On His Own Two Feet

By Lisa M. Grover

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    When many of us think about pioneers, we think about the long walk to the western United States 150 years ago—and the blisters, exhaustion, and frozen toes that came with all that walking.

    Cesar Gaspar, a 15-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, has never ridden in a covered wagon. He’s never pushed a handcart, and he’s never been to the United States. But he knows all about walking. He walks to seminary, to school, to church, to activities, and home again. Walking is a constant in Cesar’s life.

    “Sometimes I feel like that’s all I do,” he says with a smile. He’s not complaining. It’s just a fact. But walking isn’t all this young man has in common with the early pioneers.

    Footsteps To Faith

    Cesar began looking for the gospel without realizing it. Although he was already active in a church, Cesar became interested in other religions and started taking his first steps toward the restored gospel.

    “I would read literature from other churches, and then I would pray to Father in Heaven, saying, ‘If this is the true church, send your servants to me and have them teach me.’”

    Cesar started his search, he says, without thinking about the changes it would cause in his life. But not long after Cesar started praying for an answer, one came.

    What’s in a Name?

    Cesar’s last name is Gaspar. Fortunate for him, his name followed Betty Garcia’s on the alphabetical seating charts for most of his junior high school classes. Since they sat next to each other most of the school day, they became friends, sometimes studying together after school.

    “One day she mentioned that she was a member of the Church,” says Cesar. “I got very interested and started asking her what her beliefs were, what her principles were.”

    Soon Cesar needed to know more. He followed Betty’s brother home from school one day. After building the courage to knock on the door, Cesar was invited into the house, and Betty and her family talked with him about what it means to be a Latter-day Saint.

    But it was another name that gave him the desire to find the Garcia family’s house in the first place.

    “When I was first learning about the Church, the thing that impressed me the most was its name. There was something very special to me about the fact that the Church had Jesus Christ in its name. That name has a very spiritual and good feeling.”

    Soon Cesar had a copy of the Book of Mormon—compliments of the Garcia family—and lots of questions.

    Meeting the Missionaries

    Attending sacrament meeting for the first time was strange for Cesar. It wasn’t anything like the meetings he was accustomed to.

    “There was a man carrying the sacrament trays. He was very busy fixing the microphone and saying hello to everyone. There were so many people there that I wondered if they would all fit in the church! It seemed funny that the man fixing the microphone was the bishop.

    “It was also a change to be in church for three hours; that seemed like a long time. I still remember that first Sunday School class. We talked about the birth of Jesus Christ, and I asked a lot of questions. After class, Betty’s brother, Isaac, helped me find the missionaries. I didn’t go to priesthood meeting that day; instead, I had my first discussion with the missionaries.”

    That discussion led to more discussions during the week. By Thursday, the bishop had interviewed Cesar, and the following Sunday—exactly one week after his first attendance at Sunday meetings—Cesar was baptized.

    “It was pretty fast,” Cesar admits, “but by that time I had already read the Book of Mormon. Before meeting the missionaries, I had also read Doctrines of Salvation, Truth Restored, and The Miracle of Forgiveness, and I had started Jesus the Christ. I felt ready.”

    That was two years ago. Cesar is the only Church member in his family. It would be easy for him to miss church once in a while or to decide against attending seminary—especially since he almost always has to walk to get there! But he doesn’t even think about that. Instead, he thinks about the people who see what he does.

    “I have to be an example to my family,” he says. “I try to be as perfect as I can because I know they’re watching me.”

    The Gospel in Action

    As Cesar and any other convert knows, joining the Church can be a big change. “The Church is more than principles. It’s a way of life,” Cesar says. “Keeping the Word of Wisdom, blessing the food at every meal, praying morning and night, attending early-morning seminary—that was a big change! And there are other things, like studying the scriptures on my own and getting up early on Sundays for church.”

    But after two years, Cesar seems comfortable with all those changes, so comfortable that he shares the gospel message with anyone who will listen.

    “I try to be very careful about comments I make to my friends so that I can teach them about the Church without offending them,” he says.

    Although he’s still relatively new in the gospel, you’d never know that Cesar hasn’t been a member all his life. He learns quickly and has a great desire to know the truth. But Cesar says that there’s another, more important reason he’s learned so much so fast.

    More Than a Feeling

    “When I was reading the Book of Mormon before I joined the Church, I came to the part about Jesus Christ in America, and I knew it was true,” says Cesar. “At the time, I didn’t recognize the Holy Ghost, but I felt very peaceful. That moment was a new beginning in my life. I felt I could start over and do things in a different and better way.”

    That strong prompting has translated into bold action. It’s the secret to Cesar’s great energy in living and sharing the gospel, despite obstacles and weaknesses that he, like all people, has to overcome. Cesar keeps a journal to remind himself of, and to eventually share with others, the reasons he lives the gospel. It helps him keep his spirits up when life is hard.

    “Being an example and writing in my journal will help me leave a legacy. When my children and grandchildren read what I have written, they will know that being the only member of the Church in my family isn’t easy at all, and I have had to work very hard.”

    They’ll know a lot of other things about him, too—that he loves his calling as a stake missionary; that he loves to be around other Church members, especially the young men and women in his ward and stake; and, most important, that he has a testimony.

    “I’ve noticed that many people think I’m not old enough to know or to receive an answer about something important, like religion. But I have a testimony that no matter your age, if you have a sincere heart and if you ask, you will receive an answer for sure,” says Cesar.

    Songs and Smiles

    Cesar hasn’t ever sung the lyrics “Pioneer children sang as they walked and walked and walked and walked” (“Pioneer Children Sang As They Walked,” Children’s Songbook, 214), but when he hears those words, he says with a smile, “That’s my song! I walk a lot.”

    There are differences, of course, between Cesar and the pioneer children of old. Cesar walks through the busy streets of Guadalajara, not the open plains. And Cesar doesn’t gather fuel for the evening’s fire or feed livestock at the end of the day. But he, too, is a pioneer.

    One day his children and grandchildren will talk about their ancestor, Cesar Gaspar, and how he loved to gather friends together and give them the wonderful gospel message. And they’ll talk about the fact that, even though he had to walk most of the places he wanted to go, he was always singing a song—even if you couldn’t hear it. It was a song not about walking but about how happy the gospel made him and how strong his testimony was. He may or may not have been a good singer, but it was a tune he loved to carry—and to share.

    Photography by Janet Thomas

    Cesar often walks through the streets of Guadalajara, Mexico. But Cesar’s favorite place to walk to is his seminary teacher’s house, far left, where he learns more about the scriptures.

    The busy plazas of Guadalajara, far right, are about as different from the open plains of the western United States as they can be. But with the help and teachings of friends like Cesar’s Sunday School teacher, Doris Gonzalez, right, Cesar is able to make pioneering strides by learning the gospel and sharing it with others.

    Sweet fruits of just about every description can be found in Guadalajara’s markets, above. Now, because of Betty Garcia, right, Cesar knows the sweetness of the gospel.