‘Pioneer’ envisions rich future for Church in Latin America

The origin of Elder Enrique R. Falabella’s testimony of eternal families wasn’t found in a Sunday School manual or a fireside talk.

Instead, he and his family's search and discovery of the happy lessons of the plan of salvation followed a period of deep sadness. The newly called member of the First Quorum of the Seventy was just 5 years old when his mother, Leonor Falabella, died. Young Enrique was the oldest of four siblings. The youngest Falabella child was only 6 months old.

Elder Enrique R. Falabella, 56, has served as an Area Seventy in the Central America Area and as a member of the Fourth Quorum of the Seventy, where he served as president of the Central America Area for two years. | Craig Dimond

Elder Falabella's father, Udine Falabella, was devastated by the loss of his young wife. He struggled with the notion that his family would never again be whole. So with his wife's passing, Udine Falabella began a new life raising four children alone while seeking a religion that believed his family could be eternally united.

Udine Falabella's quest ended when two unexpected visitors walked past his Guatemala City home. Outside were two Mormon missionaries claiming to have good news for the fractured family.

"The missionaries introduced the idea that our family could be together forever," said Elder Falabella, 56. The family accepted their message. The future General Authority was the first in his family to be baptized. His father joined the Church a month later.

Being a member of the Church then in Guatemala meant also being something of a pioneer. Only six branches operated in the capital city. There was no temple to be found in Central America. Still, the newly baptized Udine Falabella was determined to take his surviving family to the temple for the sealing ordinances.

Udine Falabella was able to secure a family passport, but didn't have the money needed for his entire family to travel to the Mesa Arizona Temple. "My grandmother was not a member of the Church, but she stepped forward and gave us the money that we needed," Elder Falabella said.

After enduring several days aboard a northbound bus, the Falabellas finally arrived in the United States. They returned home an eternal family. Udine Falabella would later be called as Guatemala's first stake president in 1967.

Elder Falabella did not know Blanca Lidia Sanchez when he was a young man. But she knew him. A fellow convert, Blanca first spotted a teenage Enrique at a Church basketball game. A cousin and several friends played for her branch's team. It didn't take her long to notice a boy named Falabella on the opposing team who played hoops — according to her memory — like a Guatemalan Michael Jordan.

"I kept yelling at my cousin, 'Cover that guy, cover that guy!"' she said, laughing. She had no clue her basketball nemesis was her future husband. The two were formally introduced at a Church function after Elder Falabella returned from serving in the Central America Mission. (Full-time missionary work was a life-changing experience that Elder Falabella said he "would not change for anything.")

Once again, the temple would play a pivotal role in Elder Falabella's life. He and Blanca dated, became engaged and wanted to be married in the temple. So the couple sold their only possession — Sister Falabella's old car — to pay for the trip to Mesa. "It was enough money to go to Arizona, but not enough to return," Elder Falabella said.

Fueled by faith if not finance, Enrique and Blanca traveled to the U.S. and were married in the Mesa Arizona Temple on June 21, 1975. While the couple was attending a Sunday School class a day or so after their marriage, several strangers approached the newlyweds and pressed cash into their palms. The money paid for their trip home and forever etched in their hearts a love for the temple and its attendant blessings.

Years later, Elder Falabella was serving as a stake president in Guatemala City when President Spencer W. Kimball announced a temple would be built in his country. Each stake was asked to contribute to the construction of the Guatemala City Guatemala Temple. Few had much money, but many contributed.

"It was a great sacrifice, but we received many blessings," Elder Falabella said. "The members prospered."

Elder Falabella brings an abundance of experience to his new calling, having presided over the Central America Area as an Area Seventy. "Still, I'm a little overwhelmed — the weight of this responsibility is heavy."

He plans to offer the members of the Church the same simple directions given by his fellow General Authorities, past and present: Live the gospel. Hold family prayer. Study the scriptures. Serve one another.

"Every day, we must patch up the (spiritual) leaks in our lives," Elder Falabella said, repeating counsel he learned from President Kimball. Don't allow life's troubling flood waters to enter.

A mother of five and now a grandmother, Sister Falabella added that communication is vital between parents and their children. Know your children's needs. Talk to them about the challenges of the day, she counsels.

An eyewitness to the remarkable growth of the Church in Guatemala and throughout Latin America, Elder Falabella is certain even better days are ahead. “The things that we have seen are nothing compared to what we will see in the future.”

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