Shared with permission from my missionary friend currently serving in Ecuador:
I just returned from an extra Family Home Evening we had tonight which lasted 2 1/4 hours (usually they are only 1 hour). This was a special event with the Second Counselor in the temple presidency, Jorge Dennis, and his wife, Anette, sharing the experiences they had when here previously as the mission president of the Guayaquil West Mission. He was the mission president when a very large area of western Ecuador was hit by a major earthquake in April 2016. At that time, there were 180 missionaries in the mission.
In April 2014, Pres. Dennis had a dream where there were very dark clouds over the city. They were bigger and darker than any he had seen. People were running and screaming. When he awoke, he discussed it with his wife and they wondered if it meant something. But they got busy and didn't think of it again.
Two months later he had another dream like the first one, but the dark clouds were closer. In this one he was trying to get home to his wife and daughter. The dream felt very real. He said he felt like there was a disaster coming and thought it would be an earthquake. Pres. Dennis decided that he needed to start disaster preparation and training. He called in his 4 mission nurses (one an RN) and zone leaders to develop and implement a mission disaster plan and training. Determined were disaster routes and a safe place to which each missionary was to go immediately. They prepared for flood, fire, earthquake, and tsunami.
It took 6 months to prepare. All the missionaries were to put together a emergency backpack kit with $40, water, food & other necessities. The nurse made all the missionaries run around the church twice while wearing their backpacks to ensure they could bear the load. They had to do that at each monthly zone conference in addition to dumping out all the contents and comparing them to a checklist. With each zone conference he would address a different aspect of preparation but also would talk about exact obedience to the commandments of God. Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley said, Obedience brings blessings, exact obedience brings miracles.
One month before the earthquake, Pres. Dennis had another dream. This time the dark clouds were right in front of him. He knew that the disaster would be an earthquake, and it would occur soon.
16 APRIL, 2016, 6:58 PM, MAGNITUDE 7.8 EARTHQUAKE.
Aftershocks were above 4 and some above 5 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was 300 miles north of Guayaquil, but it was still felt here. The Dennises were in the mission office on the 5th floor when the building began to sway. Immediately the phone lines went out, but they still had internet phone service which went in and out, making it possible to communicate with the missionaries and determine within 2 hours that all were safe and accounted for.
Some cities were completely demolished. We saw pictures of the areas immediately following the earthquake. You may recall I visited a couple of cities last fall,18 months post disaster, and could still see many results of the damage to buildings.
Following are stories told by missionaries. They wrote them down and gave them to President Dennis to put in a mission history book. Some missionaries testified that they were guided to places they needed to be when the earthquake occurred. Others testified of angels protecting them, and they knew the angels were their ancestors.
In Bahia, Ecuador, the hospital was destroyed, and our chapel there was turned into a hospital. It was like a ghost town with no electricity and no lights after dark. There was a lot of looting and robbing immediately afterward.
Six missionaries were in the area of Bahia de Caraquez. The missionaries were known well in the city, but they said as they walked through the city while leaving, no one seemed to even see them. It was as if they were invisible. No dangers came to them with all the looting and chaos around them.
Other missionaries also testified that during the chaos after the earthquake, cars were driving through crowds and hitting people and animals, panicked people were running into each other and knocking each other down,while others were robbing and looting. It seemed as if they were invisible and surrounded by a protective bubble.
Aftershocks were very strong. Six aftershocks occurred on April 22, but none on April 23 or 24 while three area authority Seventies from the church came to inspect the area. Then on April 25th, after they had left, more aftershocks occurred
Two missionaries meeting with a family ran from the house and into the street with a man and his 2 children. They surrounded the children to protect them but his wife and baby were still in the building. The man was in shock and was not responding when an Elder told him to go get his wife and baby. The Elder had 2 words come into his mind: Priesthood and Monson. He remembered a story by Pres. Monson from conference 2 weeks before. During WW II in the South Pacific a friend's plane was shot down. The crew clung to life rafts for 3 days. Finally, they spotted a ship which passed them by. His friend commanded the ship to turn around and pick them up in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the priesthood. Thus they were saved. This young missionary used that example and the priesthood which he held to command the father to run into the house and get his wife and baby. The man immediately responded, and no sooner had they come out then the entire building collapsed.
A set of sisters was teaching an older woman in her home when one sister heard a voice tell her to get under the table. She didn’t want to but then a brick came down and hit her on a leg. After that, she dove under the table just as the ceiling above her came down. Sheltering under the table prevented her from being completely buried by the debris.
Jaramijo was the epicenter where ALL the buildings were damaged or completely destroyed except the apartment building where the sister missionaries lived. (The pictures of that area looked like a bomb had hit the town.) Their building had only one crack which didn't affect the structural integrity. The evangelical owner thanked the mission president for having the sisters there as he knew that’s why the building survived. The following Sunday and afterward, many people who previously had been inactive and many investigators showed up at church.
A sister leader had 2 new sisters with her. They had two appointments starting at 6 pm, but the leader felt that they should not go to the appointments but rather go to the home of an inactive sister that would never let them in. They determined that if she let them in this time, they would just give a short lesson on prayer and leave. However, when the sister did let them in, the sister leader gave a really long lesson. The other 2 sisters kept wondering why. They left the bamboo house built on stilts when the earthquake hit. Nothing happened to that house, and they were able to get a moto-taxi (which never comes by that area) and headed back to town, passing the places where they had the two appointments they skipped. Both buildings sustained a lot of damage.
In Portoviejo, two sisters were teaching in a room in a building. They could hear all around them people screaming and glass breaking. They dropped to their knees and prayed. When the shaking was over, not one picture or glass had broken in the room. When they opened the door to leave, the entire stairs were gone. The rest of the building all around them had collapsed.
A district leader was heading out to find all his missionaries as he had been trained to do, but he really wanted to stop and help people. When he started to go to help someone, he heard the voice of his uncle who had recently passed away say, Elder, where are your missionaries? He immediately stopped and headed to the church building where he was supposed to go to account for his missionaries.
These were only a few of the stories of being protected told by the missionaries. In all the mission only one was hurt, the sister who ignored the first prompting to get under the table had a nasty bruise on her leg.
What an inspiring meeting. That was Monday. It has taken me until Friday night to find time to finish writiing about it.
Love, Hermana Elliott
Love, Hermana Elliott