“We Are Very Blessed”

By Benigno Pantoja

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    In the remote El Callao Valley on the east side of the Puntiagudo Mountains in Chile, lives a special Latter-day Saint Family.

    I first heard of Jose and Juana Yefi and their seven children from President Julio Otay when, as a regional representative, I visited the Puerto Montt Stake. From his accounts of the Yefis and their experiences in the Church, I decided I wanted to meet them. They are members of the Estacion Ward, but to make the journey to the Yefi home is much more complicated than just walking down the street from the meetinghouse located in Puerto Vardas. It’s a three-part adventure by bus, boat, and horse. President Otay and I decided to make the journey September 17 and 18, during a national holiday in Chile.

    When we set out from Puerto Varas, it was a beautiful morning announcing the arrival of spring in that part of the world. For the first part of our journey, we traveled ninety minutes by bus to Petrohue on the shore of Todos los Santos Lake. Our bus wended its way around the southern shore of Llanquihue Lake with the cone of the majestic volcano Mount Osorno as a backdrop. We planned to take the regularly-scheduled boat across Todos los Santos Lake, but we were told it had departed early loaded with tourists. So we rented a private boat—which happened to be owned by Brother Yefi’s cousin—for the three-hour trip. For those three hours we enjoyed the natural beauty around us. The lake, also known as “Emerald Lake” for the color of its waters, sparkled in the sunshine, and to our right rose the magnificent Monte Tronador Mountains. It was a wonderful way to celebrate a national holiday, and I thanked my Heavenly Father for my having been born in such a beautiful country.

    When we arrived at the point where we were supposed to meet Brother Yefi, he wasn’t there. We discovered that he had been waiting for us at the other end of the lake at a small dock where the tourist boat pulled in. While he crossed the lake in his boat to meet us, we visited with the Miranda family, who lived close to the lake. Jose Miranda, Brother Yefi’s brother-in-law, and his family are members of the Church as a result of the Yefi family’s missionary work. I’ll tell more about them later.

    Brother Yefi finally arrived and upon meeting this man of obvious Lamanite descent, with his sincere smile and shining eyes, I felt a definite kinship.

    We set out on the last part of our journey to the Yefi home—two hours by horseback around and through thick forests of coigue, laurel, tepu, and ulmo trees. As we rode, we were serenaded by the sound of the Sin Nombre River hurrying downhill to the lake.

    Finally we arrived in the El Callao Valley, where the Yefi family lives in complete seclusion. As we got off our horses, the children excitedly greeted us. At first I assumed that they were thrilled to see visitors. But I soon realized that their excitement was for their father, whom they hugged as if they hadn’t seen him for a long time. Sensing a special bond between father and children, I later learned that Brother Yefi himself had delivered five of his seven children into the world.

    Springtime had reached this high mountain valley, with a profusion of yellow flowers outside the Yefi’s wood frame home. Inside, a sign in the dining room proclaimed, “Our Goal is to Build an Eternal Family.” As we visited with the Yefis that evening, I learned about the roots of their faith in the gospel.

    Brother Yefi told us how he was introduced to the Church.

    “Since I was a child,” he said, “I had suffered from nosebleeds. One time, after I was married, I suffered a nosebleed so severe that I fainted and had hallucinations. When I recovered, I thought I had gone on to the next life. But I was glad to see my wife by my side taking care of me.

    “I decided to go to see a doctor in Puerto Varas. While I was at a friend’s house, he told me that two young men lived nearby who ‘cured’ people in the name of the Lord. Since I have always been a faithful man, I went to see them and asked them how much they charged for a blessing. The young men, who stood out because of their white shirts, told me, ‘We don’t charge money to bless one of our brothers. If you have faith that you will be healed with the blessing we give you, it will be the Lord who will really cure you.’

    “They then invited me to sit down, but I told them, ‘I don’t feel comfortable when I’m sitting down. I would feel better kneeling.’ The missionaries put their hands on my head and gave me a blessing. The experience was marvelous. I felt warm all over my body, and I had no doubt that it was God’s power curing me. Never again did I have a nosebleed.

    “After this experience, I asked the missionaries what I had to do to become a member of their Church. They asked me if I was married. I told them yes, and we made an appointment to meet together with my wife the following Sunday. The missionaries presented the first discussion, and then they asked us to return the next week for the second discussion. But I told them that because of the distance involved, I wanted them to baptize us then. So we received all the discussions and were baptized the same day, 28 September 1979.

    “It’s a long distance between our home and the church, but we attended Sunday meetings as often as possible. On one of our visits, I was interviewed by the branch president to be ordained to the Aaronic priesthood.”

    President Otay, who was Brother Yefi’s branch president at that time, challenged him to pay tithing and prepare himself to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. A few months after the interview, on a rainy, wet day, Brother Yefi appeared and asked to speak with the president about paying his first tithing donation. President Otay invited him to come in, but Brother Yefi said that he had his tithing outside—three sacks of potatoes.

    Imagine this brother’s faithfulness in keeping the Lord’s commandments! He had transported three sacks of potatoes by horseback, boat, bus, and then wagon to the church.

    Listening to Brother Yefi testify of the law of tithing is a special experience. “Before leaving home to bring our tithing to the bishop,” he said, “I pray to Heavenly Father to bless me that I might be honest. I would not like to have the feeling that I have stolen what really belongs to Him.”

    Brother Yefi testified that the Lord has greatly blessed his family for obeying the law of tithing. At the time he was baptized, he said, he had only the minimum of necessities to sustain his family—a team of oxen which he used to plow the earth, a horse, and a few goats and sheep. But, he said with great reverence, since learning the gospel and paying his tithing, “We have been greatly blessed. I have horses, goats, sheep, and nine milking cows that give us enough milk to feed our children and to make cheese to sell. And we sow and harvest our own wheat. We are very blessed!”

    As a part of the Yefis’ goal of building an eternal family, they have eagerly shared the gospel with their extended family members. Brother Yefi’s father, Prudencio Yefi Calbucan, was the first relative to listen to the gospel message. Next his brother, Segundo Prudencio Yefi Aguilar, his brother’s wife, Maria Isabel de Yefi, and one of their daughters became interested. Then his brother-in-law, Jose Nolberto Miranda Diaz—who we had met at the lakeshore—his wife, Maria Francisca de Miranda, his oldest son Juan Heriberto Miranda Yefi, and two younger daughters wanted to learn more.

    Brother Yefi taught them all the missionary discussions. Then they all made the journey to Puerto Varas to be interviewed by the full-time missionaries. After the interviews, Brother Yefi baptized them. He also challenged them to receive the temple endowments which he and Sister Yefi had already done. (The Mirandas’ oldest son was serving in the Chile Vina del Mar Mission at the time of our visit.)

    On the second day of our visit, Sunday, President Otay authorized Brother Yefi to conduct regular church services in his home, except when the family journeys to Puerta Varas to pay tithing to the bishop.

    We joined the Yefis, with their relatives, in Sunday School and sacrament service—eighteen members altogether.

    Brother Yefi taught a lesson from the book of Moroni. As he read from chapters six and seven about baptisms, fellowshipping and preaching by the power of the Holy Ghost, tears rolled down our checks.

    When the lesson was finished, we sang a hymn. Even without a piano or a knowledge of music, the Yefi family sang with a spirit that compensated for any wrong notes. Then Brother Yefi asked the visitors to speak.

    When it was my turn to speak, I told them, “I realize that you are eager to learn from anything I might say, but I can assure you that from this visit I have learned more from you than what you can learn from me.”

    As I told the Yefi family good-by later that day, I thought about the lessons I had learned from them. I learned about being faithful to the Lord in every circumstance. I learned that although a great distance separated the Yefis from the church meetinghouse, there was no distance between them and the Lord. Many of us who have dozens of neighbors around us do not share the gospel, yet the Yefis have taught, fellowshipped, and baptized their nearest neighbors and relatives.

    From the Yefis, I learned about making the temple a priority. Many of us who have relatively easy access to a temple make one excuse after another for not attending. The Yefis have already traveled a great distance to Santiago to be sealed in the temple. And whenever they can make the journey to that city, the temple is their first priority.

    I left the beautiful El Callao Valley strengthened in my own testimony of the gospel and in my commitment to obey the Lord. The Yefis’ influence for good has reached beyond the isolation of their mountain home.

    Benigno Pantoja (far left) and President Julio Otay (far right) met with the Miranda family before traveling to visit Jose Yefi (second from left), whose home is two hours away on horseback. The Miranda family joined the Church because of Brother Yefi’s missionary efforts.

    “After a two hour journey, we got off our horses and the children excitedly greeted us,” said Elder Pantoja. “At first I assumed they were thrilled to see visitors. But I soon realized their excitement was for their father.”

    Brother Yefi and his wife Juana, have been authorized by their stake president to hold Church meetings in their home because the chapel is so far away. Many of the Yefi’s relatives have also been baptized and attend services at the Yefi home.

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    • Elder Benigno Pantoja is regional representative for the Chile South Region of the Church. He lives in the La Florida 2nd Ward, La Florida (Santiago) Stake, Chile.