Less than a year after the first Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived in the Dominican Republic, the island suffered one of the worst natural disasters in its history.
In late August 1979, Hurricane David was a Category 5 storm when it hit the Dominican Republic, with the eye just barely missing the capital city of Santo Domingo. Roughly 2,000 people were killed, and extreme flooding took out bridges and homes and destroyed crops all over the island.
As the storm approached, the 39 missionaries serving across the Dominican Republic gathered in a chapel in the Piantini neighborhood of Santo Domingo. After boarding up the chapel’s windows, they went inside to wait out the storm.
With the rain and wind raging outside, the missionaries—37 young elders and John and Ada Davis, a retired couple who would later serve as the first mission president of the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo Mission—held a testimony meeting.
“The thirty-nine of us knelt in prayer with candle lights and flashlights,” Ada Davis remembered. “[We] had the most beautiful testimony meeting I’ll ever attend. We didn’t sense any fear or apprehension, any worry, from any of the elders because they just felt like they had been called there to serve the Lord, their mission wasn’t over and we would be protected. After this beautiful testimony meeting by candlelight and flashlight, we knelt in prayer and prayed for the sake of the Dominicans there and our people at home, who would be concerned about us. And the missionaries went to sleep. They really slept well. But I’ll never forget how everyone trusted in the Lord after our prayers, that he would keep us safe.”
Over in Puerto Rico, mission president Richard Millett later said that the night Hurricane David struck the Dominican Republic was a very long one for him.
“I didn’t sleep much that night,” he wrote, “worrying about our missionaries and how the hurricane might be affecting them and the members. I listened to the weather report at 9 p.m., 12 a.m., 3 a.m., and 6 a.m. Each report said that the winds were destructive, that there was high loss of life and no communication was possible with the island.”
Despite those reports, by morning Millett “felt impressed to call them on the telephone.”
“I had faith and knew that I must find out what was happening,” he wrote.
“One of the elders picked [the phone] up. It was President Millett, and he asked how everyone was doing, and they informed him that we were all safe and sound. ... He hung up after he talked to this elder and that phone never rang again for a couple of months.”
So, ignoring the facts, he picked up the phone and dialed directly to the chapel in Piantini. And back in Santo Domingo, the phone rang.
“One of the elders picked it up,” John Davis remembered. “It was President Millett, and he asked how everyone was doing, and they informed him that we were all safe and sound and the storm was moving out and everything was getting calmed down. He hung up after he talked to this elder and that phone never rang again for a couple of months.”
Brad Fellows, one of the missionaries in Santo Domingo, later said he not only remembered President Millett’s phone call the morning after the storm, but also walking outside shortly after they hung up and realizing “there were no phone poles or lines still standing.”
“It will always be a miracle to me,” Ada Davis said.
With the storm gone, cleanup began. The missionaries checked in with the members on the island and found that, despite the widespread destruction, very few needed any repair work done on their homes.
A little over a week later, Millett was able to travel to the Dominican Republic to see firsthand all that had happened.
“We found that the missionaries were all in good spirits and that the experience of the storms had strengthened them,” he later wrote. “I counseled all of the missionaries to return to their areas, put on their preparation-day clothing, and to go out into the streets and neighborhoods and work alongside their Dominican brothers and sisters. This proved to be one of the most beneficial things that we could have done. The Dominicans saw that they really cared and recognized them as the disciples of Christ that they were.”
Missionary Thomas Hales recalled being counseled to do his missionary work with a hammer in hand, and in time it seemed that the hurricane’s silver lining was how it proved to be a blessing to the missionary work in the Dominican Republic. The missionaries’ service endeared them to many, and one man was even baptized as a direct result of the storm.
Wrote Millett: “One of the investigators in San Cristóbal had a testimony building experience which caused him to repent of the things that had been keeping him from being baptized, and to request that the missionaries baptize him immediately. His humble home had been the only house on the block that had been spared. It was probably the least substantial of any of the homes, but had remained untouched by the hurricane while the others had been completely leveled to the ground.”