“Anything good that has come into my life is directly related to the important decision I once made to serve a full-time mission,” said Elder Rafael E. Pino, who was sustained to the First Quorum of the Seventy during general conference in April. As President Gordon B. Hinckley once said, Elder Pino asserts that his life was changed by the things he learned while serving as a young missionary.
In a Church News interview and accompanied by his wife, Patricia, Elder Pino said understanding the importance of the family in God's plan, being a faithful servant and making the gospel an integral part of his life are all lessons that have stayed with him from his mission and influence his every decision.
Elder Pino, who was raised in Valencia, Venezuela, first learned of the gospel as a teenager while visiting relatives who were receiving the missionary discussions.
"I never went with the intention of staying," he said, "but I accepted the invitation to listen and since then I have never stopped listening."
Each time he listened he put the principles to the test.
After he was invited to read from the Book of Mormon, he couldn't put it down. He had never really prayed before, but after reading Moroni's challenge he decided to pray as the missionaries had taught him.
"It worked," he said. "I can say I am a witness that the promise of the Book of Mormon works."
As a convert at age 16, he spent much of his free time with the missionaries. His desire to serve was strong; however, at the time, a mission seemed unlikely. He thought it financially impossible.
"I had the desire, but I didn't have a plan," said Elder Pino.
A wise bishop called him in one day for an interview. "I didn't know what it was for, but as I entered, I could see the missionary papers on his desk."
The two talked about various goals and filled out the papers. "From that interview I came out with a plan, which eventually led to a mission." He served in the Venezuela Maracaibo Mission.
One of the first "good" things that came into Elder Pino's life after his mission was his relationship with a young woman, Patricia Dassler, who had moved into his ward to study at the University of Carabobo. At the time he was working in Caracas and each weekend would make the two-hour trip back to Valencia to attend his home ward.
"It was because he needed to meet me," said Sister Pino, jokingly. "What caught my attention about him was that he was very polite and we shared the same principles and goals."
They were married on March 31, 1981, traveling all the way to the Washington D. C. Temple. Upon their return to Venezuela, they lived in Caracas.
Although at the time of his proposal she was considering a mission, Elder Pino is grateful she accepted, admitting that it is largely because of her that he's been able to serve in his various callings and still raise a wonderful family.
"The kids practically grew up watching me up on the stand," said Elder Pino, speaking of their three children: Eduardo, Daniel and Jessica. "She is an essential influence in our family," referring to his wife. "She is the perfect companion. She was always constant in teaching our kids the principles of the gospel, in having family home evening, prayers and scripture study — always constant."
Elder Pino worked hard so his wife could remain home. His job, however, demanded much travel.
"I didn't have much time," said Elder Pino. "So the time we did have we made sure to spend it doing quality things."
"It was a great challenge," said Sister Pino, speaking of the many times she found herself dealing with all three children by herself with no relatives nearby to help.
"I really learned to rely on the Lord because there was a time when I felt really weary and really had to pray to know what to do and receive some comfort. I received that comfort and I trusted that everything would be OK. I was able to have peace within myself."
Now their two sons have returned from serving a mission while their daughter, Jessica, is currently serving in the Venezuela Maracaibo Mission — the same mission Elder Pino served in over 30 years ago.
"Today, our children are our friends," he said. "They are a great blessing in our lives. They are very faithful."
Sister Pino said the quality she admires most is his humility. "He never sought to be bishop or stake president. It was always a surprise and this time it was the same. He never imagined being where he is right now." She said that when he is given a responsibility, he simply tries to do his very best. "He is always seeking excellence."
Speaking of his new assignment, Elder Pino said, “On many occasions, when the feeling of inadequacy seemed almost staggering, the Lord has been merciful. He has helped and strengthened me. This divine assurance is what sustains me as I approach this new responsibility.”
Elder Rafael E. Pino biography
Family: Born Oct. 27 1955, in Valencia, Venezuela, to Arturo and Josefina Gimenez Pino. Married Patricia Dassler in the Washington D.C. Temple on March 31, 1981. Parents of three children: Eduardo, Daniel and Jessica.
Education: Earned a certificate of administration.
Employment: Worked for the Church in the Member and Statistical Records Division, the Materials Management Department, Employment Resource Services and Temporal Affairs.
Church service: Area Seventy for the South America North Area; president of the Argentina Rosario Mission; president of the Caracas Venezuela Stake; bishop; missionary in the Venezuela Maracaibo Mission.