Mistolar: Spiritual Oasis


There is a little village called Mistolar on the Paraguayan desert. All of its residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Despite their distance from the Church’s Paraguayan headquarters in the capital city of Asunción, these humble people of Indian ancestry follow the programs and principles of the restored gospel and are an example of faithfulness to the world.

Mistolar had its beginnings in 1977. At that time, the Paraguayan mission president, Merle Bair, saw Walter Flores, a man from the deserts of the Chico in Paraguay, on a television program in Asunción. President Bair felt impressed to find the man and share the gospel with him. In 1980, the missionaries located Flores. He was very receptive to the gospel message, and was soon baptized. Brother Flores’ testimony was so profound and clear, he knew he had to share the gospel with his fellow Indians. Several hundred joined the Church.

One group of some 214 Nivaclé Saints (formerly Chulupi), wanted to be free from worldly influences and settled a large piece of land in an uninhabited, remote area of Paraguay. They named their settlement Mistolar. At first, they were totally self-sufficient in their gardening, hunting and fishing, and had little communication with other people.

But the massive Pilcomayo River, between Mistolar and the northern border of Argentina, challenged their self-sufficiency and their faith.

One year, as the snows of the Andes Mountains melted, the swollen Pilcomayo overflowed its banks and flooded Mistolar. The Saints were forced to move and they relocated ten kilometers away from the river’s edge. But even there, they were not safe. Another disastrous flood left their land more than knee-deep in water for a month. They lost the beautiful chapel they had built, their homes, their gardens, their clothing—almost everything they owned. But, as I was to discover, they still had their faith.

On June 15, 1987, as a member of the area presidency based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I flew to Asunción where I met with John J. Whetten, president of the Paraguay Asunción Mission. With a few other brethren, we loaded two small trucks with a pedal sewing machine, cloth to make shirts and dresses, rice, beans, salt, and a few other necessities. We also carried with us a copy of Gospel Principles, newly translated into Nivaclé. (The Nivaclé Indians do not speak Paraguay’s predominant languages of Spanish or Guarani, but their own dialect.)

From Asunción, we traveled about 480 kilometers to the city of Filadelfia, a drive of seven hours on a good road. The next day, we traveled the 250 kilometers to Mistolar going about 15 to 25 kilometers per hour over an extremely rutted, dusty road. Even a sprinkle of rain would have turned the road to mud, preventing us from reaching the settlement. This shorter section of our journey took almost nine hours.

When we arrived at Mistolar, we were warmly welcomed by mostly women and children. I asked where some of the men were and was told they were hunting. When I asked what the men were hunting the sisters said, “Anything.” (Some of the men walk the twenty-kilometer round trip to the river to fish.) The settlement’s surviving livestock included three sheep, a few chickens, a couple of goats and a scrawny dog. With little nourishing food or clothing saved from the floods, these Saints shivered in the 20 (C) degree winter weather of June. At night, their stick-and-reed homes offered little protection from freezing temperatures of 0 to 5 (C) degrees. The other eleven months of the year are extremely hot—often over 48 (C) degrees.

But in spite of all of the hardships they had endured for months, the Mistolar Saints were without one single complaint. There wasn’t one sad face. Not once did they do anything but smile.

They offered to kill one of the sheep for a meal that afternoon and we politely declined. Nevertheless, they insisted. We ate sparingly of the meat, knowing they would use anything we left.

I asked the young president of the Mistolar Branch, “Do you have any sick among your members?” (The people in this land die at an early age. Statistically, of 200 Nivaclé, only eleven will die of old age; the rest will die of disease.) He looked at me, paused, and said, “I don’t think so; let me ask the other brethren.” A few minutes later after conversing with two of the brethren, he said, “My brethren told me, ‘Of course we have no sick.’” He added, by way of simple explanation, “There are thirty-nine of us who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood. We watch over and bless our people.”

I asked, “Do you have any members who are not quite as active as the rest?” He said, “Elder Brewerton, of course not. We have accepted the Lord through baptism. We are all true Saints, totally active in our worship of the Lord.”

For the evening meeting, I asked the branch president to find some members to pray. One sister talked to the Lord in very a personal manner saying, “Father we have lost our beautiful chapel, we have lost our clothing, we no longer have homes, we have no food to eat, we don’t have any materials to build anything, we have to walk ten kilometers to get a drink of dirty river water and we don’t have a bucket. But we desire to express to you our gratitude for our good health, for our happiness, and for our Church membership. Father, we want you to know that under any conditions we will be true, strong and faithful to the covenants we made to thee when we were baptized.”

We visitors were very humbled by their example of faith. During the meeting, we dedicated their land to the Lord. We visited each family site and saw where they would plant their gardens when the rains would come.

Some time later, after I had returned to Buenos Aires, I was told that the rains didn’t come as expected, but that the faithful Mistolar Saints planted their gardens anyway and the deep-seated moisture from the floods produced a crop. Eventually, the rains did come and they had another bounteous harvest. In addition, they reported that fish were plentiful throughout the year.

In 1988, I was concerned for the Mistolar Saints when the snow on the Andes mountains, more than double the usual amount, began to melt. It meant that the Pilcomayo River would probably flood again. But, I was told, the Saints there said, “Don’t worry, we will not be flooded this year because our land was dedicated.” Twice the flood waters surged down the riverbed, flowed over the land, but receded before reaching Mistolar.

The faith of these good people was also demonstrated in their desire to pay tithing. With no money, and little of anything else, they created fiber from tree bark, and from the fiber they made shoulder bags and hand bags. They dyed the bags and sold them to us so they would have cash to pay tithing.

I marveled then, and still marvel at the example of these faithful Church members. What a light to the world! I believe that faithfulness like theirs comes from a fervent testimony of the restored gospel. Because of their faith and love of the gospel, I am sure Heavenly Father will continue to bless the Saints of Mistolar.

[photos] Left: Brother Arenas, president of the Mistolar Branch, with his wife and two children. Above: The two-day journey to Mistolar means driving over paved road, then dirt road, and finally deeply-rutted surfaces that require four-wheel-drive trucks.

[photos] Left: Old or young, the Saints of Mistolar daily live by gospel principles. Lower left: The Mistolar Saints constructed this temporary chapel after the first adobe brick building was washed away by flood waters. Above: Offering little shelter from mid-winter’s freezing nights, these makeshift homes were built after the Pilcomayo River flooded the community.

[photos] Top: Sister Dorothy Brewerton displaying the bags made from dyed tree bark that the Mistolar Saints made and sold to pay tithing. Bottom: The future of Mistolar is in the hands of the youth who are active in Church and seminary. Right: Although there was little nutritious food available following the floods, the Mistolar Saints were blessed with good health.