The true church of Jesus Christ must have a living prophet. Ricardo Perez was convinced of that. But where was such a church?
His study of the Bible had led him to abandon the church of his forefathers, despite the possible social consequences. This seemed like folly to family and friends in the Guatemala of 1954. What other church could there be? Indeed, what other life?
But Ricardo felt he could no longer practice some of the things he had formerly been part of. So in leaving the church of his youth, he felt that he had left error behind, but he wanted more. He wanted to find the church God approved. He wanted to know the truth.
He investigated several evangelistic churches, but “I did not find a place to practice religion as the ancient Apostles taught,” he recalls. Study of the Bible had convinced him the true church would have certain unmistakable features—a living prophet, Apostles, baptism by immersion, and proper administration of the sacrament to members, for example.
Trying to find a place to buy a new Bible finally led him to the church he sought. “I see some young men—North Americans—around here. They sell Bibles,” one of the employees in Ricardo’s tailor shop told him. At that moment, two LDS missionaries passed by the door of the shop. “There they go!” the man said.
No, the missionaries explained, they did not sell books; they preached the gospel, teaching from a book called the Book of Mormon, as well as the Bible. They would leave a Book of Mormon with him for one week if he would read it.
“Since I was desirous of learning something more about the things of God, I started reading it immediately. As soon as I began, I felt the Spirit very strongly in the book. I knew it was of God,” Brother Perez reflects. “I arrived at the point where I would sometimes dream of passages from the Book of Mormon before I had read them. Then when I would read the next day, it would be what I had already dreamed.”
When Ricardo Perez attended LDS meetings with the missionaries, he found the Church offered all the things he had become convinced the true church must have—and more. He gratefully shared what he had learned with his family, and his children also believed.
He had not reckoned with the law of tithing, however, in his biblical study of Christ’s ancient church. It seemed a hard thing to give up one tenth of his income in his family’s difficult financial situation. “I don’t know if we can pay the tithing. Let’s wait until the Lord helps us [to be capable of paying], and then we will become members,” he told his wife.
His children and his wife helped him change his mind about delaying baptism. Daughter Angelina, then a teenager, had become convinced that the Church was true and wanted to join. She suggested to her mother that they plan a special birthday gift for her father—they would be baptized on his birthday, with him.
Ignacia Perez was not hard to convince. She had had a dream of her own. In it, a young man offered her a cup from which she was to drink. When she attended a sacrament meeting with her husband for the first time, at Angelina’s urging, Ignacia realized the cup in her dream had been a sacrament cup.
So she and the children studied the gospel with the missionaries, until finally she was ready to tell her husband, “We have a gift we want to give you for your birthday—but I have to tell you because it requires your consent.” He readily gave permission, determining then that they would simply find a way to pay tithing. He soon found it was not the difficulty he had imagined.
Ricardo and Ignacia Perez and their three oldest children—Angelina, Jorge, and Teresa—were baptized 26 January 1954. Their sons Israel and Victor were too young to be baptized yet, and their youngest son, Josue Ricardo, was not born until after the Perez family had been in the Church for three years.
Ricardo Perez Coyoy and Ignacia Citalan had been sweethearts for five years before they were married, when he was twenty-two and she was eighteen. Both had been reared with the tradition of hard work. His father was a farmer and respected businessman, and Ricardo had learned early to work on the farm.
As their children came, Ricardo and Ignacia taught the youngsters as they themselves had been taught, setting examples of morality, integrity, and hard work. Like Ricardo and Ignacia, the children started learning early to pay their own way.
“I began to work at about age eight,” recalls their son Israel, currently a regional representative for the Guatemala City Guatemala Region. “By age nine, I was studying at night and working by day to help our economic situation.” The majority of the money the children earned went for food and clothing, but their parents allowed them to spend about 5 percent as they wished. The habit of hard work has carried over. Israel Perez now owns two businesses—an auto repair shop and an aluminum window and trim shop, both adjacent to his home.
Angelina, a single parent, still arises at 4:00 A.M. to work in order to meet the needs of her family. The habit began after she became a member of the Church, when there was an opportunity for some of the missionaries to teach her how to play the piano and conduct music. Her parents insisted that her obligations in the home not be neglected for music lessons. So she would arise at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning to do her chores before school in order to study music later. One of her prized possessions is the electric organ that sits in the living room of her small home.
Angelina remembers that after the family was baptized, one custom had to change. Their father no longer woke them at 4:00 A.M. on Sundays to take them to work at the farm, and then afterward to a movie or on a paseo—a walk, a trip to the park, or some other pleasant activity.
“Something that I’m grateful to my father for is his faithfulness,” Victor says. “He never was a man who told us, ‘Go to church,’ but always, ‘Get up, get up, it’s time to get ready for church.’” Then Brother and Sister Perez led their children to meetings. “Now that I’m a father, I do what he did,” Victor adds. “The environment he created for us, we create for our families.”
Like their father, their mother is “very wise,” Israel says. “She always knows how to counsel one in the moment when it is needed.” Her example of hard work and dedication, both in the Church and in caring for her family temporally, has been a powerful influence on her children, he explains.
Brother and Sister Perez have been leaders for their family in a variety of ways. “When the father is not in the home, he ought to give authority to the mother to direct the children. She ought to be in charge,” Brother Perez emphasizes.
While that idea may seem like nothing out of the ordinary, it was an unusual attitude for the time and culture in which Ricardo and Ignacia Perez lived as young parents. Theirs was a male-dominated society in which the mother was expected to defer completely to her husband and leave the discipline to him. By contrast, Victor remembers, his father and mother always supported each other in whatever discipline was necessary.
After his baptism, Ricardo Perez’s commitment to his new faith strengthened him as he served in many leadership positions. He has served three times as president of a branch in Quezaltenango, as a counselor in a district presidency, as a member of the district council, and as an auditor. Four Sundays a month often weren’t enough to do the auditing job, so he traveled to outlying branches on weekdays.
When the Quezaltenango stake was organized in 1975, Ricardo’s and Ignacia’s oldest son, Jorge, was called as its president. At the same time, Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Council of the Twelve, who organized the stake, called Ricardo Perez to be its patriarch.
Like their parents, the Perez children have willingly given their time in service to the Church. Angelina has been Relief Society president six different times at the branch, ward, or stake level. Jorge, in addition to serving as stake president, has been president of the Guatemala Quezaltenango and Mexico Merida missions. Teresa has held a variety of positions, including ward Relief Society president. Israel was formerly president of the Quezaltenango stake and is now regional representative over the Guatemala City Guatemala Region. Victor is a counselor in the presidency of the Quezaltenango West stake. Young Ricardo is a counselor to the president of the Guatemala Quezaltenango Mission. And the third generation of the Perez family in the Church is now following the same tradition of service.
Israel Perez comments that his father reads and studies consistently, frequently in the scriptures or other Church books. In addition to the love of God, perhaps the greatest heritage his father gave them as children, Israel says, was a love for education. While Guatemalan public schools did not offer twelve grades, as schools in many other countries do, Brother Perez insisted that his children receive the full benefit of what was offered. He also made sure that they knew their options in practical vocations, and when they chose one, he respected their choice. He wanted it to be their decision.
Victor recalls that the nearest thing to real conflict between him and his father was caused by his own love of academic pursuits. His father wanted him to learn a vocation, but Victor loved to study. At about the age of twelve, Victor bowed to his father’s pressure to study at night and work during the day at a practical trade, like the other children. So Victor tried a variety of jobs for about a year—but it didn’t work. His real love was academics. Finally, father and son reached a compromise. Brother Perez would support Victor in further schooling, but Victor had to dedicate himself to his studies and not fail a single class.
Victor went on to win a variety of honors as a student. He is now an instructor in statistics, mathematics, and computer programming at Landivar University in Quezaltenango.
Once he had the opportunity to accept a prestigious fellowship that would have eased the way for further academic advancement. But accepting the opportunity would have forced him to remain single for an extended time. Instead, Victor chose marriage, children, and the blessing of being sealed to his family in the temple.
Brother and Sister Perez were themselves sealed in the Arizona Temple in 1965. Wanting their children who remained at home to be sealed to them, Sister Perez prayed to make this blessing possible. In response, her tortilla business increased, helping provide the funds needed for them to make another temple trip three years later. Next, Brother and Sister Perez felt an urgency to have their married children sealed to them as well. She prayed for help again, and again her tortilla clientele grew. The money it brought in helped fund a temple trip with the rest of the children, along with spouses and children.
Brother and Sister Perez are very close to their children, but they take care not to be overly involved in their lives. “Now that they’re married, we don’t interfere,” Brother Perez says. “But we watch over them, and if it’s necessary, we counsel them. Children should never be abandoned, even when they’re married.” The Perez family meets frequently for activities, and always closes them with prayer.
Of his father, Ricardo’s youngest son comments: “We all respect him. We’re glad to listen to his counsel.” Their father’s counsel respects their free agency. Asked by one of his children what to do about a certain problem, Brother Perez would usually reply, “Well, I would do this, but you must decide for yourself.”
Young Ricardo says his father was a tender parent, taking care of him when he was a little boy and, as a tailor, making his clothes. It was his father who taught him to carefully iron his own clothing, as children in the family were expected to do. Their father took an active part in raising them, being watchful of their companions and their activities.
“I knew well that the sins of the children fall on the heads of the fathers, and I said to myself, ‘How can I answer for my own sins and for those of my children? It is too much.’” The thought motivated him to set a good example.
But he does not take credit for his children’s faithfulness.
“I’m very grateful for the Church, and for my wife’s care and teaching of our children. They accepted the gospel with all their hearts. We know what a great blessing the gospel has been for them and us.”