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.
"President Monson's message was full of faith and hope. It touched the hearts of our Haitian saints. They know that their Prophet remembers them and loves them," Elder Wilford W. Andersen said.
At the commemoration event, Elder Neil L. Andersen spoke of the church's "deep appreciation" for the many who have played key roles in setting the foundations of the gospel upon Haitian soil. The work of the gospel, he added, is primarily spiritual work, saying, "the important things in life are not between wealth and poverty or between fame and obscurity — the important choices in life are between good and evil."
The apostle noted the struggles that Haiti has endured since the dedicatory prayer.
"Three years ago following the terrible earthquake, all the church and all the world cried with you. These have not been easy days for you. We thank you for your examples of courage, of faith, of seeing blessings even in the difficulties."
He emphasized the importance of work to secure life's necessities, along with the value of education. He saluted the parents and church leaders who strive to educate the youth of the church in Haiti.
Missionary service, he added, has been a miracle in Haiti. "Nothing will change this country as the gospel of Jesus Christ will change this country. Let us speak of Christ. Let us speak of His example, His atoning power and his resurrection.
"You ... are a light to the country."
In a Church News interview following the Caribbean Area tour, Elder Neil L. Andersen spoke of the many church-sponsored projects underway in Haiti. Members throughout the country will soon begin planting 100,000 fruit trees donated by the church. The trees will provide fruit, shade and soil conservation for years ahead. The fruit tree project caught the attention of Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, who thanked the church in an official letter.
The church is also involved in various educational and employment programs designed to help the members live providently and serve in their communities and congregations.
Elder Neil L. Andersen, Elder Rasband and the other Brethren and their wives also used the Area tour as an opportunity to share counsel and encouragement with members throughout the Caribbean region.
"I was impressed by the members and the depth of their spiritual commitment — along with their commitment to answer President Monson's challenge to rescue others," said Elder Rasband.
In their messages delivered to missionaries and members of all ages, the Brethren testified of the importance of families, temple work, testimony building and sharing the gospel with their friends and neighbors.
Elder Neil L. Andersen taught the value of helping others to see by way of the light of Christ. "Few things will bring us more joy than to bring eternal sight to those we love," he said.
The best way to build the kingdom of God, he added, is to "create a spirit among us" that others can discern and feel. "As we live the gospel, we allow those seeking the truth to see who we are. Especially important is living the gospel within our homes."
Elder Andersen promised that "the elect of God" would be drawn to members who live righteously and follow the commandments.
In his meetings with members across the region, Elder Rasband witnessed a rising generation of young people eager to fulfill their missionary duties and participate in the growth of the gospel.
He was touched by the members' devotion to their families and focused his teaching "on the importance of that 'Jewel of the Caribbean,' — the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple."
Both Elder Neil L. Andersen and Elder Rasband noted the capacity of the Area Presidency and the local priesthood and Relief Society leadership.
"They are as fine as anywhere in the church," observed Elder Rasband.