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Even as members in Haiti labor to build a promising future for their faith and families, they remain grateful for the church's humble beginnings — and the pivotal, historic role of a prophet in their island nation.
It was three decades ago that President Thomas S. Monson — then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve — visited Haiti and dedicated the land for the preaching of the restored gospel. Since that time, the Haitian members and their neighbors have endured staggering economic struggles and, three years ago, a devastating earthquake.
But when Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve recently visited Haiti, he was welcomed by devout, hopeful Latter-day Saints who are dedicating their lives to gospel service. With Elder Andersen speaking in all the meetings in French, the members for the first time heard the gospel from a member of the Quorum of the Twelve without translation. The apostle was in Haiti on assignment in the church's Caribbean Area that included an area review, and meetings with local priesthood leaders, missionaries and members throughout the Caribbean region.
Elder Andersen was accompanied on much of his Feb. 8 through Feb. 14 visit of the Caribbean Area by his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen. Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy, and his wife, Sister Melanie Rasband, joined them for the 10-day visit. Members of the Caribbean Area Presidency — Elder Wilford W. Andersen, Elder J. Devn Cornish and Elder Claudio D. Zivic — also participated in many of the meetings.
"Elder [Neil L.] Andersen's visit to Haiti will never be forgotten by the members of the church," Elder Wilford W. Andersen said. "He shook their hands, expressed his love, and gave them inspired counsel in a language they understood."
The assignment included leadership training and missionary and member meetings in Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Many regions of the Caribbean Area are still writing their maiden chapters of church history, and "pioneers" can be found throughout the many congregations and missions.
Elder Neil L. Andersen's visit to Haiti commemorated the church's 30-year anniversary in the country. On Feb. 12, Elder and Sister Andersen and a large group of Haitian members drove high above the capital city of Port au Prince to Mt. Boutillier — the mountain site where Elder Monson delivered his dedicatory prayer.
There Elder Andersen presided over the unveiling of a commemorative plaque that will serve as a permanent reminder of the beginnings of the church in Haiti. The members who gathered for the unveiling ceremony were thrilled to view a televised message from President Monson that was recorded prior to the event.
In his message, President Monson said his duties precluded him from being in Haiti in person, "but my heart is surely with you as we reflect together on the remarkable progress of the kingdom of God in your country, as well as on the blessings that we all enjoy as children of our Heavenly Father."
The church president noted the growth that had occurred in Haiti since his 1983 visit when the church was in its infancy.
"Now, with nearly 20,000 members in four stakes and three districts, the Church is becoming a great blessing to the country of Haiti and to her people," he said. "Thousands of faithful families kneel together daily in family prayer to thank God for His blessings and to seek His protection. I know that those prayers are heard and answered."
He went on to note the number of youth attending seminary and institute and serving full-time missions. "Surely, our Heavenly Father is honoring and answering the dedicatory prayer it was my privilege to offer those long years ago."
President Monson concluded his message, saying "glorious days" await the members who keep their sacred covenants.
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