Faith and Rebuilding Will Make Puerto Ricans Stronger, Bishop Davies Says

Church leaders minister in the Caribbean island as part of ongoing recovery efforts in the area

Though it has been five months since the worst hurricane to hit Puerto Rico devastated the Caribbean island, a full recovery is years away. In rural areas, many residents remain without electricity, and the trail of destruction is a reminder of the need for the ongoing recovery efforts of which many organizations are a part.

Among them is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Bishop Dean M. Davies, first counselor in the Church’s Presiding Bishopric, visited Puerto Rico February 15–18. He, along with General Authority Seventy Elder José L. Alonso of the Caribbean Area Presidency, visited with Church employees, members and leaders, listened to the needs of the people, offered supplies and services, and expressed love and support reflective of the Church’s efforts in the area.

Downloadable video: B-roll | SOTs

“It’s very important to us as a Church, and as Church leaders, that [Latter-day Saints] everywhere know when they go through calamities and tribulation, that we care,” said Bishop Davies, who spent 1998 through 2001 in Puerto Rico as a mission president alongside his wife, Darla. “[The people here are] important to us and to the Lord. We want them to know that they have not been overlooked and that we, institutionally, as well as individually, will reach out and extend our love and compassion in a time of need.”

Elder Alonso added that the main message he and Bishop Davies wanted to share is that “the Lord is taking care of [the people]. He is aware about their needs, their concerns, and the experiences, and also for the desires of their heart.”

Power in Partnerships

The Church, in partnering with organizations such as the Real Medicine Foundation and Save the Children, is often among the first to respond in times of disaster — and is able to do so in a personal, loving way.

“What we very much believe in and how we choose our [partners] around the world is through dignity and respect,” said Real Medicine Foundation CEO Martina Fuchs. “That is where this is very much in alignment with LDS Charities and [the LDS Church], and we are really proud and honored to work with you and to have this amazing partnership.”

Casey Harrity, Save the Children’s Hurricane Maria response team lead, said her group arrived just after the storm hit. Thanks to a partnership with LDS Charities, they were able to quickly set up shop.

“In those early days, we needed warehouse space like you see here, we needed trucks, we needed team members to be getting out and distributing supplies,” Harrity said. “And it was thanks to [the LDS Church] that we were able to mobilize that quickly and get things out to children and families that needed them.”

Church leaders visited the Food Bank of Puerto Rico warehouse, where a donation of $100,000 was received by operations manager Manuel Ruiz.

“This is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to work with the LDS Church,” Ruíz said. “From this point on, we can build a nice relationship where we can help each other in our missions.”

Additional aid was also extended to two other emergency operations and clinics during their visit.

Since Hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the Caribbean last September, the Church has donated more than $4 million to assist members and relief agencies in the region, including six global partners, to help the broader community. Those efforts have included mobile medical outreach services, food and water supplies, water purification tablets, hygiene and cleaning kits, batteries, mattresses and bedding, mosquito nets and roofing materials.

Missionaries Return to Puerto Rico

In December 2017, the Church announced that several dozen missionaries who had been reassigned after hurricanes Irma and Maria would gradually return to the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission.

Two of those, now back on the island to offer service and care, are Sister Waters of Dallas, Texas, and Sister Fawcett of Riverside, California.

“Since I've been back, it's been just a huge tender mercy. I love it here,” Sister Waters said. “I couldn't be more grateful to … my Father in Heaven for giving us the opportunity to come back and help again.”

Sister Fawcett described the sweet reunion she and other missionaries experienced upon their return.

“[The people] were so happy to see us,” she said. “My companion and I walked into an activity one night, one of our first nights here, and all the young women just started crying and hugging us and embracing us. And it was a really tender moment.”

Such powerful bonds of love aren’t surprising to Bishop Davies, whose earlier years of service in Puerto Rico revealed a people gifted with an uncommon depth of love for their fellow man.

“The Puerto Rican people have huge hearts,” Bishop Davies said. “They're very caring and tender people. They love one another, they serve one another. … And they would do anything for you.”

Puerto Ricans Will Prevail

At a Sunday conference in Puerto Rico on February 18, hundreds in attendance listened as Bishop Davies and his wife, Darla, shared tender memories from their time in San Juan nearly 20 years ago and bore sure testimony of the Savior. Bishop Davies said "the people here are resilient and faithful, and they will be better because of what they've been through. This challenging time of need, of giving service to each other, and rebuilding in the Caribbean, though difficult, will be a blessing to all Puerto Ricans, and the Lord will bless them. He always does.”

Bishop Davies said during their home visits in the past 48 hours, he was deeply impressed with how many members expressed “how much peace and calm they felt during Hurricane Maria” as a result of Church leader President Henry B. Eyring’s words of comfort given when he visited the region after Hurricane Irma.

As part of their remarks, Bishop and Sister Davies sang a duet in Spanish of the Church hymn “Love One Another," and then invited the congregation to sing with them.

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.