“They expelled me from school because I’m a Mormon,” said seven-year-old Raúl Aquino Gonzales. That may seem like a big price for one so young to pay. But Raúl doesn’t think so—even though he was happy at the school, had lots of friends there, and loved his teacher.
Raúl was a first grader in a religious school in a small town in Paraguay—and was the only Latter-day Saint in the school. One day, he said, “People started criticizing the Church without knowing anything about it. They were saying things that aren’t so.” Raúl—a likable, outgoing boy—felt he couldn’t just sit there without saying anything. “I tried to defend the Church by telling them they were wrong,” he explained. “I was expelled because I wouldn’t conform.”
Now Raúl, still a first grader, is enrolled in a different school. “I’ve already told the people at the new school that I’m a Mormon,” he said. And with a grin, he added: “But they didn’t expel me!” His best friend in his new class is also a member of the Church.
Each day, all the boys must wear long-sleeved white shirts and ties to school. As Raúl sat on his front porch talking about his experiences, he was still wearing his white shirt and tie. He looked and sounded very much like a missionary—even though he is still too young to be baptized!
“Ever since I met the missionaries,” Raúl said, “I’ve wanted to be like them. I’ve never hidden the fact that I’m a Mormon.”
“He talks about the Church all the time, everywhere he goes,” said his mother, Glaides. “When he visits the neighbors, he talks about the Church. And he is very open with people—he’s not afraid to talk to anybody.
“Once he saw a neighbor drinking alcohol,” she said, “and he politely told the man that he shouldn’t be drinking it.” (Raúl is trying to learn to be tactful and courteous while defending the principles of the gospel.)
In his new school, the students say a prayer each morning. “But they don’t pray the way we do,” Raúl said. “They say a memorized prayer, and sometimes they pray to the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus.
“Once I asked if I could offer the prayer. I folded my arms, shut my eyes, and bowed my head—and I prayed to Heavenly Father. I thanked Him for the beautiful day and for my new school, where I can study peacefully. I asked Him to bless my teacher and all of my classmates. I prayed especially that one boy who was sick would be able to return soon. Then I closed in the name of Jesus Christ.”
After school each day, Raúl changes out of his white shirt and tie and puts on other clothes. Some days, he helps his mother in her small store. Other days, he stays home to help care for his three-year-old brother, Luis Angel, and his one-year-old sister, Luciana Andrea.
He loves to climb the trees in his yard. He helps his brother and sister pick up nuts that have fallen to the ground; then he cracks open the shells on a rock, and they all enjoy the treat. Later they play with their pet rabbits and feed the pig out in the backyard.
Inside, Raúl helps tidy up the house. On the walls are pictures of his parents wearing white clothes, standing in front of the São Paulo Temple. The pictures were taken just a month and a half earlier, when his parents took the sixteen-hour bus ride to the temple to be sealed. Brother and Sister Aquino hope to be able to take Raúl, Luis Angel, and Luciana Andrea with them to be sealed as a family the next time they go to the temple.
Raúl and his family live in the small Paraguayan town of Piquete Cué. In the nearby town of Limpio, there is a beautiful LDS meetinghouse where a ward meets. But each Sunday, Raúl and his family pass the Limpio Ward meetinghouse on their two-hour bus ride to the town of Villa Hayes. There they attend a tiny branch that meets in a small rented house. Why don’t they go to the ward that is so much closer to their home?
“Because,” said Raúl’s father, Luciano, who works as an industrial engineer, “there are so few members in the Villa Hayes Branch that they really need us there.” Brother Aquino is first counselor in the branch presidency. Sister Aquino has been Relief Society president and now teaches a Primary class.
Raúl attends Primary and loves to learn more about the Book of Mormon. “I don’t know how to read it yet,” he said. “But my mamá and papá read it to me.”
Raúl often bears his testimony in sacrament meeting. He told the branch members recently that he’d had a headache, but when he prayed, it went away.
He also remembers the time his dad was seriously sick. Raúl’s mother thought he was going to die. She rode a bus to where the missionaries lived to ask them to give him a blessing. They weren’t home, so she left them a message. When they arrived several hours later, Raúl’s father was so sick that he could hardly talk. The missionaries gave him a blessing, and within half an hour, he was up and feeling much better.
“I really want my eighth birthday to come so I can be baptized,” Raúl said. “And I want to be a missionary.”
Raúl already is a missionary. “I know that the Book of Mormon and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are true,” he said. “I would tell the children all over the world to love everyone—especially the children in the streets who don’t have a home. They make me cry a lot. Be thankful to Heavenly Father and also to your parents. Love the Church, take the sacrament, and always pray.”
Then Raúl climbed up his favorite tree. From his leafy perch, he waved good-bye.