Return of Missionaries to Puerto Rico Marks a Victory for Local Mormons

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News associate editor

  • 15 December 2017

Elder Walter F. Gonzalez, seated at the head of the table, meets with bishops and Relief Society presidents in Puerto Rico in October 2017 to discuss ways to assist members impacted by Hurricane Maria.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

After many difficult weeks and months, hurricane-weary Latter-day Saints in Puerto Rico’s capital finally have a couple of reasons to celebrate.

First, on December 8 the Church announced that full-time missionaries would be returning to the island after being removed in September following Hurricane Maria.

And second, the San Juan Puerto Rico Stake gathered for stake conference on December 10. The gathering was postponed multiple times during the ongoing hurricane recovery.

For Mormons here, both reasons double as symbolic victories.

“It will be great to have the missionaries back,” said San Juan stake president Wilfred Rosa. “They will have a lot of opportunities to tract and find people, but I’m sure the missionaries will also be involved in a lot of service projects.”

The announcement noted “some of the missionaries” would be returning to the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission:

“Fourteen young elders will return to Puerto Rico, and two senior couples will return to St. Croix and St. Thomas. Decisions about the return of the additional missionaries will be made at a later date.”

Puerto Rico suffered a two-fisted disaster combo that began with Hurricane Irma, followed a short time later by the severely destructive Hurricane Maria.

The mid-September removal of the missionaries unsettled many of the members, said President Rosa. Their return will allow them to feel a new measure of security and optimism.

Across the island, Puerto Ricans have endured months without reliable power and drinking water.

“We still have issues, but things are getting better now,” said President Rosa on Friday, who added he still does not have electrical service in his own home.

“About 60 or 70 percent of the capital has power now.”

Electrical service in the San Juan stake center was restored about two weeks after Maria. “Which was a real miracle,” he said.

That’s allowed Latter-day Saints assigned to that building to enjoy somewhat normal Sabbath services and activities. More remote meetinghouses in the stake are still without power, so local members continue to meet in the dark for Sunday sacrament services.

The stake conference represents a moment of victory, emergence, and resiliency for the San Juan members, said President Rosa. They will look back on what they’ve endured—and look forward to better days ahead.

The Church’s ongoing humanitarian efforts across the island, he added, “have opened a lot of doors for us here; we’ve worked closely with the government.”

Meanwhile, on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas, a small branch of Latter-day Saints continue their own recovery following Irma’s arrival months ago.

Having a senior missionary couple back in St. Thomas “will be great,” said St. Thomas Branch President Steven Richards.

“They will be able to help us a lot—especially in providing some additional priesthood leadership,” he said Friday. “Having a couple here will be very beneficial.”

Immediate plans are also underway to begin rebuilding the St. Thomas meetinghouse, which was severely damaged during Hurricane Irma. The small branch has been meeting for Sunday services in recent months at President Richards’s home.

Damage from recent hurricanes is evident in this image taken in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 2017.

A photo from October 2017 of the San Juan, Puerto Rico, airport shows the significant damage from Hurricane Irma.

President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, visited with government officials and ministered to local Mormons and residents in the Caribbean September 15, 2017, in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Latter-day Saints in San Juan, Puerto Rico, gather at a meetinghouse in October 2017 to help distribute relief supplies in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.