GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador — On "A wondrous day," for the members in this nation, the Guayaquil Ecuador Temple — described by members, non-members and the press as "the most beautiful building in Ecuador" — was dedicated Aug. 1 by President Gordon B. Hinckley.
The Church's 58th operating temple stands prominently on a hill in a quiet section of northern Guayaquil.
More than 11,700 members attended the solemn and spiritual sessions, Aug. 1-2. Sprinkled liberally among the eight sessions were former missionaries and at least eight former mission presidents to Ecuador who returned for the dedication and who marveled at the growth of the Church in this land since their departure.
Following the dedication, the temple was opened Aug. 3 for ordinance work. The first ordinance sessions were held for members from Otavalo, Ecuador. The indigenous Otavalans are among the most faithful members in the country and are readily distinguishable by their dress.
The brethren have their hair in a single braid and wear a dress hat, white shirt and dark cloak and dark pants. The sisters wear multiple gold necklaces and are dressed in a white, embroidered blouses and dark skirts. Often they have babies bundled in blankets on their backs.
The Otavalans are members of two stakes and traveled nearly 10 hours by bus to reach the temple. They came in such numbers that they nearly filled the temple in one session.
Gustavo Maruri, a longtime member, noted, "I like this temple. It is the best in the world because it is in my city. The work is greater in this city than in the rest of the country. I see the temple every day. I look up early in the morning and see the statue of the Angel Moroni standing way up there, the fulfillment of our faith, our work, our efforts."
The dedicatory sessions were meaningful as members sat together as families in the first temple in their homeland. Added to this was the presence of their beloved president of the Church and other General Authorities. In each session, smiles of anticipation were gradually overwhelmed by tears during what became a profound spiritual experience.
Among those who attended were members from one stake who, during the public open house of the sacred edifice, had walked 6 miles at night to begin their volunteer work of cleaning the temple by 5 a.m. That evening, they walked back to their homes. They came to the dedication with similar enthusiasm.
As one dedicatory session ended and another began, members filed out and others eagerly arrived and similar feelings spread across the new group.
A touching moment occurred after the cornerstone ceremony. Sister Laura Burga de Munoz, wife of Pres. Juan Munoz of the Otavalo Imbabura Stake, shook hands with President Hinckley and began to weep. President Hinckley gave her a comforting hug.
President Hinckley, accompanied by his wife, Marjorie, spoke at each dedicatory session, and also spoke at a regional meeting attended by nearly 22,000 members on July 31 (see related article above). In attendance at the dedication sessions and regional meeting were President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve. They both spoke at each dedicatory session and at the regional meeting.
Elder Francisco J. Vinas of the Seventy and president of the South America North Area and his second counselor, Elder Walter F. Gonzalez, an Area Authority Seventy, also participated in the temple sessions and regional meeting. President Faust was accompanied by his wife, Ruth, and Elder Nelson by his wife, Dantzel. Sisters Cristina de Vinas and Zulma de Gonzalez also accompanied their husbands.
In an interview with the Church News, President Hinckley commented on the appreciation of the Ecuadorian members for the new temple.
"I sense a great spirit of gratitude for this new temple in Guayaquil," he said. "The Saints have waited a very, very long time. They contributed generously toward its construction, but for one reason or another, it has been delayed until now at this late date. It is finished and completed and dedicated and they are grateful for this and indicate their gratitude."
He noted that "it has been a very interesting thing to see the descendants of Father Lehi in the congregations that have gathered in the temple. So very many of these people have the blood of Lehi in their veins and it is just an intriguing thing to see their tremendous response and their tremendous interest.
"This is the great day of their redemption and it is evident that they are a devoted and faithful and able people. When they are given responsibility and opportunity, they step up to it and do it well, and that has been a pleasing thing for all of us to observe.
"This has been a really great occasion to be among these people and feel of their spirits and look into their faces; it has been a most encouraging thing. Many of them are relatively recent members of the Church, but they show great faith and are diligent in their Church responsibilities and are becoming well-established Latter-day Saints.
"A real foundation for the Church in Ecuador has been laid and we are hopeful that it will go forth and be accelerated by the presence of the temple here in Guayaquil."
President Faust, in remarks to Church News, noted that he has been associated with the growth of the Church in South America for 60 years.
"When I first came down as a young missionary in 1939, there were just a few members in southern Brazil and a few in Argentina of German extraction who had immigrated to South America after World War I. Now to come and see the growth and progress which has taken place, even since 1975 when we had supervision of the work in all of South America, and lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is unbelievable.
"The first temple that was built in that time was in Sao Paulo. Now we have all these beautiful, magnificent temples dedicated and under construction, which will be a marvelous blessing. We see it in the lives of the people — we saw people of faith, dedication, commitment and experience as we conferred the sealing power upon these great brethren down here; we see the seeds of faith have fallen on fertile ground."
He said that the "Latin people have a special quality of softness and graciousness and kindness. They are a great people — they are sons and daughters of Father Lehi, and they have believing blood. They are a beautiful people, inside and out."
Elder Nelson, who delivered all his addresses in Spanish, said the dedication of the Guayaquil temple was "a great climax to a long history of the Church in South America."
He noted that the first stake in Ecuador was created in 1978, and the Church here has grown to 32 stakes and is approaching 150,000 members in the nation of 10 million people.
"A new day is coming," he said. "The presence of a temple here and the establishment of a people worthy of entrance to the temple will make a great difference to the future of this country and for the nations round about. It is really a very important hinge point in the history of this nation."
Jorge Saltos Proano of the Tarqui Ward, Guayaquil Alborada Stake, was asked to provide transportation for President and Sister Hinckley during their stay in Guayaquil.
Brother Saltos said that he and his wife had originally planned to buy a high four-wheel drive sports utility vehicle. They paid a dealership for one but when it was ready to be delivered, they both had a bad feeling about it. Instead, they waited and when a new, low model was announced by another dealership, they purchased it.
"The Lord guided me to buy this car to carry President and Sister Hinckley," said Brother Saltos. "I felt happy to accept the assignment given me by the Lord."
Associating with the Church leaders "was a great blessing, a wonderful experience," he said. "It was a beautiful experience."
The temple dedication was very meaningful for Bishop Nefi Trujillo, the first third-generation bishop in the country. His grandfather was baptized in the second baptismal service held in Ecuador, in 1966, and gave a lifetime of service before he died in 1997.
"The last time I saw my grandfather, he was in his office typing a patriarchal blessing. He became ill and was taken to the hospital from that room and he died in the hospital."
"Even though my grandfather is not here to work in and enjoy the temple, the temple is now here," Bishop Trujillo said. "The Lord has heard our supplications for the temple."
Guillermo Granja Garcia, vice chairman of the temple committee, summed up the feelings of many: "All Ecuador is blessed today."