A Pioneer in Quezaltenango
At the tender age of six, E. Israel Pérez C. heard his father declare that he had found the true church of Jesus Christ. When the Pérez family attended a meeting of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the congregation sang “Asombro Me Da” [“I Stand All Amazed”] during sacrament meeting. The little boy was awestruck. “The words of that hymn penetrated my heart and mind, and I felt Jesus’ love for me,” he recalls. “I have been going to church ever since.”
Born in Quezaltenango, Guatemala, Elder Pérez, an Area Authority Seventy who serves as Second Counselor in the Central America Area Presidency, has had many experiences that strengthened his testimony of the gospel and of the power of faith. For example, he says when he presented to the Lord his decision to marry Pilar Ulin Lopez, “I prayed but received no answer” at first. The assurance that he should marry her came not long afterward via a dream in which he saw Pilar holding a small girl by the hand, who in turn held another child by the hand, and so on. He and Sister Pérez have been married for 30 years now and have had 14 children, 8 of whom have lived. Elder Pérez says of those who have passed on, “We have the surety that we will be blessed to see them again and watch them grow and make choices.”
In 1981, when Elder Pérez was serving as a stake president, the economically pressed members in the area were given the opportunity of contributing toward building the Guatemala City Temple. “I did not know how we would come up with the money, but we trusted in the Lord.”
President Pérez was touched by their spirit of sacrifice. One sister donated the money she had been saving for a badly needed pair of shoes. One family went without meat for a month and gave the money to the temple fund. “We were able to collect not only the amount asked for but much more,” says Elder Pérez. “Now when we enter the temple, we feel we did our part.”
Elder Pérez says knowing the gospel helps him and his family “put Christ at the center of our lives. We can hear living prophets and obey their counsel, something that has helped us have a greater knowledge of the Redeemer, love him more, and continually serve our fellowmen.”
At age eight, sculptor Elaine Brockbank Evans began to take her budding artistic feelings seriously. She took all available opportunities by sketching on the cover of this and the backside of that. One of her preferred surfaces was the interior of her bedroom closet door, which increased her ability to shade and add depth to her creations.
Her parents, well aware of her talents, desired to demonstrate this work to the painter John Fairbanks so that she could be enrolled in private art lessons. But the closet door was too cumbersome to remove for a display. Instead, her parents took a small bust of Ulysses that Elaine had created after reading Homer’s Odyssey.
Instead of being enrolled in painting classes, young Elaine found herself taking lessons from John’s son, the sculptor Avard Fairbanks. Her early training with him lasted one year, and she later studied with him at the University of Oregon in Eugene and then at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
The Church commissioned Sister Evans to create a sculpture of Adam and Eve for the 1964 World’s Fair. The sculpture now stands in the North Visitors’ Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. In 1975 Sister Evans sculpted a work titled Christ and the Little Children, which can be seen in the John Taylor Building of Religion on the Ricks College campus. She has also designed work for a Berkeley, California, meetinghouse and other Church buildings.
Says Sister Evans, “I have never desired to do any work in sculpture or painting that did not have spiritual significance. I believe that the mission of art is to uplift the soul, refine the thinking and behavior, and cultivate the joy of appreciation.”
Now 93 years of age, Sister Evans still travels to visit her family and to touch up her art, which appears in buildings nationwide. She is a member of the Berkeley First Ward, Oakland California Stake.—, El Cerrito, California
Changing Children’s Lives
Over the past 16 years, 25 children have called Rebecca Freebairn “Mom.” She and her husband, Paul, have six biological children and have taken in a total of 19 foster children at various times, two of whom they have adopted.
When Sister Freebairn first met her husband, she was impressed by his desire to adopt children from orphanages in Korea, where he had served his mission. Though that wish never materialized, it was the catalyst that led them many years later to take in children from troubled backgrounds.
When asked why she and her husband have chosen to do this, Sister Freebairn replies, “Everyone is a child of God. Why should anyone not have the opportunity to be loved?”
At one time the Freebairns had a total of 12 children in their home, 9 of whom were teenagers. “Every day there was a major crisis,” says Sister Freebairn. “But I learned that for every incident that comes about, there is a way out. We got through it, and when the time came I just hated to see the foster children go.”
Brother and Sister Freebairn mix firm discipline with large doses of love, and when problems arise they can often be found on their knees, asking for the Lord’s help. “When you raise your own children, Heavenly Father gives you so much to do it with,” Sister Freebairn says. “And when you take on other children, he gives you even more to help you survive—gifts like charity, patience, and long-suffering.”
One of the more difficult situations the Freebairns found themselves in occurred several years ago, when they took in a very disturbed and angry four-year-old girl who had been in three previous foster homes. She had a serious attachment disorder and would often try to bite and hit the Freebairns’ other children, even threatening one with a knife. “Like a lot of kids from difficult backgrounds, she was trying to test us,” says Sister Freebairn. “I think what she needed to learn was that no matter what she did, I really meant it when I told her I loved her and that that would never change.
“When she was good she got a lot of attention,” Sister Freebairn explains. “Eventually she just got better and better.” Though the Freebairns yearned to adopt her, after much prayer they realized that another family was meant to be her “forever family.” It was not by mere coincidence that Sister Freebairn was ledto that family, and the little girl is now doing well in her new home.
Sister Freebairn is quick to emphasize that she is not a “super mom.” But she says she has learned a great deal from her experiences, particularly that the gospel is a powerful source of hope. “I’ve found that Heavenly Father will never put any of us in a situation that we cannot get out of,” she says. “People might say, ‘That child will never change,’ which sounds so final, so hopeless. But because of the gospel I know that every single person can change and become better. I’ve seen it happen.”
Sister Freebairn is a visiting teacher in the Hauula Second Ward, Laie Hawaii Stake.