Santo Domingo: Elder Ballard makes return visit
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SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
In a historic visit to the Caribbean Area, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve addressed a group of priesthood leaders in Santo Domingo, where 31 years earlier he dedicated the nation of the Dominican Republic and opened the land to missionary work.
On Nov. 13, the Area Presidency and the eight Mormon mission presidents of the Caribbean Area with their wives joined Elder Claudio R.M. Costa of the Presidency of the Seventy and Elder Ballard in the Mirador Sur Park in Santo Domingo.
The Caribbean Area Presidency — Elder Francisco J. Vinas, Elder Gary J. Coleman and Elder Wilford W. Andersen — also attended the event, along with their wives, Sister Cristina Vinas, Sister Judith Coleman and Sister Kathleen Andersen. Area Seventies included Elder Jorge Alvarado, Elder Hugo Martinez, Elder Ysrael Tolentino and Elder Robert C. Gay.
Elder Ballard reminisced on the glorious early morning in 1978 when he and a small handful of saints gathered to offer a dedicatory prayer on the land.
Elder Ballard remembered some of the critical events that led to establishing the Church in the Dominican Republic. "When we arrived, there were only 26 members, including 10 missionaries, in the Dominican Republic, and most had been members only a short time. Just a few weeks prior to the dedication, John and Nancy Rappleye had relocated from Utah to Santo Domingo for work. Other members, Eddie and Mercedes Amparo, had moved from Central America.
"President Richard Millett, Brother Frank Talley and I set Brother Rappleye apart as the branch president, and Brother Amparo as the elders quorum president, and told them to build the Church. Now in 2009 there are 18 stakes and 115,000 members."
Several of the early members gathered outside the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple grounds on Nov. 14 and related their experiences of building the Church in the Dominican Republic.
Roberto Reyes was baptized in 1979, about seven months after Elder Ballard dedicated the Dominican Republic. He was 13 years old at the time of his baptism.
"Three months after I joined the Church, I was playing ball in the streets with my friends. A mother called me over and asked me, 'What do I have to do so my children can be like you?' "
Roberto introduced this mother and her children to the missionaries, and her family was baptized. "Being a member of a new church was a challenge but also a great blessing in my life. Because I understood the Word of Wisdom, that I needed to be clean because I am a son of God, I was taught to avoid the drinking and smoking that are so common in my country. I want to continue to be a good example so others will want to know about my beliefs," he said.
Daniel Figueroa and his family were baptized in April 1979, five months after the Dominican Republic was dedicated. Missionaries had knocked on his door once before, but at first his children sent them away. The second time missionaries knocked on the door, he felt extremely curious and invited them in.
He was especially interested in their message about the family. As the elders spoke, he noticed that his daughter was listening intently, especially as the missionaries taught them how to pray to find out if their message was true. Immediately after the missionaries left, his daughter went to another room, knelt down, and asked Father in Heaven to tell her if the missionaries were speaking the truth. She felt an unmistakable witness of the Spirit, but it was a new feeling to her. Her father explained, "She came to me and told me of her prayer, and that her heart was pounding, and she wanted me to help her understand these new feelings."
She was the first member of their family to feel the Spirit. Subsequently, the entire Figueroa family was baptized.
On the evening of Nov. 14, Elder Ballard, Elder Costa and the area presidency spoke by satellite broadcast from Santo Domingo to thousands of Latter-day Saints gathered in 28 locations throughout the Caribbean and into Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname. The fireside was simultaneously translated into English, Spanish, French, Creole, Papiamento and Dutch, and rebroadcast to the Caribbean Area meetinghouses.
During the broadcast, Elder Ballard related some of the early history of the Church in Jamaica. As part of that same December 1978 visit, Elder Ballard dedicated the land of Jamaica for the preaching of the gospel. He explained that Victor Nugent and his family had been the only members in Jamaica for some time. They taught the gospel to Errol Tucker and his family. When Elder Ballard arrived, he organized the first branch in Jamaica in an outdoor meeting under a large old banyan tree.
"We set Brother Nugent apart as branch president. Then I called Brother Tucker forward. I said, 'Brother Tucker, we will ordain you an elder, and then set you apart as elders quorum president. Who would you like to do this?' Sitting on a rock by the banyan tree, this good man was then ordained and set apart by his dear friend, Brother Nugent.
"The Lord is always ahead of us doing the work. We think we are doing it, but we can see later that it was the Lord," Elder Ballard said.
He gave additional insight as to why his ties to the Caribbean are so personal and deeply felt. In 1990, Elder Ballard, along with Elder Charles Didier of the Seventy, dedicated several additional lands in the area, including French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago.
During the broadcast, Elder Ballard spoke directly to the local members. "I want to give you some advice which is specifically for you in the Caribbean. Keep the commandments. Pay tithing. Why? To be worthy to go to the temple and receive all God has to give you. Tithing is a principle we obey because we have faith. Through tithing the windows will be opened. Don't miss these blessings. Just trust the Lord. Live the Word of Wisdom. The Word of Wisdom just makes sense. Be honest with the Lord, and I promise in His name that He will bless you. You will have a sense of confidence. Enjoy the gospel. It is wonderful to have the gospel in your lives. Father in heaven will pour out blessings that you never dreamed possible, because you are His sons and daughters. Jesus Christ has atoned for us if we come unto Him, repent and become the type of person we ought to be. All those blessings promised will be given to you."
Members were especially touched as Elder Ballard closed with an apostolic blessing on the area and his testimony. "You will come to know as I know that the Savior lives, this is His Church, and He is very close to it."