Car crushed in Guatemalan earthquake 1976

Mormon Missionaries in the Guatemala Earthquake of 1976

by Larry Richman

This is part 2. Read part 1 of the story.

Work Camp Patzicía

LDS Work Camp Patzicia

LDS Work Camp Patzicia

We set up a camp of tents around the church in Patzicía and sixteen missionaries spent the next two months in jeans and t-shirts working with shovels and picks helping the people clear out their sites to make way to build new houses. We were anxious to get the members into houses before the rainy season began in just a few months. We hauled out the old adobe bricks, took apart the roofs, and stacked the timbers and corrugated metal sheets.

Sundays were spent in church and other meetings to organize work parties, but the other six days a week we left camp at 6:30am and returned dusty and dirty at 5:00pm. We would then bathe, eat, and go to bed. One morning, for example, three of us worked at a man's house carrying 35-pound adobe bricks on our shoulders from the house, 110 feet to the road where we dumped them. During the five hours we were at his house, we moved about 32,000 pounds. One Elder commented that in all the years bucking hay on his dad's farm, he had never worked harder in his life than he did here. We didn't look for praise from our parents or from the mission president; we worked because we loved the people and wanted to help them.

Elder Larsen and Elder Richman chipping the plaster off a wall

How to tear down an adobe wall: Step 1. Elder Larsen and Elder Richman chipping the plaster off a wall. Click the picture to see a larger image.

Elder Richman and others push over an adobe wall

How to tear down an adobe wall: Step 2. Elder Richman and others push over an adobe wall. Click the picture to see a larger image.

Elder Richman pushing over a wall

Elder Richman pushing over a wall

Tearing down a wall during a work day in Sumpano

Tearing down a wall during a work day in Sumpano

And the wall came down

And the wall came down

Elders Bernhardt and Richman stacking wood after dismantling a roof

Elders Bernhardt and Richman stacking wood after dismantling a roof in Sumpango.

Elder Gary Larson

Elder Gary Larson

Elders Richman and Gibson after a workday in Sumpango.

Elders Richman and Gibson after a workday in Sumpango.

Elder Richman in Sumpango, Guatemala

Elder Richman in Sumpango.

Elder Richman helping a child

Elder Richman helping a child

Elder Atkin working

Elder Atkin is on the right

Elder Warnock and Elder Larson tear down damaged walls after the earthquake in Guatemala 1976

Elder Warnock (on the left) and Elder Larson (on the right) tear down damaged walls after the earthquake in Guatemala 1976

Each preparation day (Monday) for two months after the earthquake, the Guatemala City Zone and the Quetzaltenango Zone joined us to work in mass in a town to help members and nonmembers alike. Read about the missionaries working in towns on their preparation days in the article "Elders Help Rebuild Guatemala" from the Church News.

LDS Missionary Work day in Comalapa, Guatemala

Work day in Comalapa February 23, 1976

LDS Missionary work day in Comalapa, Guatemala

Missionary work day in Comalapa

Work day in Comalapa February 23, 1976

Work day in Comalapa February 23, 1976

Comalapa street

Comalapa street

Street scene in Comalapa looking from the park

Street scene in Comalapa looking from the park

Comalapa looking from Calvario

Street view in Comalapa looking from theCalvario

Elder Bernhardt sitting on a rock next to a dead chicken after the Comalapa work day

Elder Bernhardt sitting on a rock next to a dead chicken after the Comalapa work day

Mormons Move Mountains article about Guatemala Earthquake 1976

"Mormons Move Mountains" article in the La Tarde newspaper about our work day in Comalapa. Click the picture to see a larger image.

Missionaries stopping for a watermelon break on the road out of Comalapa after the work day. (Elder Choc in foreground)

Missionaries stopping for a watermelon break on the road out of Comalapa after the work day. (Elders Evans, Choc, and Frischknecht in foreground)

We (about 4 elders) went to Guatemala City on February 23, 1976 after the Comalapa work day and spent the night in the Ritz Continental Hotel, 6a Avenida "A" 10-13 in zone 1. The hotel was not badly damaged in the earthquake. It was strange to sleep again indoors, worried that heavy walls might fall on us during one of the tremors that were still occurring.

Helicopter delivering aid in the Comalapa town square

Helicopter delivering aid in the Comalapa town square

Comalapa town square months later. (Photo courtesy Michael Morris)

Comalapa town square several months later. (Photo courtesy Michael Morris)

Comalapa Catholic churches rebuilt

In 2009, showing the facade of the old Comalapa Catholic church rebuilt and a new church beside it.

Four camp studs: Garth Howard, Kelly Robbins, Lance Standifird, Larry Richman

Four camp studs: Garth Howard, Kelly Robbins, Lance Standifird, Larry Richman

Elders Daniel Choc, Julio Salazar, and Dennis Atkin

Elders Daniel Choc, Julio Salazar, and Dennis Atkin

Elders Boyce Lines and Luis Manuel Argueta

Elder Bleak Powel and Elder Luis Manuel Argueta

Camp Patzicia

Bleak Powell, David Frischknecht, Garth Howard, Cleo Fromm, Kelly Robbins, Hye Fromm

Elder & Sister Boyce and Carol Lines

Elder and Sister Boyce and Carol Lines helped supervise the camp.

Hye and Cleo Fromm helped supervise the camp

Hye and Cleo Fromm helped supervise the camp

Hye and Cleo Fromm

Hye and Cleo Fromm

Larry Richman in Camp Patzicia

Elder Richman beginning a day's work

Elders Argueta and Richman in Patzicia, Guatemala

Elders Argueta and Richman on the street in Patzicía, Guatemala

In Patzicia. Only the doors of this house are still standing

In Patzicía. Only the doors of this house are still standing

Elders Richman and Argueta

Elders Richman and Argueta

Elder Argueta on the right

Elder Argueta on the right

Elder Argueta

Elder Argueta

Elder Richman

Elder Richman

Elders Argueta and Richman behind the Patzicia church

Elders Argueta and Richman behind the Patzicía church. See alternate photo.

Camp Patzicia work crew

Work gang 1: Elders Bernhardt, Salazar, Richman, and Schmolinger

Camp Patzicia workers

Work gang 2: Elders Choc, Larson, Frischknecht, and Evans

Elders Richman, Salazar, Choc, Evans, Larson, Frischknecht, and Bernhardt

Camp Patzicia workers

Camp Patzicía workers

The "Camp Patzicia" crew

The "Camp Patzicía" crew. See alternate photo. Where are they today?

Elders Wait, Worthington, Bernhardt, Brother & Sister Powell, Elder Howard, Sister Sharp, Elder Schmolinger, Sister Hyer, and Elder Warnock

Elder Wait, Elder Worthington, Elder Bernhardt, Sister Powell, Brother Powell, Elder Howard, Sister Sharp, Elder Schmolinger, Sister Hyer, and Elder Warnock. Click the picture to see a larger image.

Mixing adobe mud, Elders Larson, Robbins, and Richman

Mixing adobe mud, Elders Larson, Robbins, and Richman

busload of help from the USA arrives in Patzicia, Guatemala

A busload of help arrives in Patzicía from the USA

Elder Argueta and his mom

Elder Argueta's mom paid him a short visit to be sure he was ok. See alternate photo.

For part of the two months of Camp Patzicía, another missionary and I took care of the camp during the day. One day for example, we saw a calf born, killed six chickens, hauled several hundred gallons of water up from the well, distributed food and clothing to people who showed up at the church, washed the morning and evening dishes, cleaned the kitchen, dining room, tents, and camp, sorted the clean clothing and delivered it to each tent, ran some errands in town, and moved a piano and some other things from the rooms in the church.

One day when Greg Martin and I were in the camp, a helicopter landed in the field next to the church. A man came running out of the helicopter and asked "Did you get the powdered milk from Candada?" It seemed an odd question, since we didn't know anything about milk from Canada.

Elder Richman washing clothes

Elder Richman washing clothes

Sister Cathy Hyer and Sister Geraldine Pullam

Sister Cathy Hyer and Sister Geraldine Pullam

Elders Howard, Argueta, and Robbins washing up after a day of work

Elders Howard, Argueta, and Robbins washing up after a day of work

Garth Howard, Kelly Robbins, Cathy Hyer

Garth Howard, Kelly Robbins, Cathy Hyer

Elder Kelly Robbins' birthday

Enjoying a free moment to celebrate Elder Kelly Robbins' birthday. Elders Howard, Robbins, Argueta

Elder Kelly Robbins' birthday

Elder Kelly Robbins' birthday. Elder Howard, Sister Johnson, Sister Wheatly, Elder Robbins, and Elder Richman.jpg

We continued to have tremors several times a day. No one sleeps under anything heavier than paper, cardboard, or cloth. We often wondered if a larger quake would come as they experienced in the town of Antigua many years ago. A quake knocked down buildings and killed people, but three weeks later an even larger quake hit which completely destroyed the town.

For a few weeks, the Guatemalan National Observatory installed a seismograph in town. It measured tremors of up to 3.5 on the Richter scale. They come from near the surface, which means the ground is moving and unstable. The center of the activity is about four miles south of Patzicía, near the volcano Fuego.

David Frischknecht and Julio Salazar

David Frischknecht and Julio Salazar

Elders Argueta and Richman

Elders Argueta and Richman

Back of the Patzicia church with Elder Argueta and Elder Choc

Back of the Patzicía church with Elder Argueta and Elder Choc

Elder Richman and Walter Matzer (our landlord in Comalapa) collecting sand at the river.

Elder Richman and Walter Matzer (our landlord in Comalapa) collecting sand at the river.

Sunday services outside in Patzicia, Guatemala

Sunday services outside in Patzicía, Guatemala for the first few weeks

Temporary church where meetings were held in Patzicia, Guatemala until the new chapel was rebuilt

Temporary church where meetings were held until the church was rebuilt.

Services inside the temporary church where meetings were held in Patzicia, Guatemala until the new chapel was rebuilt

Services inside the temporary church where meetings were held in Patzicia, Guatemala until the new chapel was rebuilt

Elder Richman, work missionary

Elder Larry Richman, work missionary

Elders Richman and Argueta

Elders Richman and Argueta

This is the tent I lived in for two months

This is the tent I lived in for two months during the work camp.

Inside tent Camp Patzicia

Inside our tent at Camp Patzicía

Elder Larry Richman and his tent companion, Elder Luis Manuel Argueta

Elder Larry Richman and his tent companion, Elder Luis Manuel Argueta. Click the picture to see a larger image.

Sister Arcadia Miculax Secay (daughter of Mateo Miculax and Petronilia Secay) was the Relief Society president in Patzicía and she died in the earthquake, along with her baby Baudilio. Her husband, Ricardo Cua Itzol was not a member. But the urgency of the earthquake helped him decide to get baptized.

Teaching Ricardo Cua

Elder Choc and Elder Salazar teaching Ricardo Cua

Elders Salazar and Choc preparing a spot for the baptism in the river Balanyá

Elders Salazar and Choc preparing a spot for the baptism in the river Balanyá

Elder Salazar baptizing Ricardo Cua in the river Balanyá on February 12, 1976

Elder Salazar baptizing Ricardo Cua in the river Balanyá on February 12, 1976

Elder Choc baptizing [  ] in the river Balanyá on February 12, 1976

Elder Choc baptizing [ ] in the river Balanyá on February 12, 1976

Elder Richman preparing to confirm Ricardo Cua a member of the Church on the banks of the river Balanyá on February 12, 1976

Elder Richman preparing to confirm Ricardo Cua a member of the Church on the banks of the river Balanyá on February 12, 1976. Alternate photo.

Brother Ricardo Cua later died in an accident in mixing pesticides. Elder Larry Richman and Elder David Frischknecht performed the temple work for him and his wife, Arcadia Miculax Secay, on July 18, 1979. See the family genealogy sheets and letter about the temple work.

Making an adobe house

Making an adobe house with Brother Per

Making an adobe house

Making an adobe house with Brother Per

Making an adobe house

Making an adobe house, Elder Frischknecht and Elder Richman

President Robert B. Arnold in Patzun to discuss the housing reconstruction project with the members. (Also shown: Eber Caranza, Gary Larson, D Warnock).

Since most of the members had no financial means (savings or the ability to borrow money) to reconstruct homes, the Church came up with a plan to help them. President Robert B. Arnold in Patzún to discuss the housing reconstruction project with the members. (Also shown: Eber Caranza, Gary Larson, D Warnock).

Mission president Robert Arnold meeting with Patzun members

Mission president Robert Arnold meeting with Patzún members

Signs like this printed on cardstock began appearing:

Guatemala en pie sign

¡Guatemala en pie! ("Guatemala is still standing!" or "Guatemala is still on its feet!")

Signs at Guatemala earthquake 1976

Juntemos nuestras manos y levantemos a nuestro pueblo. Comalapa vive. ("Let's join our hands and raise our town. Comalapa lives.")

Signs at Guatemala earthquake 1976

Con tu ayuda ¡Señor! reconstruiremos Comalapa. ("With thy help Lord, we will reconstruct Comalapa.")

Postage stamps wer later issued commemorating the earthquake

Postage stamps were later issued commemorating the earthquake

Elder Daniel Choc Xicay

A tribute to a man who sacrificed all to share the gospel. Elder Daniel Choc Xicay was the first full-time LDS missionary from the town of Patzicía and the Church's first native Cakchiquel-speaking missionary.

Elder Daniel Choc Xicay missionary photo

Elder Daniel Choc Xicay missionary photo

Elder Daniel Choc

Elder Daniel Choc

Pablo Choc, Elder Daniel Choc, Alejandro Choc, Elder David Frishknecht

Branch president Pablo Choc, his sons Elder Daniel Choc and Austin Choc, and Elder David Frishknecht behind the fallen church in Patzicía after most of the rubble was removed.

Sister Powell wrote: "Our dear Branch President Pablo Choc who lost his wife and two little sons in the quake goes about his duties with a smile on his face. But when we are alone and talking, he says, 'Oh, Hermana, I miss my wife so much. My home is so sad. I just hope that I can live worthy and work in the church so that I can be with them again. This life isn't too long. We just have to go on and do the best we can.' His son, Daniel, the first Cakchiquel Indian to go on a full-time mission came to our tent the other night. He is here with the other missionaries working. He said, 'I just can't believe that my mother is dead. It is so sad for me, but it is much sadder for my little sisters. They need her so much.' But he goes along each day in his missionary work laughing with the other missionaries. Perhaps they don't know the pain that is in his heart." (Excerpts from February 4, 1976: We Were There, an unpublished account by Gladys Powell.)

Passport photo of Pablo Choc's family when they went to the Mesa temple to be sealed

Passport photo of Pablo Choc's family when they went to the Mesa temple to be sealed

Pablo Choc's wife and child who died in the earthquake

Pablo Choc's wife and child who died in the earthquake

As mentioned previously, each Monday for two months after the earthquake, all the missionaries from several zones joined us to work in mass in a town to help people clean up and prepare for rebuilding. The last Monday of the camp was March 29, 1976, and were were working in the town of Patzún. After this, we were to break the work camp and go back to regular missionary work.

Day in Patzun

Work day in Patzún

Wall being pulled down in Guatemala

Several missionaries were picking away at the bottom of a 15-foot wall (similar to the one pictured above) when it gave way prematurely and fell.

Everyone scrambled to safety, except for Elder Daniel Choc who was crushed by a four-foot section of brick and cement. Elder Warnock gave him artificial respiration while he was rushed to a school that had been converted into a hospital. But the Lord soon called him home.

We thought we had seen the end of death from the earthquake two months before that, but now it took another life that was dear to us. All we could do was ask ourselves was "Why was it him under that wall and not me?" In spite of the difficulties he had in his life, Elder Choc was always happy and was a good friend to us. He was also an asset to the mission, being the only native Cakchiquel missionary. He patiently taught us to understand his people and speak their dialect.

Daniel Choc Xicay

Daniel Choc Xicay

Daniel Choc's missionary farewell

Daniel Choc's missionary farewell. See alternate photo 2, photo 3, and photo 4.

We put his dear body in a pickup truck, and Elder Boyce Lines, Elder D Warnock, and I took him to Patzicía. The branch president Pablo Choc, Daniel's father, was at the Patzicía church when we arrived. President Choc had experienced nearly the tests of Job, but remained strong and true. He is one of the most noble, dignified, and humble men I know. He and his wife had given birth to ten children, and she was expecting her eleventh when she was killed in the earthquake. Pablo was then left with six living children.

The mission president and I prepared Daniel's body and placed it in the casket. He was only about 5' 2", but he was a giant of a man in my eyes. We left on the lapel of his suit the button he wore which read "Por sacrificio se dan bendiciones" (Blessings come through sacrifice).

Carrying Daniel Choc's coffin to the cemetery

Carrying Daniel Choc's coffin to the cemetery. Missionaries pictured (from left to right): Elders Bernhardt, Frischknecht, Robbins, Salazar, Fulgencio Choy, and Elder Howard (front right of coffin). Click the picture to see a larger image.

President Robert B. Arnold and Pablo Choc at Daniel's funeral

President Robert B. Arnold and Pablo Choc at Daniel's funeral. Click the picture to see a larger image.

Pablo Choc at Daniel's funeral

Pablo Choc at Daniel's funeral. Click the picture to see a larger image.

The funeral services were held at Pablo Choc's home on March 30, 1976. (See the funeral program.) I spoke about the five weeks we were companions in Comalapa. During those five weeks he taught me things that I thought I already knew—like what love is and what dedication and commitment are all about. The most productive day of my mission was with Elder Choc. We taught ten discussions that day. As we knocked on doors to find those ten people to teach, and after being turned away at a door, Elder Choc would often run—not walk—to knock on the next door.

Elders Argueta, Richman, Robbins, and Larson at Daniel Choc's funeral

Elders Argueta, Richman, Robbins, and Larson at Daniel Choc's funeral

Elder Choc was deserving of two honors. He was the world's first Cakchiquel missionary, and now he is the first Cakchiquel missionary in the spirit world.

I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead. —Doctrine and Covenants 138:57

Elder Choc's casket was placed in a tomb which was built over the grave of his mother, two brothers, and the twelve other members of the branch that we buried on February 5th.

Argueta, Larson, Robbins, and Richman at Daniel's grave

Elders Argueta, Larson, Robbins, and Richman at Daniel's grave. See other photos: Elder Hixon at the grave, tomb to the left of the tree, and Elder Larsen, Lynn Richman, and Elder Frischknecht viewing the grave when my father visited to pick me up from my mission in August 1976.

Each of us took time to sit by the grave and record our thoughts: Elder Argueta, Elder Larson, Elder Richman

Daniel Choc Xicay's headstone

Daniel Choc Xicay's headstone. Click the picture to see a larger image. See alternate photo of the headstone

On the front of his tomb is a marble headstone with the following inscription: "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. Mosiah 2:17. Daniel Choc (Xicay). Born December 11, 1953. Died March 29, 1976. The first Cakchiquel missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who died serving his people."

I look forward to the day when I cross the veil and meet Elder Choc again with open arms, and I can thank him like I never really did in this life for his friendship and the example he showed me.

"It was impossible to get Elder Choc angry at you. You couldn't argue with him either." —Julio Salazar

"Elder Choc taught me through his example the true meaning of brotherly kindness, dedication, and consecration." —Larry Richman

Fulgencio Choy and Daniel Choc

Fulgencio Choy and Daniel Choc. Click the picture to see a larger image.

Newspaper article

Newspaper article (perhaps Church News?)

"He died in the service of the Lord while doing missionary work—fellowshipping and helping a nonmember. What better way to die!" —President Robert B. Arnold

"I have had the privilege to interview Elder Choc and to know the intimate details of his life. I assure you that Elder Choc left this world completely dedicated and completely pure." —President Robert B. Arnold

"I just hope I'm in as good a shape when I die as Elder Choc was." —President Robert B. Arnold

Letter to the editor about Daniel Choc

Letter to the editor about Daniel Choc

See the following articles in Church magazines about Elder Daniel Choc:

See telegram from Walter Matzer.

Elder Choc's girlfriend, Feliza Choy, was an inspiration of strength. She later served a full-time mission herself.

Feliza Choy (Elder Daniel Choc's girlfriend), Elder Argueta, and Elder Richman

Feliza Choy (Elder Daniel Choc's girlfriend) talking with Elder Argueta and Elder Richman

President Pablo Choc was an inspiration. Many people, both members of the Church and those who weren't members, watched Pablo Choc to see how he would respond to these tragedies. His example of strength was an important reason the Church has grown so beautifully in Patzicía. I understand that about 10% of Patzicianos are LDS. There was just one branch in Patzicía in 1976, and today (2015), there are four wards and a stake centered in Patzicía.

The Conclusion of Camp Patzicía

Camp Patzicía ended on March 31, 1976 and the missionaries who worked there were assigned to return to proselyting work in various towns. Read where these missionaries are today.

Another group of 35 labor missionaries (local prospective full-time missionaries and BYU students) took over the tents and during a period of nine months, built over 250 small cinder block homes for the members. Read the article "Cementing Ties in Guatemala" (New Era, February 1977) about the workers who helped reconstruct homes. Also see "Rebuilding After Guatemala Quake."

Construction camp making cinderblocks

Construction camp making cinderblocks

Construction camp making cinderblocks

Construction camp making cinderblocks

Construction camp crew

Construction camp crew

Tent city at the Patzicía church for the construction missionaries

Tent city at the Patzicía church for the construction missionaries

Breaking up the roof at the Patzicia LDS church

Members help break up the roof at the Patzicía church

LDS Church in Patzicia, Guatemala after the 1976 earthquake

Demolition of the Patzicia, Guatemala LDS church

Demolition of the Patzicía, Guatemala LDS church

Demolition of the Patzicia, Guatemala LDS church

Demolition of the Patzicía, Guatemala LDS church

Demoition of the LDS church in Patzicia, Guatemala after the earthquake in 1976

Clearing debris from the Patzicía church

I have lived with the Cakchiquel people and seen them work and toil. I have helped them build their houses with bright hopes for the future, and then help them shovel away the debris after those hopes were destroyed in a 45-second earthquake. I have lived with them, prayed with them, sweat with them, and helped them bury their dead. I have shared their joy when I see success and progress.

For me the earthquake began as if a nightmare. I thought I was dreaming that I was trapped in bed. I thought I could wake up and everything would be all right. But I woke up to find the nightmare was a reality that shattered hopes and dreams. But the earthquake ended up being a cleansing of sorts. Towns have been rebuilt, new dreams have been born, and with a firm trust in God there is even more hope for a bright future.

The Miza family in their new home in 1978

Elena, Nelson, and Rigoberto Miza in their new home in July 1978

Children at the Patzicia LDS church in 1978

Children in Patzicía playing with construction materials at the rebuilding of the church in Patzicía in 1978

This is part 2. Read part 1 of the story.