Temples of Tikal

Their ancestors worshiped here. But these LDS youth are focused on a new temple that stands gleaming and alive in Guatemala City.

Towering temples rise majestically from the jungle floor, reaching heavenward. Hushed whispers of ancient peoples seem to permeate chambers, corridors, courtyards, and steep stone steps. Wonder and mystery live here.

This is Tikal, once a thriving Mayan city. When Mayan civilization died, Tikal died with it and was buried beneath the encroaching vegetation of Guatemala’s relentless rain forests. Some of Tikal’s pyramids and palaces—along with a few of her other mysteries—have now been uncovered to our view and to our questions.

In a secluded spot

Ancient peoples worshiped here at Tikal. Today, Latter-day Saint youth who live nearby find that Tikal is an ideal place to role-play Samuel the Lamanite’s prophecy to the Nephites from the top of a city wall. Or King Benjamin’s address from the pinnacle of a tower. Or Abinadi’s testimony before wicked King Noah. It’s an inspiring place to talk about prophets—ancient and modern. About temples—past and present. About truths—buried and living. About prophetic voices speaking from the dust.

In a secluded spot, away from the notice of other visitors, 11 Latter-day Saint young women gather. Seminary and institute students from nearby San Benito, they have spent the morning together, exploring the secrets of Tikal.

It has been a rich, full day. Now, shaded from the burning sun by the protecting shadow of an ancient palace, the young women pause in a stone courtyard to rest and to share their feelings and testimonies. They softly sing “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet,” and then someone offers a prayer.

“We are fortunate to live so close to this place,” one of the group says reverently. “It was a special place for our ancestors.” Others agree, expressing respect and gratitude for the legacy and the lessons of Tikal.

Another Temple

Surrounded by these ancient temples and immersed in the aura of the place, these Latter-day Saint young women seem to be naturally drawn to reflect upon another temple in their homeland—one many kilometers away in Guatemala City.

“Our family had an experience not long ago that was the dream of our whole lives,” says 18-year-old Yeszenia Delvalle. “We were sealed in the temple. Now that our family is sealed, we hope to live as a family forever.”

Without exception, every young woman in this group has entered that temple in Guatemala City to be sealed to her parents or to be baptized for the dead. A couple of years ago, the youth in the branch made the 15-hour bus trip to Guatemala City to do baptisms. “By being baptized for the dead, we give others the chance to repent and prepare for the Resurrection,” says Zoila Delvalle, 17. “Then it is up to them to accept it or not. In the temple, you feel the Spirit. You feel calm. You almost don’t want to leave. It makes you feel special. It’s beautiful.”

Says 17-year-old Cleily Valdez, “I’m grateful to my Heavenly Father that I belong to his church and that I have been sealed to my parents in the temple. Having the gospel is the greatest thing on earth that can take us to eternal life.”

Rubi Monzon, who recently returned from her mission, is the seminary teacher. “When I was 14, my mother died,” she says. “It was very hard on my family. Often I would be home alone, feeling lonely. One time, I was crying, and I heard a voice telling me that I wasn’t alone and that the Lord was with me and would help me. It was a soothing voice, and it made me feel good. Since then, I have felt at peace, knowing that the Lord loves me and will always be with me.”

Three years after her mother died, Rubi and her family were sealed in the Guatemala City Temple. “I feel grateful for the opportunity Heavenly Father has given us to become an eternal family. I know that through obedience I will always be with my mother, father, and brothers and sisters. Many times I think about my mother, and I know that in just a short while we can all be together again.”

“The True God”

Except for its unique setting, this meeting at Tikal is like many similar meetings around the world wherever Latter-day Saints gather to express gratitude and bear testimony.

“I know Heavenly Father sent us to earth for a purpose,” says Karla Monzon, 17. “I’m grateful that he sent his Son to atone for our sins. He has given us the gospel and the Church so we can progress and return to his presence.”

“I was happy when my parents, my brother, and I were sealed in the temple,” says Juanita Leon, 12. She explains that her father used to own a restaurant and would drink a lot. “Then one day, a boy came by and talked to my father about the Church. We received all the discussions and were baptized two weeks later. A month after our baptism, my father was called as the president of the San Benito Branch. A year later, we were sealed in the temple. My father doesn’t drink anymore.”

“When I was ill, I prayed and prayed, and the Lord comforted me. I know that he is the true God, and I pray that I will be faithful,” says Juanita, who is also grateful for prayer.

Voices of Living Saints

As these Latter-day Saint youth sing, pray, and bear testimony, the Spirit of the Lord fills this quiet corner of Tikal’s ancient domain. It’s a temple-like feeling.

As the group prepares to return home, a quiet, sobering spirit returns. Many haunting questions remain behind at Tikal: Who lived and worshiped here anciently? What did they know about God, the universe, the meaning of life? What happened to the fathers and mothers, the husbands and wives, the sons and daughters? Tikal’s magnificent temples are empty—and there’s a certain sadness here, a feeling that once-great peoples met an unhappy destiny.

But faith and hope, rather than sadness, accompany this group of young women. They know the temple in Guatemala City and the other Latter-day Saint temples throughout the world—are filled with voices of living Saints. Places of light, truth, and answers, these modern-day temples are alive with the Spirit of the Lord. Within their walls, latter-day fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters joyfully worship the living God, learn about the meaning of life, and are sealed together as families for eternity.

[photos] Photography by Marvin K. Gardner

[photo] Seminary and institute students from nearby San Benito find Tikal a good place for gospel discussion and testimony bearing.

[photo] They are grateful for their rich Mayan heritage. Standing among the ruins of this ancient civilization they think about their ancestors. It’s another reason to be grateful for a true temple, where the blessings of the gospel can be made available to those who have gone on before.

[photos] They are descended from Book of Mormon peoples. And this seems like a great place for a bit of spontaneous Book of Mormon role-playing.

[photos] There’s a certain sadness in this place, a feeling that once-great peoples met an unhappy destiny. But among the LDS youth here, there are only faith and hope. They know that the gospel that brings such happiness to their lives will never again disappear from the earth.