Friend to Friend

From an interview with Elder Angel Abrea of the First Quorum of the Seventy, currently serving as first counselor in the Utah South Area Presidency and as the Assistant Executive Director of the Missionary Department; by Janet Peterson

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    Let us go up … to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths (Isa. 2:3).

    Elder Angel Abrea

    The Church is growing very fast in South America. The growth is incredible. For example, in our area, which includes the countries of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, and the Guineas, we have an average of three thousand convert baptisms per month. That is equal to creating one new stake each month. On just one day in February 1988, seven new stakes were organized in Lima, Peru. The first stake in Peru was created in 1970; now there are thirty-two stakes there. The first mission in Peru was established in 1959; now there are five missions in that country.

    The phenomenal growth of the Church in South America can be attributed to the message of the Book of Mormon. The message is familiar to the people; they feel it is part of their tradition. In my opinion, that is the reason for the great growth, not only in the number of baptisms, but also for the attendance at the temples. There is a temple in Lima, and it is always very busy.

    Several years ago I spoke at a meeting for members and investigators in the Peru Lima South Mission. I don’t know why I started talking about revelation and the importance of having a prophet, but as I did, I noticed two young men on the first row listening attentively and taking notes. After the meeting, those two young men came to me and said, “You talk about prophets and about revelation. We thought that there weren’t any prophets after John the Baptist.” The young men had been sent by the local priest to find out what I said. I had to catch a plane and didn’t have time to explain more about prophets and revelation. However, I did tell them that if they wanted to have personal revelation, they should read the Book of Mormon and follow the counsel in Moroni 10. I gave them each a Book of Mormon and marked Moroni 10:4–5 [Moro. 10:4–5]. Three months later I received a letter from those young men telling me that they had been baptized. One year later I received another letter saying that they were both preparing to go on missions. The Book of Mormon was what converted them.

    Most of the children in my area just do not go to church without their copies of the Book of Mormon. I’ve noticed that when I give a talk and refer to a scripture in it, they look up the scripture in their own books. These children are preparing to be a great missionary force.

    I visited a ward in the Altiplano of Bolivia. It is a very poor area. The people speak Spanish and Quechua, but most of them do not know how to read either language because they have never had the opportunity to learn. After the meeting, I talked with an eleven-year-old boy. On the wall of the building were pictures of the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. This young boy pointed to each of the Brethren and named every one of them. Then he said to me, “Will you please tell President Benson that I am reading the Book of Mormon.” He was learning to read by reading the Book of Mormon. I said to him, “Let me see if you really know how to read by reading 1 Nephi 3:7 [1 Ne. 3:7].” He turned to it quickly and said, “I can read it, but I don’t need to because I know that scripture by heart.” He then recited it perfectly.

    Always in my talks I use the Book of Mormon in many ways. When I have the opportunity to talk to Primary children, I make reference to Nephi. I tell them to study Nephi and about how strong his faith and testimony were.

    I think that the Book of Mormon is a great missionary tool and that children, too, can use it in their efforts to preach the gospel. When I was converted at age ten in Argentina, I started reading the Book of Mormon. I remember talking about the Book of Mormon to the principal of the Lutheran school I attended.

    I think that our prophet, President Ezra Taft Benson, is trying to teach us that the Book of Mormon is exactly what we need at this moment, especially in converting people to the truthfulness of the gospel.

    Illustrated by Larry Winborg