Colombia Reaches 100,000 Members

By Javier Tobón Gónima

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    The prophetic words of Colombia’s national anthem, which state that “good will germinate from furrows of aches,” are being fulfilled. By the end of 1994, Church membership had reached one hundred thousand members in this country of thirty-six million inhabitants. It was only thirty years ago, in 1965, that Colombia was dedicated for the preaching of the gospel.

    Colombia now has 13 stakes, 262 wards and branches, 4 missions, and a missionary training center all under leadership almost wholly composed of Colombians.

    In addition, one of the Church’s General Authorities was called from among Latter-day Saint Colombians. Elder Julio Dávila of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, the first General Authority of Colombian origin, was also Colombia’s first stake president, its first regional representative, and its first mission president from that country. His dedicated service to the Lord has been an example and inspiration to many.

    Despite the Church’s impressive growth in Colombia, there have been several challenges to overcome in spreading the gospel. Ranging from nearly overwhelming economic difficulties to political unrest, these obstacles have helped strengthen testimonies of the faithful.

    In May 1966 the first two missionaries arrived in Colombia from the Peru Andean Mission. Today, nearly half of the five hundred missionaries serving in Colombia are native to the land. A missionary training center in Bogotá provides preparation for missionaries leaving from Ecuador, Venezuela, and Colombia. In addition, Colombian mission presidents have served in their own country and in other Latin American countries.

    The Church has at least one stake in each of the larger cities, including Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Pereira, and Bucaramanga. In many other cities, wards and branches are growing rapidly. This year construction began on a temple, which will be a strong support to the Saints in Colombia.

    The Book with the Light-Blue Cover

    There are many stories of strength, courage, and the workings of the Spirit among the faithful Saints of Colombia.

    Armando Gomez gave a Book of Mormon with his personal testimony inscribed therein as a gift to an acquaintance he thought he would never see again. After some years had passed, Brother Gomez attended a meeting where one Henry Olaya spoke. Brother Olaya explained that in 1975 he bought some used books, one of which had a light-blue cover; he had felt particularly impressed to purchase it.

    Henry read the book with the light-blue cover and felt it was true, but for some reason he set it aside for five years. Then he read it again. His wife encouraged him to look for the Church using an address written in the book. Henry searched for three Sundays in a row with no success because the address was incorrect. He finally found the Church, received the missionary discussions, and was baptized with his family. The book with the light-blue cover turned out to be the same book Brother Gomez had given away years earlier. In 1994 Henry lost his wife in an automobile accident and was left alone with three children. Through this tragedy, however, his faith has remained unshakable.

    A Missionary Song

    Patricia Cerro sells chocolates to pay for her journalism studies. In her returned-missionary enthusiasm, she sings as she sells her chocolates. On one occasion a young man passing by turned and asked, “Why are you so happy, and what are you singing?” She told him about the Church, and after several weeks of showing interest he attended church one Sunday and thereafter was taught the gospel by the missionaries and baptized. Later he married a returned missionary in the temple, and he is now bishop of the Fontibon Ward in the Bogotá Kennedy stake.

    Strong Church Programs

    The seminary program has spread rapidly in Colombia and, like other programs of the Church, has had a major influence in the lives of youth and leaders alike.

    Lucia de Gomez, who taught the first seminary classes in Colombia, remembers Jaime Ferreira as a young man who diligently studied the seminary lessons. The influence of those classes taught Jaime things he later needed when serving as president of the Colombia Cali Mission.

    In April 1975 during a regional representatives’ training seminar, President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of the future growth of the Church in South America: “I seemed to see a vision of tens of thousands of priesthood bearers, leaders in thousands of wards and stakes in hundreds of mountain valleys, … and I could seem to hear … a host of fond parents and prophets praising God for this long-promised miracle” (Ensign, May 1975, p. 120).

    With more than one hundred thousand members now, the Church in Colombia has reached a significant milestone, yet this is certainly not the peak of the Lord’s work in that land.

    Missionaries from Ecuador, Venezuela, and Colombia receive training at the Missionary Training Center in Bogotá.

    The La Alhambra chapel in Colombia.

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    • Javier Tobón Gónima is public affairs director for the Cali Colombia Region.