26946_000_009From El Alto to Cochabamba to Santa Cruz, youth in Bolivia find friendship, faith, and fun in seminary.
High in the Altiplano—the high plains of the Andes Mountains on the border of Bolivia and Peru—lies Lake Titicaca. At 12,500 feet (3,800 m) above sea level, it’s the world’s highest lake navigable to large boats. It is also the legendary birthplace of one of the oldest American civilizations, the Inca. Legend says that the sun sent founders of the Incan civilization down to earth on Titicaca Island.
The lake’s water stays at an almost constant temperature of 51º F (11º C); that’s pretty brisk for swimming—downright cold for a baptism. But it was in Lake Titicaca that Roberto Carlos Condori Pachuri, 16, was baptized last year. Sometimes the village doesn’t have enough water to fill the font at the meetinghouse in El Alto, Bolivia, so they go to the lake. Roberto Carlos remembers his baptism well, but it’s not because of the water. It’s because of the warm spirit he felt when he became a member of the Church.
Roberto Carlos was introduced to the Church by his friend José Luís Mamani Kari, 15. “I came to seminary,” says Roberto Carlos. “It was the first time I entered a Church building, and I was a little scared.” But he quickly found out he was welcome. In fact, usually 15 of the 30 or so youth who attend seminary each week are not Church members. Youth from the Batallas Branch, Titicaca Bolivia District, attend seminary on Thursday evenings and study at home during the week.
“I invite my friends to come and learn something,” says Ángela Daniela Sanjines Flores, 16, “and then we have fun after.” Why do they come? “The truth is that some come to play and have fun, others want to learn, and others come because their friends invite them.”
Roberto Carlos wanted to attend seminary for all these reasons. “I liked the things I was learning, and I have lots of friends here,” he says. “We play soccer or volleyball after class.” It was at seminary and in meeting with the elders that he learned about ancient prophets, a living prophet today, and Christ’s visit to the Americas. It was through learning the truths of the gospel that Roberto Carlos joined the Church.
President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) had a motto to remind us of our duties as member missionaries: “Do it!” He promised that as we testified of the Restoration we would be blessed. José Luís knows this is true.
“It felt good,” says José Luís, to see Roberto Carlos accept the gospel. “I wanted to share my testimony, so I did.”
Courage in Cochabamba
In Cochabamba, about 160 miles (260 km) southeast of El Alto, the youth attend early-morning seminary.
Outside Church functions, these teens often feel pressure from peers to lower their standards. “Being a member of the Church here is hard because I’m surrounded by many people who want me to do bad things,” says Cristhian Pérez, 19, of La Chimba Ward, Cochabamba Bolivia Cobija Stake. “That’s why I think our friends are one of the most important things.” Even though many of these young men and young women may be the only member in their school or even in their family, they can always count on each other for support. Cristhian continues, “The way we help each other in the Church is by going to seminary together and doing activities together.”
“We’re like a family, and we take care of each other,” agrees Miriam Eugenia Copa Fernández, 19, of the Alalay Ward, Cochabamba Bolivia Jaihuayco Stake. “It’s a really good way to start the day, because it makes me happy all day.”
The spiritual support that these youth offer each other as they learn and grow together revolves in a cycle of strength.
“Seminary has helped me overcome my weaknesses and temptations and has helped me make better decisions,” says Nefía Flores, 18, of the América Ward, Cochabamba Bolivia Cobija Stake. As the young men and young women build stronger testimonies, they become better examples to their friends.
“The four years I’ve spent in seminary have been a big help to me because every lesson and every piece of counsel has helped me face a particular challenge,” says Luís Carlos Gonzales Jaimes, 19, of La Chimba Ward, who is preparing to serve a mission.
Since there is a temple in Cochabamba, many of the youth in the area go there often to find strength. “Having a temple here in Cochabamba makes us very happy. We have the chance to visit there every week,” says Harold Reinaldo Salazar, 18, of the Petrolero Ward, Cochabamba Bolivia Jaihuayco Stake. “When we do baptisms there, it’s an unforgettable experience.”
Because they see the strength of testimony in their friends’ actions, like when they attend the temple, these young people know they can look to each other for spiritual power.
“I respect them a lot,” says Miriam of her friends. “They are strong spiritually and prepared to face all the challenges they have. I trust them. They have powerful testimonies of the Church. They are courageous. They are fun.”
Breakfast with Friends
In the eastern part of the city, about 20 youth from the Colcapirhua Ward, Cochabamba Bolivia Los Alamos Stake, meet each day at 5:30 a.m. for a simple breakfast before seminary begins at 6:00.
“I get up early because I know that if I come to seminary it’s going to help me have the Spirit and be closer to God all day,” says Jenny Linares, 18.
Breakfast usually consists of bread with sugar and mate, an herbal drink, or api, a drink made with ground purple and white corn. But the youth come to seminary more for spiritual nourishment than for food.
“It’s fun to come to seminary,” says Luly Bravo, 14. “The youth brighten your day in the morning. We come to learn more about our Father in Heaven and His Son.”
“The truth is that the four years of seminary have made me think a lot about a mission,” says Diego Díaz, 18. “That’s why I am graduating from seminary, so I can go on a mission.”
Franz Condori, 20, of the Arocagua Ward, Cochabamba Bolivia Universidad Stake, agrees. He was baptized four years ago and plans to serve a mission soon. “When I became a member of this Church, I had already set the goal to go on a mission, and the four years in seminary have helped me a lot,” he says. “I know the scriptures we always read and study will help me answer the questions I might be asked when I become a missionary.”
Strong in Santa Cruz
About 180 miles (290 km) east of Cochabamba is Santa Cruz. In that distance the climate changes; it is much hotter here. But more important things do not change. Attending seminary every morning makes a difference in how the youth of Santa Cruz live. “We need to move forward and put into practice the principles we have been taught in seminary classes,” says Adán Quintela Aparício, 18, of the Estación Ward, Santa Cruz Bolivia Cañoto Stake. “It is a great privilege to have the seminary program in the Church, where we can learn so many things that help us for the rest of our lives.”
Confronted on all sides with temptation and pressure to relax their standards, the youth of Bolivia have found protection and support in gospel truths.
“Seminary has been like a shield in my life,” says María D. Justiniano, 18, of the Carmen Branch, Santa Cruz Bolivia El Bajío Stake. “It has been a shield, because it protects me each day at school. For example, the schoolteachers come up with evolutionist theories and things like that, and in seminary they prepare us well. We have the ability to think on our own and to feel in our hearts that God truly was the Creator of this world.”
What all these youth in Bolivia agree on—from the high altitude of the Altiplano to the heat of Santa Cruz—is that as they meet together, they grow stronger in the gospel and are better able to withstand the temptations of the world. “When a stick is alone it can easily be broken,” explains Franz Condori. “But when many sticks are joined together they cannot be broken. When there is unity in a group, it is difficult for someone or something to break us. We help each other.”