Elder Gary E. Stevenson Calls Visit with Members in South America “a Joy”

Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer

  • 9 February 2017

During a visit to three South American countries in January 2017, Elder Gary E. Stevenson shakes the hand of a young adult counselor for the “For the Strength of Youth” event held in Uruguay.

Article Highlights

  • After visiting three South American countries, Elder Gary E. Stevenson said he is impressed by the youth, missionaries, and members of the Church there.

“What a joy it was to associate with these faithful Latter-day Saints who have established Zion in each of their beautiful countries.” —Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles      Image by Busath.com

Not long after Elder Gary E. Stevenson was sustained as Presiding Bishop for the Church in March 2012, he was involved in acquiring a piece of property in Uruguay to be used for Church-sponsored events and functions.

Intended as a gathering place for members living in the South America South Area, the land—after a few years of development and care—now includes an area with tents, bathroom facilities, a soccer field, and a pavilion constructed of local materials harvested off the site.

During his travels to the South America South Area January 21–29, Elder Stevenson, now of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, returned to this property in Uruguay, this time during a local “For the Strength of Youth” conference (similar to Especially for Youth).

As he walked around the property, he could tell the members considered it as sacred ground.

“They care for it,” Elder Stevenson told the Church News, “and also found an identity for [it]. … It has been wonderful to see the acquisition and then the fulfillment of its use.”

A road sign for the Church-owned property in Uruguay where the “For the Strength of Youth” conferences, as well as other Church events, are held.

While there, he witnessed more than 325 youth and their leaders enjoying their time together, learning of Christ and His Atonement, and strengthening their personal testimonies. And this gathering was only one of the 18–20 sessions that will visit the property—an average of 10,000 people visiting the grounds each year.

“‘For the Strength of Youth’ activities provide our rising generation a special experience that the youth are so much looking for,” said Elder José A. Teixeira, who currently serves as the South America South Area President. “The youth [are] blessed when they participate, and the young single adult counselors are equally blessed as they serve as role models. Both increase their faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.”

More important than any piece of property are the members who gather there to feel united with other members and strengthen their faith in Christ.

“These faithful youth leave these events and return home to become a strengthening agent in their families,” Elder Stevenson said. “There are many of them who are making decisions to go on missions and to remain steadfast with their goal to be married in the temple and also those who are motivated for higher education.”

Youth participating in a “For the Strength of Youth” conference in Uruguay.

For many youth, the “For the Strength of Youth” conference is an important element to building a more firm foundation for their testimony.

“The comments and testimonies of the youth today in the meetings about what it meant for them to participate in the ‘For the Strength of Youth’ and the things they have felt and learned makes us feel that it was worth all that was done for the activity to take place,” said President Nestor H. Ferrari, who presides over the Buenos Aires Argentina Aldo Bonzi Stake.

The entrance to the Church-owned property in Uruguay where the “For the Strength of Youth” conferences, as well as other Church events, are held.

During his eight-day visit to the area, Elder Stevenson visited with members, missionaries, and priesthood leaders in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile. Accompanying him on his travels was his wife, Sister Lesa Stevenson, as well as the Area Presidency—Elder Teixeira, Elder Allan F. Packer, and Elder Mark A. Bragg, each General Authority Seventies—and their wives, Sister Maria Teixeira, Sister Terri Packer, and Sister Yvonne Bragg.

After visiting many members living and serving in these three South American countries, Elder Stevenson said he is impressed by the dedicated youth of the Church in that area of the world.

“One of their challenges is that most of the time there is one, maybe two, members of the Church in their schools and in their environment,” Elder Stevenson said of the youth. “Even there, where Christianity is strong, they are in an environment with decaying moral values. There is a lot of pressure on them, … and as these youth are together it just gives them a sense of identity, a sense of belonging, a sense of critical mass … that goes beyond the boundaries of their wards and stakes. It gives them a great sense of power from one another.”

Youth under the pavilion at the Church-owned property in Uruguay where the “For the Strength of Youth” conferences, as well as other Church events, are held.

Another highlight for Elder Stevenson was visiting with approximately 1,500 missionaries—many of whom are native to South America, as well as a high percentage of sisters among them—serving in a total of eight missions within these three countries.

“Most of the conversation was about teaching repentance by extending invitations,” Elder Stevenson said. “In every missionary meeting we talked about the missionary purpose found in Preach My Gospel. I would choose one missionary out of the congregation and ask them to stand and lead the other missionaries in stating the missionary purpose. They not only recited their missionary purpose, but they understood and strive to live their missionary purpose by inviting others to come unto Christ by helping them to receive the restored gospel.”

In addition to meeting with the missionaries, Elder Stevenson enjoyed meeting with other faithful members of the Church in the area. There are close to 1.5 million members living in the three countries he visited. Elder Stevenson observed their focus in following what their leaders have asked them to do to improve their discipleship and increase their faith. Many members carry around with them a card that explains how to achieve the “South America South Area Plan” for 2017.

“It focuses on the temple, self-reliance, Sabbath day, and other things you can do to live the gospel more fully,” Elder Stevenson said. “Every member there keeps their card on hand, even the children. It’s very impressive.”

Elder Stevenson further reflected, “What a joy it was to associate with these faithful Latter-day Saints who have established Zion in each of their beautiful countries.”

While visiting the South America South Area, Elder Gary E. Stevenson met with more than 700 missionaries.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has a missionary read from Preach My Gospel during one of his meetings in the South America South Area.

During many meetings in the South America South Area, Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught from Preach My Gospel.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson and his wife, Sister Lesa Stevenson, greet members of the Church.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles greets a member during his visit to the South America South Area of the Church.

Members in Uruguay listen as Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks.

Elder Allan F. Packer, a General Authority Seventy and member of the South America South Area Presidency, speaks during a member meeting.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson and the South America South Area Presidency and their wives. From top left: Elder Mark A. Bragg, Elder José A. Teixeira, Elder Stevenson, and Elder Allan F. Packer. From left on bottom: Sister Yvonne K. Bragg, Sister Maria Teixeira, Sister Lesa Stevenson, and Sister Terri Packer.

From left: Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Sister Lesa Stevenson, Sister Maria Teixeira, and Elder José A. Teixeira, a General Authority Seventy and President of the South America South Area.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, right, stands with Elder José A. Teixeira, a General Authority Seventy and President of the South America South Area, as they observe a plaque commemorating the dedication of the area for missionary work.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder José A. Teixeira, a General Authority Seventy and President of the South America South Area, meet with others at the site commemorating the dedication of the area for missionary work.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, right, stands with Elder José A. Teixeira, a General Authority Seventy and President of the South America South Area, at the site commemorating the dedication of the area for missionary work.