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Photo courtesy of Central America Area
Elder Ronald A. Rasband, right, presents a statuette of "The Christus" to Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega and his wife, First Lady and Nicaragua Vice President Rosario Murillo.

GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA

The travels of the latter-day apostles may be frequent — yet they are never commonplace.

Each assignment — foreign or domestic — embarked upon by members of The Quorum of The Twelve Apostles offers unique opportunities to minister to people who face unique challenges and opportunities. And with each travel assignment, the apostles make new friends even as they answer their sacred charge to testify of the Savior Jesus Christ and His gospel.

Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recently returned from a 12-day trip to Central America. There he met with thousands of members, shared counsel with scores of missionaries and fortified friendships with key government leaders — including Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

“I came away with life-lasting impressions of the people in these Book of Mormon lands,” Elder Rasband told the Church News. “The Lord is working in marvelous ways in Central America.”

Elder Rasband was joined by Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy and Bishop Dean M. Davies, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric. The Brethren were also accompanied by their wives — Sister Melanie Rasband, Sister Debbie Christensen and Sister Darla Davies.

The Central America Area has long been a key region of the Church. It’s home to hundreds of thousands of members, 18 missions and, remarkably, six temples.

The strength of the area is found in its individual wards and branches. Many of the local priesthood and Relief Society leaders are products of strong, stable families whose lives are anchored to the temple and its eternal covenants.

“These are faithful, Christ-centered, temple-going people,” observed Elder Christensen.

The visiting Brethren conducted the annual area review at area headquarters in Guatemala City. The Central America Area is directed by a presidency of seasoned priesthood leaders — Elder Kevin R. Duncan, Elder Adrian Ochoa and Elder Jose L. Alonso, General Authority Seventies. Their dedicated shepherding, said Elder Rasband, is helping the members find safety and joy during a time of frequent commotion and disruption.

Many in the region face employment difficulties. Many are concerned about social unrest. They look to the Lord and His servants for comfort and guidance.

In his many meetings with members, young adults and local priesthood leaders, Elder Rasband said the Lord had envisioned such “commotion”:

“And in that day shall be heard of wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men’s hearts shall fail them, and they shall say that Christ delayeth his coming until the ends of the earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 45:26).

“The Lord does not forget His people,” assured Elder Rasband: “But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved” (Doctrine and Covenants 45:32).

Even among hardship and great commotion, safety and joy can be found by standing in holy places.

“Stand in your homes,” said Elder Rasband, “stand in your meetinghouses, stand in the temples of the Lord. These are places of safety. These are places of refuge.”

Elder Christensen added that the Lord has also blessed Central America with strong local leaders, including many who hail from multi-generational Latter-day Saint families and are committed to building the Church in their own nations and communities.

Historic meeting with Nicaragua’s president

On Feb. 14, Elder Rasband, Elder Christensen, Elder Duncan and Elder Ochoa met with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega at his private residence.

“It was a remarkable meeting,” reported Elder Rasband. “We spoke with President Ortega about families, education, humanitarian aid, welfare and about the efforts the Church has made in his country.”

Sitting knee-to-knee with Elder Rasband, President Ortega asked several questions about the Church and its history.

“It was like teaching the first missionary lesson as I talked to him about the restoration of the gospel. I told him that we belong to the restored Church of Jesus Christ,” said Elder Rasband.

Elder Christensen said President Ortega was deeply interested in the Church’s rich history in his country. Over 96,000 Latter-day Saints live in Nicaragua.

Before leaving, Elder Rasband presented President Ortega and Rosario Ortega, who is first lady and Nicaragua’s vice president, with a statuette of “The Christus.”

The president called his visitors “ministers of peace.” “Latter-day Saints,” Elder Rasband responded, “worship Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.”

“Christ has no borders or political affiliations,” he said. “He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.”

Fortifying friendships

Elder Rasband also delivered the keynote address at a Feb. 13 Church-sponsored religious freedom symposium at a meetinghouse near the San Salvador El Salvador Temple.

The symposium included government officials, religious leaders and academics from across Central America. This first-of-its-kind gathering centered on the importance of protecting religious liberties across Latin America.

Elder Rasband challenged symposium participants to work together and form a “chorus of voices” in defense of religious freedoms. He shared a timeless message of religious advocacy declared in 1843 by the Prophet Joseph Smith:

“If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a ‘Mormon,’ I am bold to declare before heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the [Mormon] Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.

“It is love of liberty that inspires my soul — civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.”

Elder Rasband and Elder Christensen and their wives also visited a children’s cancer hospital in Guatemala City and presented the hospital with medical equipment as a gift from the Church.

The visit offered Elder Rasband an opportunity to enjoy quiet moments with children battling cancer and with their families. “It was particularly moving for me to be able to see what they are doing at the hospital in Guatemala City to help treat children with cancer.”

A believing people

Elder Rasband, Elder Christensen and Bishop Davies count being with the members and the missionaries as key highlights of their Central America trip.

Between the three visiting Brethren, and members of the Area Presidency, they visited with missionaries from 10 missions. “We shook the hands of every missionary,” said Elder Christensen, smiling.

All of the Brethren feel a special connection with the missionaries and their shared, sacred calling to take the gospel to all nations and people.

They also participated in a devotional with young single adults, originating in Guatemala City. The event was broadcast throughout Central America and was viewed by over 19,000.

The Brethren answered questions from the young people, discussed their unique challenges in a volatile world and shared counsel on the importance of marriage in the holy temple, remaining faithful and building strong families.

After being with the Central American members, Elder Christensen returned to Church headquarters assured “that the Lord will continue to bless and prosper the people of Central America for many years to come.”

Elder Rasband echoed his optimism.“The Lord is hastening His work in Central America,” he said. “Through His missionaries and members, He is gathering the elect.”

The LDS Church News is an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The publication's content supports the doctrines, principles and practices of the Church.