Pamphlet on the Water

By Gamaliel Alcides Vásquez

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    In September 1977, I was nineteen years old and studying in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, to become a school teacher. One afternoon while walking home, I noticed a little stream of rain water running down the street toward my apartment. It was carrying a piece of paper. Just to entertain myself, I decided to keep pace with that piece of paper. When I got to my apartment, I picked it up.

    It was a pamphlet. I will never forget its title: The Church as Organized by Jesus Christ. At one time I had been very interested in finding the church that Jesus Christ had set up. I had investigated many churches, but I had joined none. I had finally given up my search. But now as I read the title on the pamphlet, somehow I knew I had found the true church. On the back of the pamphlet was a name—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I determined to find that church.

    When the school term ended in October, I went to my hometown, Rio Blanco, for a three-month break. While there, I helped with the corn harvest. One day I was riding up a hill in an old truck when the brakes failed. The truck lurched off the road, threw me into a ditch, and almost ran over my head. I was very shaken and wondered what would have happened to me if I had died.

    School resumed in January, and I went back to Quetzaltenango. Although I had lived in that city for three years, I had never seen a Latter-day Saint church there. One Sunday I decided that if one existed, I was going to find it. I got up early and began asking everyone I met if they knew the location of the church. At first, no one did. Others sent me in the wrong direction. But after three hours, I finally located the meetinghouse and literally ran toward it.

    The building was beautiful. I wondered if this was a church just for the rich. Because I am a shy person, I quietly took a seat in the back of the chapel. I knew no one there, and nobody spoke to me, but I loved the meeting. There was a feeling in my heart that I had never felt in any other place on earth.

    The next Sunday I returned, thinking that if the preacher asked people to come up front and accept Christ, I would be the first to go. But nobody called us to go up. Three members shared short messages. How different this church is! I thought. But I liked it. Unfortunately, the members still did not notice me, and I decided I would go back only one more week. I couldn’t keep attending if I had no one to talk to. At least I would have a beautiful memory to cherish.

    The meetings were equally pleasing on the third Sunday. When they were over, everyone began leaving, talking happily. I sat on a bench in the entryway, almost in tears at the idea of not coming back. Then a well-dressed young man with blond hair sat down next to me. In broken Spanish, he asked how long I had been a member of the Church.

    “I’m not a member,” I said, “only visiting.” He instantly took out a little book and asked for my address.

    “Why do you need my address?”

    “We would like to get to know you and teach you more about the Church,” he explained.

    With great pleasure I accepted his invitation, and the missionaries began teaching me the gospel. I asked a great many questions, which they could not always answer, but they always came back with the answers the next day. People at school ridiculed me when they learned what I was doing, and family members who belonged to other churches kept trying to argue with me. But I kept learning, and in time I was baptized.

    Soon after, the bishop called me into his office and asked me to prepare to go on a mission. Since I was so shy, the idea overwhelmed me. I stalled.

    Another school year ended, and I returned again to Rio Blanco. But I was the only member there, and I felt lonely. If the Church is really true, I reasoned, maybe I should tell others about it. I began to visit my friends and relatives in their homes each day after work to teach them the gospel. Several of them wanted to join the Church. I called mission president John F. O’Donnal and told him that there were eight persons in Rio Blanco ready for baptism. He was delighted to come and make the arrangements.

    Like my bishop, President O’Donnal asked me to serve a mission. As a delaying tactic, I explained that there were no priesthood leaders in Rio Blanco. I told him I would go on a mission after he sent someone. He transferred two missionaries there the very next week. So I reluctantly filled out my mission papers.

    As I expected, my mission was very demanding. But I have never regretted the decision to serve. Although my father has died, my mother is now a member of the Church, as are all but two of their fourteen living children. Four of their sons have gone on missions, and two more are preparing. Most of us have church callings.

    Soon after my mission ended, I was called to serve as branch president in Rio Blanco. Five years later, in 1986, a wonderful blessing came into my life when I married my wife in the Guatemala City Temple. Now we have three beautiful children. In 1990, our branch became a ward, and I was called to be the bishop. I felt that many other brethren were better qualified, but the Lord called me, so I did my best.

    I have had many beautiful and rewarding experiences since I found that pamphlet floating on the water. While the rest of the world is struggling for power and riches, I have found peace, security, and happiness.

    Curiosity, aroused by a pamphlet floating on the water, led to a new life for Gamaliel Alcides Vásquez, a life that now includes his wife, Magda Priscila, and three children, two of whom are seen here in an early 1990’s family photograph.