After Losing Everything

In this life, we can literally lose everything—home, family, material possessions. But no one can take away that which is most valuable—the knowledge that Heavenly Father lives, that we are his children, that he truly loves us. I learned this fact at an early age through a series of traumatic experiences.

It was 1983, and I was 15 years old. Just a year earlier, I had found the gospel and had been baptized.

The area of Peru where my family lived was particularly troubled by violence. During the afternoon of 20 April, a band of terrorists came into town with guns and dynamite. They began rounding up people—including my mother, my brother, and me—threatening to kill us. Silently I prayed that, if I had to die, I would go to paradise.

The terrorists tied up all those who had stones, sticks, or any other weapon of self-defense in their possession and shot them with machine guns. Women wept for their husbands, brothers, and sons. My mother wept, too, for my brother was among the dead.

Exactly one month later, the terrorists returned at 1:00 A.M. looking specifically for my father. He was a leader in the town, and rumor had falsely accused him of organizing the town against the terrorists. This time they took my parents and several other people from their homes and murdered them. Had my brothers and sisters and I not been sleeping at our aunt’s house, we would most likely have also been killed. But we were able to flee into the hills.

Early that same morning, we were pounded by a hailstorm, but as soon as it was light, I began running to the town over the hill to get help. Suddenly I realized that some of the terrorists were also hiding in the hills and that they were coming after me. As I started down the hill, which was very slippery with hail, I pleaded with the Lord to help me. Miraculously, I was able to escape.

As soon as I was out of danger, I knelt to give thanks and to ask for protection. As I finished my prayer, I felt a wonderful peace, as if nothing bad had happened. My legs had been shaking violently. Now they felt renewed, and I had the strength to continue running. My fear completely disappeared. I had just lost my parents, but I felt a strong assurance that I had a Heavenly Father who loved me.

With help from the people in the town I fled to, I was able to get the rest of my family to safety.

My most pressing immediate worry was the welfare of my five younger brothers and sisters, the youngest of whom was only four years old. For several weeks we lived as refugees, suffering terribly from hunger.

Then I went to Lima, the capital city, to look for work. During this time, I was almost desperate with worry for my brothers and sisters, whom I had left at home in the care of an older brother. From time to time, I heard news of continued bloodshed in the area where they were living. Often I would cry, worrying that they might be dead. Still, I felt supported by the knowledge I had received that day on the mountain that Heavenly Father lived and loved us.

I was almost ready to give up hope of ever finding work when I was given a temporary job picking sweet potatoes. Even though I was a minor and lacked the proper documents, through faith and prayer I was eventually given a permanent job. After some months, my brothers and sisters were able to come live with me in Lima. One of my aunts gave us a place to live, and another gave us some household utensils. We had very little, since most of our parents’ belongings had been stolen. But none of our problems mattered as long as we were together.

My parents had taught all of us, without exception, how to work and how to do household chores. Later, I came to understand even more what extraordinary examples they were. I am grateful that from the time I was a small boy they had taught me to be responsible. Circumstances may have forced me to grow up quickly, but my parents had prepared me to meet the crises my family and I faced. And the Lord blessed us. I saw miracles take place as he watched over us.

As I grew older, I doubted that I would be able to serve a mission because of my family responsibilities. Still, I had a great desire to serve and often thought of the blessings I would lose if I did not go on a mission. Then one night I dreamed that the Savior was sitting next to me. I had such a special feeling of peace and safety that I could no longer doubt what I needed to do.

My employer gave me a leave of absence from my job, and I accepted a mission call. When I had been on my mission a year, my brother wrote that my employer had changed his mind and refused to hold my job until I returned. He said if I did not return home, I would lose my job. “Do not worry about material things,” I wrote back. “If I lose that job, the Lord will help me find something better.” I finished my mission.

I am grateful that, during my mission, none of my brothers or sisters suffered any serious illnesses. I returned to find them all well. We are still together, helping each other. We have been sealed to our parents, and I have been married in the temple to a very special woman. We have been blessed with two children of our own, so now there are nine of us.

I have received several other great blessings as well. I am now employed by the Church, working in the Lima Peru Temple as an office assistant, and I am a temple worker as well. I have also served for several years as a bishop, a transcendent blessing in my life.

My calling as a bishop has given me the opportunity to understand the difficulties other people have endured. Through this calling, and through my own experiences, I have learned that the best way to overcome obstacles is to increase our faith in the Lord and serve him with all our strength, with the firm hope that his promises will be fulfilled. I testify that, if we truly do our part, his promises are sure.

[illustration] Illustrated by Gregg Thorkelson