Friend to Friend


And he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them (3 Ne. 17:21).

I grew up in Coronel, Chile. When I was seven years old, I memorized a poem of fourteen verses and recited it before an audience of twelve hundred people. After that experience, I developed an increased desire to read more. I read about four little books a week. At that time my mother gave me a Bible. When I was twelve, I read the Bible in about ten months. I was impressed with the history of the Old Testament, and with the Atonement of the Savior in the New Testament. All my life I tried to find another book of scripture that would teach me more about these things.

When I started meeting with the missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they used a spectacular way to motivate me to read the Book of Mormon. Whenever I had a question, they opened it and read the answer from it. I wondered what kind of book it was. Finally they asked me if I wouldn’t like to read the book. I said, “Yes, I would!” They gave me a Book of Mormon as a gift, and I was extremely glad. I read it in three weeks and was very impressed with its teachings. At the end of that time, I was baptized into the Church. I have a great testimony about the influence of the scriptures in the life of a person.

My wife, Blanca, and I have three children and six grandchildren. We love our children and all children. One of the greatest expressions of love for children that I have seen occurred when I was serving as a stake president in Chile. President Spencer W. Kimball visited Chile for an area conference. Members of the Church from four countries met together in a stadium that held about fifteen thousand people. We asked President Kimball what he would like to do after the conference. His eyes full of tears, he said, “I would like to see the children.” One of the priesthood leaders announced over the microphone that President Kimball would like to shake the hands or bless each of the children in the stadium. The people were astounded—there was a great silence. President Kimball greeted about two thousand children one by one, crying as he shook their hands or kissed them or put his hands on their heads and blessed them. The children were very reverent and looked at him and cried too. He said he’d never felt this kind of spirit in his life. It was a tremendous moment in the lives of all the Church members there. We felt closer to our children, too, because of this experience with President Kimball.

I love President Gordon B. Hinckley very much. He called me to be a Seventy in 1990. I was the first Chilean called as a General Authority. It was a beautiful moment in my life. However, when I was called, I didn’t speak any English. President Hinckley, who was then First Counselor in the First Presidency, blessed me when he set me apart that I would learn English quickly.

I have two gifts that helped me to learn English quickly. My first gift is a good memory. That has been my salvation in many jobs. The other gift is my persistence. If I have a job to do, I work and work at it until it’s done. When I began to learn English at age fifty-two, I studied it five hours a day, when I had time. I listened to audio tapes every morning, then studied grammar for an hour, which was difficult for me. After that, I read the conference talks in English and listened to them on tape at the same time. I memorized about ten new vocabulary words per day. Then I read aloud in English to practice pronunciation, and I listened to English on an international news station so that I could test my understanding of what was said.

Six months after being called as a General Authority, I prepared intensely for giving my first general conference talk in English. My talk was on the Word of Wisdom.

I have had experiences with seven prophets of the Church, from President David O. McKay until now. They have all been great leaders. Now it is a blessing for the Church to have the presence of President Hinckley. It is easy to love him and to express our love to him. He is very warm with us, and he loves us.

I am grateful for all you marvelous children in the Church, and I ask you to follow Jesus Christ, our beloved Leader.

[illustration] Illustrated by Gregg Thorkelson

Elder Ayala and his family