When Fausto Torales of Paraguay received word that his brother was sick, he decided to visit him—even though it would require a long journey and much sacrifice. Without realizing it, Fausto was embarking on a journey that would require many more sacrifices and would forever change his life and the lives of his family.
There is no public transportation into Natalio Diez, the nearest town. So Fausto left his wife and children at their small farm and walked for over an hour to get there. Next he caught a bus and rode two more hours to the city of Encarnación, where he visited his ill brother. That night in a boardinghouse, he learned for the first time about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from two young men who lived there.
“We had studied various other religions and didn’t like them,” says his wife, Felicita Torales. “But my husband realized that this was very different from what he had heard before. He told the two young men that he would return in three months with all his family to be baptized.”
Filled with the spirit of the message he had heard, Fausto went back to his farm and shared the gospel with his family. Three months later, just as he had promised, Fausto, Felicita, and their children made the journey to Encarnación and went straight to the boardinghouse, ready for baptism. The missionaries taught them the discussions that day and gave them the Book of Mormon and Gospel Principles. The following day—12 May 1981—the parents and their five children who were old enough were baptized. Then they journeyed home and started studying the gospel.
A year later, another child, César, turned eight years old. “We knew from reading Gospel Principles that he needed to be baptized,” Sister Torales says. “So we took him to Encarnación.” But when they arrived at the place where they had been baptized a year earlier—a rented house used as a meetinghouse—they were shocked to discover that the Church was no longer there. “We didn’t know where else to go, so we frantically looked everywhere for another house with the name of the Church on it. But we couldn’t find it. After two days of looking, we had to return home.”
But losing contact with the Church didn’t weaken their testimonies of the gospel. They continued studying the scriptures and worshiping as a family. A year later, Brother and Sister Torales took César to Encarnación again, filled with faith that this time they would be led to the Church so their son could be baptized.
When they arrived in the city, they weren’t sure where to start looking. “Then we saw a milkman with his horsedrawn cart,” she says. “My husband said that since the milkman probably delivered milk throughout the whole city, maybe he would know where the Church met. The man said he didn’t know, but he called to his companion, who did know. ‘Do you want to go there?’ the second man asked. So we got up into his cart, and he took us.”
They discovered that the branch had moved from the small house into a large new building. It was Sunday, and the members were gathered in sacrament meeting. To their great joy, Brother and Sister Torales and César were able to meet many members and to attend their first meeting of the Church. “The branch president told us they were going to have a district conference there in four months. He told us to come back then and we could baptize César.” In four months, the entire family returned to Encarnación, attended the conference, and witnessed César’s baptism.
After that, missionaries and Church leaders frequently traveled to visit the Torales family. The family also shared the gospel with neighbors, some of whom were baptized. Finally, because of the great distances and sacrifices involved, a branch was created at the Torales home in 1986, with Brother Torales as branch president.
Every Sunday, the porch between the two rooms of their small home becomes a chapel as folding chairs and a pulpit are set up. The sacrament is blessed and passed to the members. Classes are held under a tree or over by the flower garden. “We are happy having our meetings here,” says Sister Torales. “We don’t need anything more.”
“We feel the Spirit of the Lord here with us,” President Torales says.
A couple of nights each week, family members visit neighbors and teach them the gospel. “We walk far to reach them,” says 22-year-old Zulma. “Many people receive us. They all know us.” Baptisms take place in the nearby river.
Teresa, 25, has served a mission in Uruguay. María, 23, and Francisco, 19, are currently serving missions in Argentina. Zulma, 22, and César, 18, are ready to go, too. “But everybody can’t go at once,” says Sister Torales, smiling, “because we are poor.”
Family members work together on their small farm and pay a united tithe on their modest income. “Every morning, early, we all get up and read the scriptures together before working,” says Zulma. “Then at noon, after lunch, we read again. At night we study on our own.” Home evenings are held by the light of the moon or a kerosene lantern, because the house has no electricity.
In August 1989, the whole family went to the temple—father, mother, their eleven living children (one of their twelve children had died), and the husband and children of their oldest daughter—a total of nineteen family members. “We left home at 1:00 A.M., ” says Zulma. “The sun wasn’t up yet, and it was totally dark. And it was raining and was terribly muddy. We were drenched as we walked barefoot in the mud, carrying our shoes, our bags, and the little children, until we reached town. As we walked through the darkness, we sang hymns. I remember singing, ‘Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.’” (See Hymns, 1985, number 27, verse 4.)
From town, they took a series of buses—joining with other groups of Church members along the way—and finally arrived at the Buenos Aires Argentina Temple at 6:00 the next morning. It had been a journey of twenty-nine hours.
“We entered the temple, received our endowment, and were sealed as a family,” says Sister Torales. “The temple was a spiritual, beautiful place. The Spirit bore witness to me that this really was the house of the Lord.” Their deceased daughter was sealed to them. And their oldest daughter and her husband and children were sealed as a family. Then they had to leave the temple and travel back home.
On their way back, they stopped in Encarnación and attended Church meetings with the branch members there. Then, for the last hour and a half of the trip back to their farm, they were again on foot in the mud—carrying their shoes and bags and children. “As we walked, we sang more than before because of our joy,” says Sister Torales. “We sang, ‘Count your many blessings!’” (See Hymns, 1985, number 241.)
Indeed, says President Torales, “we have many blessings.”
It is evening now, and the day’s work and dinner are finished. As the sun disappears behind the hills, the family gathers around the old wooden table under the tree in front of their home—as they often do. One by one, family members bear testimony of the Lord’s love.
They speak softly, accompanied by the soothing sounds of the countryside at night. It’s about to rain, and the frogs and crickets down by the river are humming their ceaseless chorus. A light breeze rustles the leaves overhead.
The darkness of the evening descends like a warm blanket, bringing a spirit of calmness, security, peace. After a while, one of the daughters quietly slips into the house and brings back a lantern. She lights it, and the faces around the table shine. Everything else—house, trees, yard—disappears in the darkness. It is as if the rest of the world has vanished. Gradually the stars appear overhead.
Brother Torales softly bears his testimony. He speaks of a loving Savior, of the Prophet Joseph Smith, of living prophets, of the gift of the Holy Ghost. Then he recounts to his family an experience that happened on a night such as this:
One dark evening, he and some of his children were walking home on a country road after teaching the gospel to neighbors. As they walked in the light of the moon and stars, they were listening to a cassette tape of the Tabernacle Choir.
“At that moment, I had what seemed to be a vision,” he says. “The heavens opened, and I saw a personage who I understood was the Lord. My family was walking through a scene of great war. People were fighting all around us. But with the Lord near, their fighting didn’t affect us. We walked right through it, unhurt. The Lord led us to a place that was very beautiful. I was filled with light and peace and with an indescribable joy. I imagine that is how it will feel to be in the presence of God.”
Then the scene closed, and President Torales found himself still walking in the moonlight with his children. They were unaware of what had just happened, so he described it to them. It has been a source of great hope for the family ever since.
“I believe it represented things in our lives and in the future,” says President Torales. “Even though there are wars and problems all around us, if we stay close to our Heavenly Father, we can walk through them and be blessed.”