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Quake prompts LDS musician to action

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Carlos Rivas awoke early Jan. 14, 2001, flipped on his computer and read inch after inch of bad news.

An earthquake had struck his native El Salvador a day earlier, killing hundreds and destroying thousands of homes. Dozens of Church members were included among the victims.

"I couldn't go back to bed; I kept asking myself, 'What can I do?'" recalled Brother Rivas, who now lives in Phoenix, Ariz.

Music had been an integral element of his life since he was 12. He had his own 12-piece band — the Carlos Rivas Orchestra. But what good was happy salsa music to his homeland amid such tragedy?

At first light, Brother Rivas began calling his fellow Phoenix-area musicians, along with friends in the local radio and television industry. Soon there were plans to stage a fund-raiser — a Latino music marathon to collect money to assist Salvadorans reeling from the deadly quake.

A fellow Church member who owned a performance hall allowed Brother Rivas and the other musicians to use her facility to host the six-hour Jan. 26 marathon. Others donated food and pop for the performers and the audience. Media stations provided live broadcast feeds and the party began.

Some music lovers came to the hall to contribute money. Others listening or watching part of the marathon phoned in cash pledges. When the marathon ended, Brother Rivas and his friends had raised $26,000.

"It was a miracle, even poor people were donating," he said.

Brother Rivas learned lessons of generosity years earlier in El Salvador from a wise mentor. When he was 15, Carlos began taking guitar lessons from an established musician named Jorge Arrajo. The teacher told his new student that he would teach him all he needed to know to be a professional guitarist.

"But he also told me there were other things he could teach me if I wanted to learn," recalled Brother Rivas.

The music teacher was a local seminary teacher and a stake patriarch. He introduced his young music pupil to the full-time missionaries. Two months later, Carlos was baptized. From then on, Brother Arrajo's music classes included lessons from the Book of Mormon and Church principles like home teaching and service.

"Jorge Arrajo was like my father," said Brother Rivas, who dedicated his orchestra's first CD to the late Brother Arrajo and a Rivas brother, Manuel.

Brother Rivas and his associates decided to contribute the $26,000 raised in the music marathon to a Los Angeles, Calif., non-profit humanitarian organization that was also raising funds for Salvadoran quake victims.

It was important to the music marathon organizers that the money be used to benefit the country's most needy. So Brother Rivas purchased an airline ticket to San Salvador from his own funds and spent nine days with others from the Los Angeles group. They distributed goods purchased with the marathon money and helped many rebuild their homes.

He is grateful for Brother Arrajo's example and the support of his wife, Lucia, and his two children.

"We all have a mission in this life," said Brother Rivas of the Palo Verde Ward of the Phoenix Arizona West Stake. "The time is short, so we need to do something."