President Hinckley Visits Members in Florida, Central America

In the first trip to Central America by a President of the Church in two decades, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited that area from 19 to 26 January. During his week-long travels, he visited seven countries, met with almost 88,000 members and missionaries, gave 19 major addresses, met with government officials in Costa Rica and Honduras, and gave 3 press interviews. En route he attended the 19 January conference of the Jacksonville Florida West Stake, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first stake in Florida.

Accompanying President Hinckley on this tour were his wife, Marjorie, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Dantzel. Several times throughout the trip, Elder Nelson delighted audiences by speaking to them in Spanish, their native tongue.

Elder William R. Bradford of the Seventy, Central America Area President, and his wife, Mary Ann, accompanied the group throughout its visits to Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Assisting President Hinckley during the regional conference in Guatemala were Elders Lino Alvarez and Julio E. Alvarado, counselors in the Area Presidency.

Jacksonville, Florida

More than 5,000 members from the six stakes within the boundaries of the original Florida Stake attended two sessions of conference and heard President Hinckley talk about pioneers. President Hinckley reminded those in attendance of the sacrifices of early Latter-day Saint leaders in the South, including Elder Charles A. Callis, a former president of the Southern States Mission and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, who helped organize the first stake a half century earlier.

“It was the great crown of his life to see a stake in the South,” President Hinckley observed, “this part of the world which he loved so dearly, among the people whom he loved so dearly.”

President Hinckley then urged those in attendance to be pioneers themselves. “Today there are 100,000 members of the Church in this great state of Florida,” he said. “There are 22 stakes, there are four missions, and there is a beautiful temple in Orlando. You are part of the great growth of this Church across the world. …

“We have an obligation, a great work to do,” he continued. “We cannot stand still; we have to move forward. It is imperative we do so.”

Those attending the conference filled the chapel, cultural hall, and overflow areas, including classrooms. In addition, a large tent was erected in the parking lot, where more members gathered.

Panama City, Panama

Following his stop in Florida, President Hinckley traveled to Panama City, Panama, where on Monday, 20 January, he spoke to more than 3,000 members gathered for a 9:00 A.M. meeting.

“When you were baptized,” he told those in attendance, “you set aside things of the world. Each Sabbath day when you partake of the sacrament, you renew that covenant which binds you to your Father in Heaven.”

In Panama, as in Florida, President Hinckley spoke of the sacrifices made by early members of the Church. He told the story of Sister Hinckley’s grandmother, Mary Goble, who crossed the plains as a teenager as part of the Hodgett wagon train that accompanied the ill-fated Willie and Martin Handcart Companies, suffering frostbite and eventual amputation of her toes.

“Be grateful for the pioneers,” he said. “Today we are beneficiaries of their great faith. From their establishment in the mountains there has gone forth the blessings of the restored gospel to the peoples of the earth.”

President Hinckley also urged the members to be worthy of a temple recommend. “Having a temple recommend will be … a reminder of your faithfulness. If you are not qualified to receive one, today is the day to resolve to qualify yourselves.”

Following his meeting with the members, President Hinckley and those traveling with him met with 177 missionaries serving in the Panama Panama City Mission.

San José, Costa Rica

That afternoon, President Hinckley and his party flew to San José, Costa Rica. First he met with more than 200 missionaries serving in the area, reminding them that thousands of people around the world were praying for them.

Next President Hinckley met with José Maria Figueres, president of Costa Rica. During that visit, President Hinckley spoke with gratitude of the warm welcome extended to the missionaries serving in the country. Along with Elders Nelson and Bradford, President Hinckley presented a copy of the proclamation on the family to President Figueres.

Then President Hinckley met with more than 6,000 members, calling them the “strength of the Church in Costa Rica” and emphasizing the importance of fellowshipping new converts.

“Every one of us has an obligation to fellowship those people, to put our arms around them … in full activity,” he said. “We must reach out each day. I wish with all my heart that in Costa Rica every man, woman, and child who is baptized would remain faithful and active. That can happen if all 6,000 of you make up your minds to reach out and help the new convert. … They cannot do it alone. … They need your help. Only as we reach out to help others are we truly Latter-day Saints.”

He concluded his remarks by encouraging those present to live the gospel. “Let us live our lives in such a way that people will notice us and be constrained to follow us,” he said.

Managua, Nicaragua

Approximately 21,000 members live in Nicaragua, where President Hinckley and his group went next, meeting with 2,400 members in a 9:00 A.M. meeting on 21 January.

“How we love you,” the Church leader told those in attendance, as he spoke of the importance of testimony and loyalty and belief in the Church. He acknowledged the many challenges the members face, saying, “I know that you have many problems in your lives. You wonder where your next meal is coming from. You have suffered so much in years that have passed. I am grateful better days are here. I hope and pray the blessings of the Lord will be poured down on you.”

Speaking with some emotion, he continued, “The Lord loves you and He looks upon you with a great love. … I will never forget this wonderful sight in the city of Managua, Nicaragua.” Calling the Church a great anchor in a world of unbelief, President Hinckley told the audience that the Church of Jesus Christ was there “to help you, to educate you, to provide social opportunity for you, to give you the word of the living God.”

While in Nicaragua, President Hinckley also met with missionaries serving in the Nicaragua Managua Mission, as well as with the area’s district presidents.


Next the Church leader traveled to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. First on his agenda was a meeting with the 191 missionaries serving in the Honduras San Pedro Sula Mission.

“It is important that [new members] be so well converted that they will never leave the Church they have taken upon themselves,” he told the missionaries. “That they will remain faithful, active, and diligent, living the gospel and doing everything expected of them as Latter-day Saints. Please, please, please be sure your baptisms are converts to the Church.”

In a meeting that evening, President Hinckley spoke to more than 8,000 members gathered at the National Stadium. “I hope [the Church] is the greatest thing in your lives,” he said. “I hope you live it, love it, pray about it, send your sons and daughters in the mission field for it, and serve in it wherever you are called.”

On 22 January, President Hinckley arrived in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. Here he was interviewed by a press representative of La Tribuna, met with 224 missionaries serving in the Honduras Tegucigalpa Mission, paid a courtesy visit to James E. Creagan, U.S. ambassador to Honduras, and held a fireside with more than 15,000 Saints in an outdoor soccer stadium.

In his interview with La Tribuna, President Hinckley explained that the Church encourages its members to be involved in the political process and to exercise their franchise. When asked what his message to the people of Honduras would be, he replied: “Be good people. Live together in peace. Respect one another. Work together with appreciation for one another. If we as a church can do anything to help in these matters, we wish to do so. We hope our people are a credit to this nation and invite all people to come and learn and become a part of us.”

In his meeting with the missionaries, he encouraged those who were learning a new language. “Spanish has become the second language of the Church,” he explained. “Never lose that skill.”

He then met with Mr. Creagan, who asked about missionary work in Honduras and acknowledged the Church’s humanitarian assistance during serious flooding in the San Pedro Sula area.

That evening, President Hinckley met with thousands of members in an outdoor meeting. He spoke of the knowledge and opportunities available to Church members: “When you were baptized into this Church, there came upon you … an understanding of the great and sacred things of God. You are a chosen generation, my brethren and sisters, preserved in the great plan of the Almighty to come forth in this day and time to receive the blessings of the eternal gospel. Be grateful to the Lord for the light and knowledge and understanding of His marvelous revelations in this day and season.”

San Salvador, El Salvador

Next the group flew to San Salvador, El Salvador, where President Hinckley was interviewed by a reporter from La Prensa Gráfica. He also met with 374 missionaries from the El Salvador San Salvador East and West Missions.

During his meeting with the missionaries, President Hinckley spoke of his earlier interview with the press reporter: “He asked me, ‘What do your missionaries have to offer to the people of El Salvador?’ I told him you offer a better way of life! They do not realize they are sons and daughters of God whose lives can be rich and wonderful and purposeful. You have the Word of Wisdom to offer. You offer them a better way of life with their families. You have the great blessings of the house of the Lord to offer to every man and woman who lives worthy of this marvelous thing. … You offer the way of eternal life with all the happiness, with all the joy that God our Eternal Father would wish His children to have.”

That evening President Hinckley met with approximately 10,000 members, many who had traveled hundreds of miles. During his address, President Hinckley spoke to the parents in the congregation. “Fathers and mothers, you have nothing more precious than the little children to whom you have given life. Take care of them, teach them, love them, rear them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. God will hold those accountable who do not do so.”


The group spent the last two days of their Central American travels in Guatemala, where more than 35,000 members listened to addresses in two sessions of the Guatemala City Central–North regional conference. In conjunction with the conference, President Hinckley spoke at a priesthood leadership meeting attended by some 1,000 leaders from 12 stakes. He also addressed a gathering of 700 missionaries and held a press interview.

In his remarks in the concluding session of the conference, President Hinckley bore his testimony about the importance of the Word of Wisdom, tithing, and the priesthood. He spoke about the importance of the missionary program, observing that “every one of you, with very few exceptions, is a convert to this Church, and what a difference it has made in your life.”

He emphasized the importance of the temple. “We have in this land the only temple in all of Central America,” he said. “Are not the other nations just as deserving? But it was determined to build it here, and here it stands for you to use. I hold in my hand a temple recommend. I have one; Elder Nelson has one; Elder Bradford has one. We all must have a temple recommend. … I hope that every adult would secure a temple recommend and treasure it and live worthy of it and use it.”

The following people contributed to the report of President Hinckley’s travels in Central America: Luis Alvarez, Patricia de Fuentes, José Alberto Santos, Angel Manuel Valle, Sandra Jaar, President Darryl Townsend, Jenny Diaz, Mario Gabriel Jimenez, and Romelia Garcia.

[photo] More than 6,000 members gathered for a regional conference in Costa Rica. (Photography by Lowell Hardy and Luis Alvarez.)

[photo] President Hinckley waves to members after a meeting in Nicaragua.

[photo] President Hinckley greets a young boy in Honduras.

[photo] With Luis Amado serving as interpreter, President Hinckley speaks to members in Honduras.

[photo] Choir members participate during a regional conference in Guatemala.

[photo] A family in Guatemala waits to attend regional conference, where President Hinckley spoke to more than 35,000 members in two sessions.

Positive Media Coverage

While traveling in Central America, President Hinckley met with representatives from several news publications. Following are translated excerpts from a few of the reports published after his visit:

“Be good people, respect each other, work hard, and strengthen the family. … This is the message from the prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, the 15th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who visited our country this week. …

“The religious leader toured Central America this week and visited San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, where he met with 20,000 people in two meetings in stadiums in both cities.

“During his messages, President Hinckley asked the thousands of Hondurans who were there to hear him to look for ways of strengthening the family, because that is the principal nucleus of society and at the same time the strength of a nation. ‘If a country has strong families, it will then become a strong nation,’ he said. …

“Prophet Hinckley is an 86-year-old man but possesses the strength and personality of a youth, with an ability to respond in a simple, clear, and spontaneous manner to all questions he is asked.

“His followers consider him to be the youngest 86-year-old man they have ever met because of his youthful step, vivaciousness of spirit, and his extraordinary disposition to hard work and long working hours” (La Tribuna, 25 January 1996, San Pedro Sula, Honduras).

“As a preamble to his message, [President Hinckley] commented: ‘During the visit to this region, we have enjoyed our interaction with the people, and we are grateful for the peace which has been granted and for the efforts of this government. This is a great country, and it has been very good with us as a church, and we believe that we have helped with the strengthening of this country by sustaining the family in its tasks’” (Prensa Libre, Guatemala City, 29 January 1997).

“President Hinckley said membership has reached 72,000 [Salvadorans] and is growing by 5,000 members annually.

“‘We are extremely interested in this area,’ President Hinckley told La Prensa Gráfica.

“‘We believe in revelation from God,’ said President Hinckley, explaining how Church beliefs differ from those of other denominations. President Hinckley, like other Church leaders, is a lay clergyman who dresses in a suit and tie. …

“‘We seek to live in the world, not of the world,’ said President Hinckley, referring to the Church’s strict health code and its prohibition of harmful substances. ‘We don’t need these things. We are better off without them.’

“President Hinckley said the Church, in confronting assaults on the family, promotes family solidarity and offers members hope for peace in their lives. ‘If you want to lift a nation,’ he said, ‘lift the family. Family is society’s basic unit’” (La Prensa Gráfica, El Salvador, 25 January 1997).

[photo] President Hinckley meets with a news reporter in El Salvador.

Renderings of Guayaquil Ecuador and Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temples

The groundbreaking for the Guayaquil Ecuador Temple was held on 10 August 1996. Excavation work on the temple is completed, and footings and concrete work began the end of January. The 55,600-square-foot building, located on a 6.25-acre lot, will have four ordinance rooms and three sealing rooms. The Guayaquil temple district will include 17 stakes in Ecuador.

The groundbreaking for the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple was held 18 August 1996. The site is located on a 6.5-acre lot on a rise in the west part of Santo Domingo next to a park for the National Music Conservatory. Excavation for the temple is nearing completion, and soon a local contractor will begin placing footings for the foundation. The 64,400-square-foot edifice, which will serve members in 35 stakes, will have four ordinance rooms and four sealing rooms. The Santo Domingo temple district will include 7 stakes located throughout the Caribbean area.

[illustration] Guayaquil Ecuador Temple

[illustration] Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple

Worldwide Pioneer Heritage Service Day Announced

The First Presidency sent out the following letter to all Church priesthood leaders:

“In 1997 the Church will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first Latter-day Saint pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley. The sesquicentennial celebration will also honor pioneers of all times and places who have helped establish the Church throughout the world.

“We have designated Saturday, July 19, 1997, as Pioneer Heritage Service Day and invite each ward and branch to contribute a minimum of 150 hours of community service where possible. As modern-day beneficiaries of the sacrifices made by pioneers who have gone before, we can show our gratitude by unitedly rendering charitable service to others in our communities.

“We encourage priesthood leaders to plan and coordinate local service projects on this day of service.”

Selected Women’s Conference Sessions to Be Broadcast

Several sessions of Brigham Young University’s Women’s Conference are slated to be broadcast over the Church satellite system to stake centers in the United States and Canada. The sessions can also be seen on KBYU-TV.

The sessions will be broadcast on 1 May 1997 from 5:30 to 7:30 P.M. (MDT). Additional sessions will be broadcast 2 May 1997 from 5:30 to 8:30 P.M. (MDT). A list of speakers will be announced later.

LDS Volunteers Place Markers on Trails

More than 150 volunteers from stakes in Rock Springs, Green River, and Lyman, Wyoming, have installed 125 new markers along historic trails in the southwestern part of the state.

The project, part of efforts by Church members to prepare for the sesquicentennial observance of the historic trek of early pioneers, involved hundreds of hours as volunteers took out 125 old markers and installed new 200-pound concrete pylons marking the Mormon Trail, the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Pony Express Trail.

Two decades ago, the original installation of the trail markers took more than two years to complete. The deteriorating and vandalized markers were replaced in just four weeks with the help of Latter-day Saint volunteers. Mike Brown, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management historian and recreation planner, explained that the government agency had neither the money nor the workers to accomplish the project so quickly.

“Strong and Firm” in Japan’s Kumamoto District

After newly converted Nobuyasu Yano graduated from college, he prayed for help to find a teaching position at a junior high school in Fukuoka, the only place on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, where a Church unit was located in 1960. Instead he was appointed to teach in the Goto Islands, located to the west of Kyushu.

“I later came to know why our Heavenly Father responded as he did,” Brother Yano says. “Being the only Latter-day Saint in the area, I told myself to be a good example to other people.” Every Sunday he read scriptures, sang hymns, and studied lessons copied from manuals used in the Tokyo branch where he had been converted.

Two years later Brother Yano was transferred to a mainland city near Nagasaki, but he was still a three-hour train ride away from the nearest meetinghouse in Fukuoka. After an inspiring dream, he resolved to journey once a month to Fukuoka for Church meetings. Often he stayed at the home of branch president Toshiro Yoshizawa on Saturday nights.

In 1963 Brother Yano began attending church at an American military base in Sasebo, north of Nagasaki. He was quickly befriended by the branch president and other members. “I’m ever so grateful for the love and good examples shown to me in their homes, especially at their family home evenings,” Brother Yano says. “I learned what a real Latter-day Saint family was like. I wanted to make my family like theirs.”

When the mission president visited the Sasebo military branch, Brother Yano asked him to send missionaries to teach the local Japanese. By 1964 ten Japanese people had been baptized. In 1965 Brother Yano married Yasuko Shinohara, from Fukuoka, and later that year they were sealed in the Hawaii Temple. Missionaries came to Nagasaki in 1966, and on 27 November the Yanos attended Nagasaki’s first sacrament meeting in the missionaries’ boardinghouse.

Thus began an early branch of what later became the Kumamoto Japan District. Brother Yano was called in 1973 as a counselor in the district presidency, and today he serves as a patriarch in the Fukuoka Japan Stake. The Kumamoto district takes its name from one of the islands of Kyushu’s seven prefectures, governmental districts similar to states and provinces. Today the district’s 2,807 members are organized into 11 branches. The Kumamoto district is part of the Japan Fukuoka Mission, which covers the island of Kyushu and several smaller island groups southward.

Thirty years after Brother Yano’s pioneer experiences, a caring community of Latter-day Saints has taken root in the district. “When I see the members while conducting music in sacrament meeting, I feel so much love for them,” says Sister Kaori Omuro, who was baptized in 1993. “It’s as though I’m looking at my own family, and I’m overwhelmed.” A member of the Kumamoto Branch, Sister Omuro serves as a district missionary.

Brother Do Xue Xiao finds “joy and happiness in this faith.” Because Brother Xiao does not speak Japanese, Kumamoto Branch members communicate with him by writing kanji characters, which can be understood by both Japanese and Chinese people. Brother Xiao gives each of the children in the branch a present at Christmastime.

“Because I was a heart surgeon,” says Brother Ryosho Nakamura, “I wasn’t sure I could fulfill a calling as branch president in Kumamoto. But God works mysteriously. During the four years of my service as branch president, it was decided that heart surgery would not be done due to lack of staff in the hospital where I worked. So I was able to devote more time and energy to my calling.” Today Brother Nakamura serves as a family group leader in the Nagamine Branch.

“I’m grateful for the love of Jesus Christ and for the missionaries who taught us the principles of the gospel,” says Brother Kozo Tashiro. Since he was baptized in 1972, nineteen of Brother Tashiro’s relatives have joined the Church, including his children and elderly parents. This is truly a pioneering family because three generations of members is extremely rare in Japan. Brother Tashiro has served twice as district president and has served as a counselor to three mission presidents. He presently serves as district mission president. “The brothers and sisters of the Kumamoto district have Christlike values that are strong and firm like the roots of the Japanese apricot tree,” he says. “I am confident we will continue to build a wonderful community of Latter-day Saints here.”

[photos] Photography by Fumihisa Nakagawa

[photo] A view of the city of Kumamoto, Japan, located on the island of Kyushu.

[photo] Do Xue Xiao with Kumamoto Branch Primary children.

[photo] Sister Kaori Omuro serves as a district missionary.

[photo] Yuko Nakashima, a member of the Kumamoto Branch.

[photo] Early Church member Nobuyasu Yano (upper left) with members of his family.

Motoko Takahashi is a member of the Fukuoka Ward, Fukuoka Japan Stake.