Mormons in Mexico Help Rebuild Communities in Aftermath of Destruction

Video

Juchitán, Oaxaca, Mexico

Rosa Lopez Jiménez cries as she walks among rubble in a vacant lot in Juchitán, Mexico, that used to be her home, built by her husband decades ago. “That night I was so sad, so sad. … Everything came down,” recalls Rosa. “Everything is ruined. Everything he left me.”

 

Rosa, like thousands of others, lost everything from the force of an 8.2 magnitude earthquake striking September 7, 2017, and another hitting September 19 that registered 7.1. “I thought, ‘Why am I going to move everything?’” she says. “I can just stay downstairs, but then the other earthquake came.” The second and third floors of Rosa’s house collapsed during the first temblor. The main floor went down 12 days later during earthquake number two.

Jojutla, Morelos, Mexico

Several hundred miles away a family gathering place that provided security and comfort for generations crumbled in seconds. “This house was built by my grandparents,” reflected Rosalba Campos. “[The family] always came here to stay, to eat. This is the place where we had the family Three Kings Day celebrations.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members joined other faiths and organizations immediately after the region-wide catastrophic quakes unleashed their destructive might. Thousands of volunteers reached out to care for those who lost so much, like Rosa Lopez and Rosalba Campos.

“One of the first responses to the earthquakes was to provide and supply food and tents,” says Elder Arnulfo Valenzuela, a General Authority Seventy serving in the area presidency in Mexico. “We're [also] supplying machinery to clean up the streets, to bring down those homes that are still there but not useful anymore.”

Local municipal leaders in several cities welcomed the much-needed supplies, expertise and manpower. “From the beginning, [our Mormon friends] told us that they were with us,” says Rosaura Lopez Valdiveiso, president of the Division of Child and Family Services in Juchitán, Mexico. “They let us use all their facilities and gave us all their support. They helped us with a lot of food.”

Gonzalo Vicente Landeta is the local Mormon leader responsible for the stake, which consists of several congregations. President Vicente says the Church members jumped into action to help their neighbors. “We took care of people’s needs. And then, when everything was OK, then we took care of the buildings.”

More than 1,200 Mormon volunteers came from other states in Mexico to help. They were self-contained with their own provisions, shelter and tools—ready to work.

Ixhuatán, Oaxaca, Mexico

The mayor of Ixhuatán, Mexico, César Augusto Matus Velesquez, is emotional when he recalls the help that came to his town. “You have been an institution that has helped us so much from the beginning. Seeing buses of people get here—without any need, without any compromise; they were willing to work—that touched my heart.”

Ixhuatán, Oaxaca, Mexico

A humble Christian church sustained heavy damage and needed costly demolition, for which the church’s pastor says there was very little money. But the LDS Church offered its machinery and manpower to help. “They didn’t leave us,” says Pastor Antonio Sanchez Carabeo. “Thank God for them. I feel that God intervened … by sending their support.”

Mormon volunteers with backhoes and dump trucks cleared away the wreckage. Now, the newly vacated lot is an empty slate ready for rebuilding. President Vicente has worked with Pastor Sanchez from the beginning to forge a new friendship. “Our relationship with this faith has become stronger,” he says.

Jojutla

Roberto De La Rosa Taguada and his wife, Gloria, live in the lower level of their home with a makeshift kitchen after the destructive jolt collapsed their main top level and scattered their pets. But, despite their own situation, they looked outward and joined their Latter-day Saint congregation to serve the needs of their neighbors. “We went house by house to see those that needed help, … and yes, we were able to help.”

Rosalba Campos’s family, now with an outdoor makeshift kitchen of their own, received some of that assistance when the De La Rosas and their Latter-day Saint friends cleared away rubble and debris. “Thanks to them we were able to demolish my parents’ home,” said Rosalba.

Juchitán

Latter-day Saint teens and their Church leaders worked on a widow’s house that was leveled from the earthquake in preparation for new construction. “We are very happy to serve,” said Mormon youth volunteer Arad Gonzalo Vicente. “The young men … got together to … serve a sister that really needed it.”

Mario Matus Gonzalez, another Mormon volunteer, says, “I'm very glad that members are forgetting themselves for a moment and helping others. I'm grateful to be here to help them as well.”

Jose Guadalupe López Ramírez, the bishop of the youth’s LDS congregation, says, “We were able to get more organized, to get more members involved in this type of service. We were able to offer more help to our community.”

Church engineers with heavy equipment removed large debris in Rosa Lopez’s lot in preparation for rebuilding. Rosa says she’ll have to replace the house she once had with one much smaller.

After yet another 7.2 tremor rippled through the southern Mexico region in February of this year, the people of Mexico remain resolute and focused on the future, rebuilding what nature destroyed. And the LDS Church remains committed to aid in those rebuilding efforts.

“We're still working on projects and plans to help the members of the Church and others to rebuild their homes,” said Elder Valenzuela.

“The earthquake lasted an entire lifetime because the work of a lifetime was lost in a little more than a minute,” recalls Mayor César Matus. “But we are in this together with the hope of rebuilding the city, with the hope that [the] people will feel good again.”

Stand by for more stories like this covering the global Church in The World Report on Mormon Newsroom, debuting Friday, March 30, 2018.

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