Members in Isolated City Radiate “Goodness, Dedication, Faith, and Love”
Contributed By By South America Northwest Area Presidency and Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News assistant editor
More than 1,600 members gathered on June 11, 2012, in Iquitos—the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest—to hear President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, address them. The historic event marked the first time a member of the First Presidency has visited the city.
Iquitos, an isolated city located at the headwaters of the Amazon River, is home to more than 9,000 Latter-day Saints living in three stakes.
President Uchtdorf was accompanied by his wife, Harriet. With them were Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Mary. They stopped in Iquitos on the way back to Salt Lake City following the dedication of the Manaus Brazil Temple.
“I have always hoped to visit Iquitos, Peru, because of its location and the beauty of the Amazon River and the rainforest,” said President Uchtdorf after returning from the trip. “The Spirit suggested there were other reasons to go there.”
With the assignment to dedicate the temple in Manaus, and contemplating additional opportunities to bless the Saints, President Uchtdorf considered other cities that he and Elder Cook could visit as they returned to Salt Lake City. While looking at a map he saw Iquitos, Peru, about 900 miles (1,450 km) from Manaus. Iquitos is the largest city in the world that—except for a few villages in the Amazon rainforest—can be reached only by boat or air. President Uchtdorf felt impressed to go there.
In a conference call with the Presidency of the South America Northwest Area, President Uchtdorf commented that it would likely be many years before a member of the First Presidency would be in a position to visit Iquitos, given its isolated location. He and Elder Cook were eager to meet with the faithful Latter-day Saints in the area and feel of their spirits.
President Uchtdorf said, “Being with the members of the stakes of Zion in Iquitos showed me the power and blessing of the restored gospel.
“The gospel and the Church have such power to influence the lives of the people for good,” he explained. “The members in Iquitos have a radiance of goodness, dedication, faith, and love for God and our fellowmen that words are inadequate to describe. Their faith and testimonies are as deep and wide as the Amazon and as rich and fruitful as the vegetation of the surrounding rainforest.”
President Camerson Mello of the Iquitos Peru Nueve de Octubre Stake said that as soon as members of the stake heard that “two servants of the Lord Jesus Christ” were coming to Iquitos, they began making plans to attend. “Some asked permission to leave work early,” while others “gathered together as families to prepare food for the day” so they could eat while waiting in line for the chapel doors to open.
Eighty-four members of the Nauta Branch, organized just 10 months ago in August 2011 and located 60 miles (96 km) from Iquitos, rented two buses and traveled for two hours, arriving at 4:00 p.m. for the 7:00 p.m. devotional. Upon arriving, they learned that people had been lining up as early as 6:00 a.m. Despite their long journey, they were concerned that they might not find seating in the chapel or cultural hall. President Lawrence Blunck of the Peru Lima North Mission described what then took place. “Nevertheless, the members from Iquitos were very kind to the members from Nauta and allowed them to obtain seating in the middle of the chapel. This is the spirit of kindness and love that exists among the members of the Church in Iquitos.”
Members of the Church living in Nuevo Liberal, a town on the outskirts of Iquitos, traveled by river, in their canoes, to attend the meeting. Once they arrived in Iquitos, they walked 30 minutes to the nearest bus station, and traveled on buses that brought them to the chapel. This type of faith was evident from the announcement of the visit. It was the primary topic of conversation among the members, who could scarcely believe that this was going to happen.
President Mikelsendg Torres of the Iquitos Peru Stake commented, “Each day the countdown continued as members saw one another saying, ‘Only 10 more days … only 5 more days … only 1 more day!’ You could see the enthusiasm in their eyes.”
Departing early Monday morning from Manaus, Brazil, President and Sister Uchtdorf and Elder and Sister Cook arrived in Iquitos and were met by the three members of the South America Northwest Area Presidency and their wives—Elder Rafael Pino and his wife, Patricia; Elder Juan Uceda and his wife, Maria; and Elder W. Christopher Waddell and his wife, Carol.
The group spent time visiting the city to become acquainted with the area. They saw homes built on stilts to avoid flooding when the river rises each rainy season; homes that float, rising and falling with the levels of the river; marketplaces where goods are sold from indigenous groups who live deep in the jungle, as well as a variety of exotic fruits and produce. Being in such a fascinating, yet remote, location and getting a feel for the way these people live each day was a reminder, according to President Mello, “that our Father in Heaven is a just God and remembers His children, wherever they may be.”
When President and Sister Uchtdorf and Elder and Sister Cook, accompanied by the Area Presidency and their wives, arrived at the Iquitos Peru Punchana Stake Center, they found more than 1,600 members of the Church and investigators waiting reverently for their entrance. Sister Uchtdorf commented in her remarks, “It has been a long time since I’ve seen a group as good-looking as this.”
During the devotional, conducted by Elder Pino, Area President, President Uchtdorf spoke with power and clarity, touching on a number of significant points directed to the Saints in Iquitos. He emphasized the importance of obtaining “as much education” as circumstances would permit. He counseled parents to encourage and prepare their children to receive that education and not to settle for anything less than their best effort, which they owe to themselves and to future generations.
President Uchtdorf commended the congregation, reminding them that they “are a people of faith as deep and as broad as the Amazon.” He said as people of faith it is not enough to “just believe” but that they must study the scriptures and words of the living prophets and apply them in their lives.
He added, “The answers may sometimes be hidden, but they are there, … and we must seek them out. Make the scriptures a part of your life.”
Because travel by air is expensive and travel on the river is slow, it is very difficult for the members of the Church in Iquitos to attend the temple in Lima as often as they would like. Nevertheless, they were told by President Uchtdorf, “Stay temple worthy. Focus your lives on the temple and always hold a current recommend, even if you cannot currently attend the temple.” Related to temple worthiness, President Uchtdorf counseled, “Paying your tithing is not about money. It is an act of faith.”
Directing remarks to those brought by the missionaries, President Uchtdorf bore testimony of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “The same Church of Jesus Christ that existed and was lost is back again. … It has been restored.” Investigators were encouraged to “bring what you have”—their faith and trust in Jesus Christ—and “we will add to it.”
As he neared the conclusion of his remarks, President Uchtdorf expressed the love of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the faithful members in Iquitos. He encouraged all to “make the gospel your life.”
Sister Uchtdorf gave a message of love and appreciation for the Latter-day Saints, which visibly touched those in attendance as they responded to her warmth and vitality. Sister Uchtdorf shared her love of the gospel and her appreciation for the Prophet Joseph Smith, recognizing the challenges that he faced in his life while acting as the prophet of the Restoration. She then spoke of the Holy Ghost, the great gift received at baptism. She encouraged the congregation to go home and reflect upon this great gift from our Father in Heaven. She spoke of the Liahona given to Lehi to guide him through the wilderness, and invited those in attendance to use the gospel of Jesus Christ as their personal Liahona, to help them make the right choices and provide guidance in their lives.
Elder Cook reminded the congregation that while the “storms of life” are part of mortality, prophets are able to warn of the coming troubles. “We may not avoid every storm of life,” he said, “but following the counsel of living prophets will help us ride out the storm.”
Elder Cook also shared counsel regarding the importance of the family and the great responsibility that parents have to teach and protect their children. The Saints were reminded of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” issued almost 20 years ago, and the need to be faithful in their observance of family home evening, family prayer, and family scripture study. He counseled, “Parents, stay close to your children, be with them and love them.” He concluded by commenting on three prophetic priorities, found in the teachings of President Thomas S. Monson: gratitude, “the rescue,” and developing greater faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sister Cook spoke of her youth when, as a young girl, she “collected treasures”—small rocks, buttons, shiny metal, anything that would catch the attention of a child—which she kept in a box in her room. She then spoke of the true treasures of life, found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).
As President and Sister Uchtdorf and Elder and Sister Cook left the building, President Uchtdorf explained that with so many in attendance, it would not be possible to greet them all. Therefore, he told them, “Consider yourself hugged, consider that we’ve shaken hands. … We love you.” He then waved goodbye, as all 1,600 in attendance waved back, most with tears in their eyes as two Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ left the room.
One stake president commented that the next day, at 6:00 a.m., a previously less-active young man came to his home to ask what he would need to do to put his life in order and serve a mission. Apparently a friend had informed him of the devotional and he had attended. He was touched by the Spirit and was now ready to recommit and serve the Lord.
Lucy, who is being taught by the missionaries, said, “I am much more decided about being baptized. I am going to correct some things, and then I am going to get baptized. The most special moment for me was when President Uchtdorf shared his testimony. Now I feel that this is the true Church.”
Atoni has also been taught by the missionaries. He commented, “The experience of attending the devotional to meet the Second Counselor of the First Presidency of the Church and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve was something very special for me. It strengthens my spirit and my desire to attend church, repent, be baptized, and endure to the end. It was something extraordinary.”
Elder Pino, Elder Uceda, and Elder Waddell, serving as the Presidency of the South America Northwest Area, said they feel this historic visit will continue to bless lives not only in Iquitos, but throughout the area. As the instruction, love, and testimony of two living prophets, seers, and revelators is shared and applied, the impact for good in the lives of these faithful people will bless generations, they said.
President Uchtdorf agreed. “As these wonderful members grow in number their faithfulness and dedication to the principles of the gospel will bring miraculous changes for good to their families, cities, and region,” he said.