The Lord’s Healing: A Year Later in Haiti and Chile

  • 8 February 2011

The events over the past year since powerful earthquakes struck Haiti and Chile have revealed not only the Church's desire to provide temporal aid but the Lord's power to provide hope and spiritual healing.

Article Highlights

  • A year after the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, the Church continues to help in long-term recovery efforts.
  • The Lord is able to offer spiritual aid even when temporal aid is unavailable.

“It is not important how we die but how we live. We have come through this strengthened.” —Gabriel Pérez, San Pedro Chile Stake president

Berthony Theodor had just settled into his afternoon university class in his native Port-au-Prince, Haiti, when the walls began to shake violently. It was 4:00 p.m. on January 12, 2010. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake was about to devastate his island country.

Before Brother Theodor could escape from the bottom floor of the two-story building, the walls came down around him. Miraculously he made it out of the rubble without major injury. 

Brother Theodor’s first thought was for his family at home several miles away. His bike was somewhere in the rubble he had just escaped. The only way to know if his family was still alive was a heartbreaking two-hour walk.

“I passed many people who needed help,” he said. But as badly as he wanted to help his people, he had to make sure his family was safe first. It was a great relief when he finally arrived and found his wife and three daughters safe—and worried about him.

At that point, Brother Theodor’s focus started to shift. As the humanitarian services representative for the Church in Haiti, he began to think about what needed to be done to help his fellow Haitians. He prayed for the safety of his local priesthood leaders—the mission president, two stake presidents, and bishops—knowing their direction would be essential to his people’s recovery.

Dealing with the Devastation 

An estimated 300,000 people were killed and an additional 2 million were left homeless in the wake of the devastating earthquake that reduced poverty-stricken Port-au-Prince to ruins. Just over a month later, on February 27, an 8.8-magnitude earthquake rocked southern Chile, killing another 500 people.

Over the course of the year since these disasters struck, Brother Theodor and many others have worked tirelessly to bring relief and healing to the people of Haiti and Chile with varying degrees of success. The people of Chile are well into recovery while the situation in Haiti has improved only slowly.

The difference in the effectiveness of relief efforts has brought to light how temporal relief can be hampered by politics and poverty. However, the results of the two disasters have also illuminated how the Lord’s spiritual relief can reach into any heart in any home at any time regardless of manmade obstacles.

Succoring the Lord’s Servants

After the earthquake, President Kerving Joseph, the 33-year-old mission president of the Haiti Port-au-Prince Mission, needed to make sure the 74 missionaries in his care were safe and accounted for. When enormous congestion caused the phone lines to shut down minutes after the earthquake, this job became more difficult. 

By that night, he had received satisfactory reports on all missionaries except for those in two districts outside of the city. At 6:00 a.m. the next morning, President Joseph sought after the missionaries. The roads were impassable by car. In his determination, he nearly set out on one of his missionaries’ bicycles. In the end, he was able to rent a scooter. Three hours later he arrived at one of the Church’s meetinghouses and found the rest of the missionaries gathered there along with members and nonmembers.

Miraculously, none of the 74 missionaries were killed by the earthquake. Even more miraculously, none of the families of the missionaries lost their lives in the quake. In addition, the 12 missionaries scheduled to report to the Port-au-Prince mission the next month had been protected as well. 

“In my opinion, the missionaries were protected because the work needed to keep moving,” said President Joseph. “There were many people who needed to hear the comforting message of the restored gospel.”

Turning Hardship to Hope

The missionaries in Haiti were very busy from January through May, serving others both physically and spiritually. The temporal challenges in Haiti and Chile seemed to help both countries’ people focus on a more eternal perspective.

“People are helping one another,” reported Gabriel Pérez, stake president of the San Pedro Chile Stake, several months after the earthquake. “More people are being faithful in living the gospel.”

Church attendance in both Haiti and Chile has increased. There has been a rise in the rate of baptisms, and many whose faith had dimmed have become active again because of the hope and comfort they have found through the gospel.

“Tragedy tends to redirect our focus away from the temporal and toward the spiritual,” said Elder Wilford W. Andersen of the Seventy, Second Counselor in the Caribbean Area Presidency. “We appreciate our faith when that’s all we have left.” 

Temporal Service in a Spiritual Setting

While the Lord didn’t wait to begin His work of providing spiritual relief, the Church continued to seek ways to meet the temporal needs of the people.

For the first few days after the earthquakes, the immediate response focused on food and other supplies imperative for survival.

In Chile alone, 100 tons of food, 7,000 hygiene kits, 25 tons of clothing, 20,920 blankets, and 12,000 tents were sent to the affected areas.

More than 60 truckloads of relief supplies including more than one million pounds of food, 110,000 hygiene kits, and 16,000 filtration bottles have reached Haiti in the past year.

But not long after the earthquake, relief efforts shifted from survival to recovery. The Church formed councils consisting of area priesthood and Relief Society leaders in both areas. 

The Caribbean Area Presidency identified three main objectives to assist in the healing: employment, housing, and education.

“We feel like the only way people are really going to be able to come out of this is through improving employment,” said Bennie Lilly, Area Welfare Manager.

At present, an employment resource center staffed by Haitian Church members has placed more than 650 applicants in jobs or self-employment. More than 800 members and nonmembers have been taught the career and self-employment workshops. Two major projects funded by Humanitarian Services to assist those who have micro businesses are in effect as well. Given the economic situation in Haiti, these are remarkable accomplishments.

Watch a video on the Church’s humanitarian response shortly after Haiti was upturned by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in January 2010. LDS Charities continues to assist Haitians in the relief effort.

Witnesses of the Lord’s Healing Hand

“[I have been able] to see how the Lord can heal people and how people can be useful to others in times of difficulties,” Brother Theodor said. 

Following the destruction, phones were down; there was no communication. But Church stake leaders all arrived at the bishops’ storehouse at the same time, allowing them to distribute all the food that was needed. Four days later, just as food supplies ran out, new provisions arrived.

President Joseph tells of another man, a bishop who just prior to the earthquake had left the hospital with complications from a knee infection. Two days after the earthquake, he showed up at the chapel, walking.

“I had seen his knees,” President Joseph said. “How was he doing it? He said, ‘President, what else could I do? The people need me.’ I asked again, ‘Bishop, how’s your knee?’ He said, ‘The more I walk, the more it gets healed.’”

“It is part of our covenant to suffer with people who are suffering as it is described in Mosiah 18:8–10. We need to support those that need our support. We need to help those that need our help,” Brother Theodor said. 

“This is what is important,” San Pedro Chile Stake president Gabriel Pérez said. “It is not important how we die but how we live. We have come through this strengthened.”

For more information on the Church’s efforts in Haiti and Chile or to see how you can help, visit LDScharities.org.