Quarter of century of service, devotion to Church in Peru

Complying with the Word of Wisdom is a hindrance to some investigators who want to be baptized.

But Oscar Hernan Aguayo Ugas took the opposite approach: After hearing about the commandment to abstain from tobacco, alcohol, tea and coffee, he realized its value and immediately complied with it. He just didn't want to be baptized into a little-known religion.Today, he and his wife, Rita, members of the Musa Ward, Lima Peru La Molina Stake, can not only look back on their baptisms, but also on more than a quarter of a century of service to that now well-known religion. His service has taken on added responsibility with a calling as an Area Authority Seventy for the South America North Area and a member of the Fourth Quorum of the Seventy.

He is representative of the 134 new Area Authority Seventies in the newly created Third, Fourth and Fifth Quorums. These leaders, sustained in general conference on April 5, were described by President Gordon B. Hinckley as "faithful and devoted men . . . who love the Church and who have served in many capacities."

The Aguayos were baptized Sept. 10, 1971, and soon called to positions of leadership in a ward in Peru's only stake. Although to them it seemed that the Church grew slowly in those times, in just a little more than quarter of a century, that single stake has multiplied into 77 stakes.

Brother and Sister Aguayo have been been there every step of the way.

They were living in Arequipa, Peru, in the late 1960s when they first learned about the Church from a vague family connection. Her father's brother investigated the Church and tried to bring some of the vitality and enthusiasm among its youth back to the dominant religion. In the process, he introduced the gospel to her father, Eduardo B. Cordara, who was baptized. His baptism sharply divided the family and his wife, Gloria, moved from Arequipa to Lima.

Brother Aguayo's wife traveled to Lima to visit her mother and surprisingly found the missionaries there teaching her the gospel. She was soon baptized and the family reunited. Sister Aguayo, too, listened to the missionary lessons and felt the Spirit testifying of their truthfulness.

After returning to Arequipa, she invited the missionaries to their home.

"At first, my husband came into the house only after the lessons were over," said Sister Aguayo. After he started listening to the lessons, "My father visited and spoke to us about the Word of Wisdom. That same night my husband said to me, `This is the last cigarette I will smoke in my life.'

"I said, `Very good!,' but I didn't believe him," she said.

He was as good as his word and from then on began to observe the Word of Wisdom. But he said no to his wife's request to be baptized.

About two years passed. Missionaries, "all good friends," came and left the Aguayo home to no avail. One day a missionary who was a particularly good friend stopped by. He was returning to the United States and left his Bible, with an inscription inside, as a gift to the reluctant investigator.

When Oscar Aguayo returned home, he and the family hurried to the airport to see the missionary off. But the young man had already gone through customs and was out of reach. Disappointed, they returned home. There, Sister Aguayo was surprised to hear her husband ask, "What do you think about being baptized next week?"

Her father, the ever-ready member-missionary, baptized them. The Aguayos have been ardent workers in the Church ever since. Elder Aguayo's first calling was in the Sunday School, and he remembers being petrified at giving a two-and-a-half-minute talk.

Sister Aguayo was called as Primary president, "there was no Primary then; we had to organize it," she said. "We knew very little about the Church."

Their small ward held many activities, including fund-raisers for Church buildings. Until meetinghouses were built, they met in members' homes.

He was soon called as bishop's counselor and bishop. Just five years after his baptism, he became the first president of the new Lima Peru Central Stake. A calling as regional representative followed. He also served as president of the Peru Trujillo Mission from 1988-91.

In 1984 he became Church Educational System coordinator for Peru, a program that has grown to 20,000 students in seminary and institute.

"We have about a thousand teachers, all voluntary," said Elder Aguayo. "These classes help young people prepare for missions. Between 60 and 70 percent of the youth in CES go on missions." Returned missionaries are serving in many key leadership positions, he added.

The days of the slow growth of the Church are behind.

"The Church is growing so fast that it is a challenge to teach and train the many new converts," said Elder Aguayo.

Sister Aguayo has served as ward and stake Primary, Young Women and Relief Society president. She said that while the women leaders are very faithful, many do not have a great deal of education and struggle with their responsibilities.

Even so, they have made remarkable progress. "What is happening in Peru is a phenomenon of the last days," she said. "Missionary work is the vehicle for Church growth."

Sister Aguayo said that one of the most devoted missionaries is her husband, Elder Aguayo, who has a strong testimony not only of the Word of Wisdom, but also of baptism.

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