Apostles Say Meeting Youth Was Highlight of South America Trip
Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
- Elder Andersen and Elder Christofferson visited South America to meet with area leaders, youth and missionaries, and visit temples and temple sites.
- Meeting attendance, temple endowments, and missionary work prove the region is maturing.
When Elder Juan A. Uceda, who presides over the South America Northwest Area, joined the Church in 1972, there was one stake in his homeland of Peru. The nearest temple was found in Mesa, Arizona.
Since then, 42 years have passed and Elder Uceda and hundreds of thousands of other Latter-day Saints living in northern South America have witnessed miracles. There are now 100 stakes in Peru alone—and temples dot maps from Caracas, Venezuela, to Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Indeed, the past four decades for the nations of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia were defined by remarkable Church growth. But an ongoing period of maturation and gospel hastening suggests that the Church’s best days in northern South America lie ahead.
That was the assessment of Elder D. Todd Christofferson and Elder Neil L. Andersen, both members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who recently visited the region to conduct a review of the South America Northwest Area and preside over several member and missionary meetings.
“There has been ongoing progress in all five countries in the area,” Elder Christofferson told the Church News in a recent interview.
The two Apostles—who visited various cities in the area August 21–29—were accompanied by their wives, Sister Katherine Christofferson and Sister Kathy Andersen. Elder Ulisses Soares of the Presidency of the Seventy and Bishop Dean M. Davies, Second Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, also visited the area along with their wives, Sister Rosana Soares and Sister Darla Davies.
Highlights of their trip included a variety of priesthood leadership conferences, meetings with area employees, mission conferences, and youth devotionals.
“The visit of Elder Christofferson and Elder Andersen produced a great impact in the lives of thousands of members in our area,” said Elder Uceda. “We were blessed by their teachings, and at the same time, we received a greater vision of how to hasten the work of salvation.”
The annual area review was held at the area offices in Lima. Elder Christofferson, Elder Andersen, and the other visiting Brethren were hosted there by the South America Northwest Area Presidency: Elder Uceda, Elder W. Christopher Waddell, and Elder C. Scott Grow, all of the Seventy.
During a Church News interview, the two Apostles said the area review confirmed that the northern nations of South America remain a power for the global Church. Several key indicators pointed to continued development and growth.
Elder Christoffersen held a priesthood leadership conference and meeting with elders and sisters from the Bolivia La Paz Mission. First, there has been a steady increase in sacrament meeting attendance over the past few years. Second, the number of missionaries serving from the area has increased every year recently and now exceeds 5,000. (There are about 6,000 total missionaries serving in the South America Northwest Area.)
“There has also been an increase of several thousand in the number of endowed members,” said Elder Christofferson.
Each indicator “is a sign that the Church is maturing,” observed Elder Andersen, adding that the units throughout the area are increasing in both spiritual strength and membership numbers.
Ward councils, they said, remain a key emphasis across the area.
“The councils have taken ownership of the hastening of the work and are coordinating closely with the full-time missionaries,” said Elder Christofferson. “The ward councils meet, in many places, each week and are assuming their leadership role as we had hoped. I don’t know if any other international area is up to their level in the functioning of councils at the ward and branch levels.”
A proliferation of temples also continues in northern South America. Each of the area’s five countries has at least one temple. Meanwhile, Peru’s second temple, in the northern city of Trujillo, is nearing completion, and there are plans to build a third Peruvian temple in Arequipa.
The Church has also announced a second temple for Colombia in the coastal city of Barranquilla.
“Both Peru and Colombia will have multiple temples in their respective lands, which is another sign that the Church is maturing in that region,” said Elder Andersen.
The two Apostles worked together during the two-day area review and then split up to preside over various meetings across the region. Besides Lima, Elder Christofferson made visits to La Paz, Bolivia, and the Colombian cities of Barranquilla and Bogota. Elder Andersen’s itinerary included gatherings in the Peruvian cities of Lima, Trujillo, and Arequipa.
While in Colombia, Elder Christofferson visited the Bogota Colombia Temple and the site of the future Barranquilla Colombia Temple. Meanwhile, Elder Andersen made stops to the Trujillo Peru Temple construction site, the Arequipa Peru Temple site, and the Lima Peru Temple.
Elder Andersen noted that the Lima Temple was so busy during his visit that patrons were taking numbers to reserve spots for future endowment sessions.
Elder Christofferson’s visit to La Paz, Bolivia, included a devotional with several stakes, a priesthood leadership conference, and a meeting with elders and sisters from the Bolivia La Paz Mission.
Ongoing humanitarian efforts in Bolivia have afforded the Church many friends. “Those who are with us day-to-day recognize what we are doing,” Elder Christofferson said.
Although Venezuela was not included in their recent travels, the Brethren reported that members there remain faithful and resolute despite that country’s ongoing political troubles. In this day of global hastening, missionary work in Venezuela is going forward. Native Venezuelans are answering the call to serve and teach their fellow countrymen and countrywomen.
The Church’s rising prominence in northern South America extends beyond the local membership. Elder Christofferson’s own connection to the continent stretches back to his service as a young missionary in Argentina. As a General Authority, he has met with national leaders, been involved in humanitarian efforts, worked with the local media, and offered counsel to tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints.
“Elder Christofferson is greatly loved in South America—he has a long history in these countries. His Spanish is impeccable, and his love for the Saints is even greater,” said Elder Andersen.
Both Apostles counted their meetings with area youth as highlights of their recent travel.
In a youth devotional with the Arequipa stakes, Elder Andersen taught of the importance of paying tithing and meeting with the bishop each year for tithing settlement.
“I told the youth that they can, through the power of Christ, become much more than they would ever think possible,” he said.
Elder Christofferson, meanwhile, counseled young people in Barranquilla to come to love the commandments of the Lord as a liberating blessing. “The commandments,” he said, “give us freedom and opportunities. We shouldn’t resent them—they help us climb.”
The Barranquilla youth also enjoyed listening to Elder and Sister Soares share the accounts of their own conversions to the gospel.
While in Lima, Bishop Davies presided over an area employment devotional that was viewed by Church workers across the South America Northwest Area.
As a native son of northern South America, Elder Uceda said the work being performed in the area’s homes, meetinghouses, and temples will ensure continued miracles here.
“The Lord,” he said, “is fulfilling His purposes with the children of Lehi.”