“It looks like a war zone,” said Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, after looking at the effects of a recent earthquake in Ecuador.
The 7.8-magnitude quake hit the region on April 16, killing more than an estimated 650 people and injuring thousands.
The Mormon leader visited two of the hardest-hit areas, including the cities of Manta and Portoviejo, April 28–29, 2016. Bishop Waddell comforted and ministered to earthquake victims during his trip. He walked with people as they showed him the damage to their homes, he visited distribution centers and he met with government officials.
Bishop Waddell also spent time with local Church leaders and members during his visit. “My feelings after being with members here in Ecuador is one of gratitude for who they are, for their faith,” he said.
“I feel humbled after being with them in the earthquake disaster zone and seeing how they’ve reacted, how they’ve served others, their worries not only for their material and personal needs, but their worry to help others out,” expressed Bishop Waddell. “It’s magnified my faith in humanity and in members of the Church.”
The Church immediately deployed humanitarian aid, including food, water and other items, to the affected areas following the massive earthquake that was felt across the country and in neighboring Colombia and Peru. The Church’s Welfare Department is also working with government leaders in Ecuador to deliver assistance to the victims. Volunteers also prepared aid kits for impacted families.
The Church’s Ecuador Mormon Newsroom website reported 11 Latter-day Saints were killed. No missionaries were injured. The government of Ecuador estimates damage in the South American country at $3 billion.
Some Church meetinghouses received minor damage. Others are being used for temporary shelter where earthquake victims from all faiths are also receiving medical care. Some of those receiving shelter have even helped to unload donations.
“For one moment, they put their pain aside and try to find ways to help others who need more than they do,” said Franklin Romero, president of the Manta Ecuador Stake (similar to a diocese).
A group of 25 people from three families, now homeless, took refuge at one of the Church buildings. “Sadly, where I lived with my family, mother, and sisters, … we can no longer live in that home. It’s a place that if you go, you would tremble. We’ve lost so many things. There are no walls because they’ve fallen,” said Ana Godoy.
“What keeps me going in these moments is my testimony of Christ,” said Jorge Arturo Mero. He was attending a planning meeting in a Church meetinghouse when the quake hit. His family was safe, but his home was destroyed. “Moments after the earthquake, I went home and found them outside crying,” he said.
The Presiding Bishopric oversees many of the temporal affairs of the Church, including welfare and humanitarian aid.
“The Church has collaborated, and thank you for the attention that the Mormons have given us,” said Santiago Armas, an army colonel in Portoviejo.
The leader of a group of Mormon congregations in Puertoviejo was encouraged by the visit of Bishop Waddell and other Church leaders. “His words of comfort allow us to see that the future is bright and promising. The gospel of Jesus Christ will allow us to move forward, [and] everything will be fine,” said Leonida Toala, the Portoviejo Ecuador stake president.
Bishop Waddell and his wife were living in Peru while he was serving in the South America Northwest Area presidency before being called to serve as second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric last October. He served a mission in Spain and is fluent in Spanish.