SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — It’s a busy time for President Henry B. Eyring.
The first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will play a key role in the faith's upcoming general conference in a couple of weeks. And early next week he’ll be in Rexburg, Idaho, for the inauguration ceremony of his son, Henry J. Eyring, the new president of BYU-Idaho.
No matter. After speaking Friday to a standing-room-only audience at the San Juan Puerto Rico Stake Center, President Eyring told the Deseret News that making time to visit the Hurricane Irma-weary Caribbean was an easy decision.
“I felt the Lord wanted me here,” he said as night fell on a busy, steamy day that included visits to damaged areas in San Juan and the Caribbean island of St. Thomas.
Being among people who endured the storm’s historic wrath “sends a message that the Lord cares about them,” he said.
If President Eyring could meet individually with everyone impacted by Irma in the Caribbean and across Florida, he said he would share a common counsel: “The Lord watches over his people. Everything will work out well if they will trust the Lord and be faithful.”
President Eyring was joined Friday by Bishop Dean M. Davies of the LDS Church's Presiding Bishopric and General Authority Seventy Elder Jörg Klebingat. Elder Julio C. Acosta, an Area Seventy from the Dominican Republic, also spoke at Friday night's devotional and shared his testimony of the gospel.
More than 40 people were reported killed following the storm that hit less than two weeks ago, and it has been estimated that Hurricane Irma left nearly $11 billion in damage in its wake. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló went to Washington, D.C., Thursday and reported the island suffered nearly $1 billion in damages. Power was initially lost to 75 percent of the island, but he said that number has fallen to 10 percent.
Power was on at the stake center hosting the Friday evening devotional in the Puerto Rican capital, but downed trees and debris still marked the area where people greeted President Eyring in their Sunday best.
Puerto Rico is a territory that counts 23,328 members of the LDS Church, according to Mormon Newsroom, and each year storms hit the Caribbean, although not always with the ferocity of Hurricane Irma.
President Eyring told the many gathered together Friday that hurricanes such as Irma are not unlike the spiritual storms that torment everyone at different moments of their lives. A foundation built on solid, reliable rock — be it physically or spiritually — offers safety against all manners of tempest.
“God will protect you,” he said. “The main thing for you to do is to do what is right. Serve others — and whatever the outcome, it will be all right.”
It's a message that resonated with San Juan resident Edwin Ramirez, who said the devotional "was perfect for the occasion. President Eyring reminded us that if we stay faithful, everything will be OK."
President Eyring knows firsthand the stress exacted by catastrophe. Years ago, while he was serving as the president of Ricks College, the Teton Dam gave way, sending a wall of water into the college town of Rexburg. The Eyrings were in Idaho Falls when the dam broke and could not immediately return home. They didn’t know if their four sons had survived.
Despite many frightening unknowns, President Eyring said he felt peace. He knew his sons were in God’s hands.
President Thomas S. Monson, he noted, is enduring the storms that visit with advancing age. But the church president is not afraid. He remains anchored to his own devotion of service to Jesus Christ and others, he said.
President Eyring challenged any embarking on the gruelling task of rebuilding fallen homes and businesses to simultaneously rebuild their commitment to Christ. Those who do will be both cheerful and confident.
And strengthen one's personal rock of foundation by reading the Book of Mormon every day. It’s a daily habit President Eyring said he’s enjoyed for more than four decades.
In his Friday evening remarks, Bishop Davies spoke of touring devastated St. Thomas hours earlier. Giant trees had been uprooted, tossed and twisted and homes were destroyed.
Not everyone will experience Irma-level disaster, he said. But all will be visited by life’s storm. Again, he repeated, build on a "rock" anchored by God.
“If you trust in Jesus Christ, you will not fail.”
In his brief remarks, Elder Klebingat said it was God who sent President Eyring to Puerto Rico and St. Thomas.
Inner strength, he said, comes by living God’s commandments.
The visiting church leaders brought similar sentiments of counsel and support during their Friday visit to St. Thomas.
“Some of you have family and friends who have had more emotional stress than you even know,” President Eyring told church members in St. Thomas who gathered for an “impromptu devotional,” according to a press release issued by the church.
“Go to family and neighbors over a long period of time. That will give them a confidence that has been shaken. (God) lives. He is close by. He got me here today.”
The rebuilding in some of these Irma-impacted areas may take years, President Eyring said. “When you lose infrastructure, it takes a long time to put it back. I don’t know what part we’ll play in that, but we ought to be as helpful as we can to the (government) agencies that are responsible. We can’t do it (all), but we can help wherever we can.”
No Latter-day Saints died in the storm but several LDS church buildings suffered damages.
A Facebook post shared on President Eyring’s Facebook account on Friday afternoon offered the church leader’s condolences to all of those who suffer.
“This hurricane has caused severe damage and intense heartache. We weep with those who find themselves in dire circumstances. Many of these people are praying to Heavenly Father for relief, for help in carrying their burdens. As followers of Jesus Christ, it is our privilege to serve God’s children as we bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need.”
The post concludes with an invitation to serve.
“I invite each of us to prayerfully consider how we can bless the lives of the many people around the world who are in need of assistance,” President Eyring said. “I pray God will guide you in your efforts to life others.”
President Eyring was scheduled to travel to Florida Saturday to visit areas hit hard by the hurricane and to minister to the Latter-day Saints there.