their five children joined many other Latter-day Saints from Guatemala and El Salvador on a seven-day journey by bus to the temple in Mesa, Arizona. There the Choc family received their patriarchal blessings, participated in testimony meetings with Spanish-speaking members in Arizona, and, finally, received the endowment and sealing ordinances in the temple. The trip filled Choc with a renewed commitment to serve in the Church. “I made the decision to work harder,” he later recalled. After serving briefly as the district secretary, he was again called as branch president.

On February 4, 1976, a catastrophic earthquake that measured 7.5 on the Richter scale struck Guatemala. Patzicía was at the center of the devastation. Homes and other buildings throughout the city were leveled. Choc’s own home collapsed, and his pregnant wife and their two youngest children were killed. After digging out their bodies from the rubble, Choc was informed that the meetinghouse had collapsed, and a missionary named Randall Ellsworth was pinned beneath a massive roof beam.

Finding comfort in the knowledge that his family had been sealed for eternity, Choc went to work to help the members of his branch. He went to the meetinghouse to help free Ellsworth.

Ellsworth and his companion had been sleeping on the stage in the cultural hall when the earthquake struck. Unable to lift the 60-ton concrete and steel beam, the members spent six hours cutting the stage floor beneath him and then lowered him to safety. Paralyzed from the waist down, Ellsworth was rushed to Panama for surgery before returning to the United States.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, members and missionaries helped their neighbors clear debris and rebuild. Choc’s son Daniel was removing rubble in Patzún when a wall near him collapsed. Crushed under the wall, Daniel soon succumbed to his injuries. When news of Daniel’s death reached Choc, he was working at the meetinghouse. “In total, I buried four members of my family,” Choc later recalled. “My calling helped me a lot,” he reflected. “I helped other members that needed my help.”

Patzicía Branch meeting on the basketball court

The branch meeting on the basketball court near the collapsed meetinghouse, February 1976.

Rather than rebuilding the meetinghouse, the Church focused on helping members rebuild their homes. Under Choc’s direction, members rebuilt many homes destroyed in the earthquake, using supplies provided by the Church. The branch met on the basketball court near the meetinghouse, using blankets to enclose the space. This makeshift structure was used for nearly three years.

Six months after the earthquake, Randall Ellsworth returned to his mission. “I knew if the prophet had called me for two years,” he told a reporter, “I could come back and finish my mission.” Ellsworth’s first assignment was in Patzicía. When he arrived, walking with the assistance of two canes, he and Pablo Choc embraced and prayed together.