BARRANQUILLA, Colombia — Latter-day Saint youth here had to make a tough choice Saturday night.
The local professional soccer team, Junior, was competing for the national club finals against vaunted rival Medellin. Remember, “futbol” and Colombia are usually found in the same sentence. You could say soccer is part of the national identity — but some would argue that’s a vast understatement.
But even while this bustling coastal city came to a halt for the headline-grabbing game, hundreds of young people opted instead to spend their evening with a pair of Latter-day Apostles — President Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Ulisses Soares.
“I compliment you for being here,” said President Oaks.
Even the most exciting sporting events are typically forgotten in time, he said. But the lessons learned at Saturday’s devotional could resonate across generations and through eternity. “It will bless your lives forever.”
So perhaps it is little surprise that even in a soccer-crazed country, young Colombians decided to be at the devotional. They know well that on Sunday their city will change forever with the dedication of the Barranquilla Colombia Temple.
The soon-to-be dedicated temple can aptly be called many things: A holy edifice. A sacred haven. The House of the Lord. But it is also an essential place of gathering — a venue built to help bring together scattered Israel.
And each of the thousands of young people living in the Church’s newest temple district here near the Caribbean Sea is called a “gatherer,” said President Dallin H. Oaks on the dedication-eve of Colombia’s second temple.
The first counselor in the First Presidency anchored much of his message Saturday to the words of his own priesthood leader, President Russell M. Nelson, who has declared the gathering of Israel “is the most important thing taking place on earth today,” and that youth around the globe are invited to be gatherers.
“What an invitation from a prophet — an invitation to each of you,” said President Oaks.
The gathering of Israel ultimately offers Christ’s gospel to God’s children on both sides of the veil.
“Surely you know about sharing the gospel with your friends and serving a full-time mission, a duty of young men who hold the Aaronic Priesthood and a privilege of Young Women,” he said. “But what does ‘the gathering’ mean for persons on the other side of the veil?
“The second temple for the country of Colombia, which we will dedicate tomorrow, is the answer to that question.”
Of course the temple is the “precious place” to perform key ordinances for members who are living and can attend in person.
“But the largest majority of ordinances performed in any temple are proxy ordinances performed for persons who have lived in mortality and are now in the world of the spirits,” he said. “In the glorious plan of our Heavenly Father, all of His children who have ever lived upon the earth will have the opportunity to make the covenants and receive the blessings that qualify them for eternal life. The temples are the place and the living faithful children of God are the persons to provide that opportunity. “
President Oaks reminded the Barranquilla-area youth that President Nelson has encouraged them to keep at close-hand a copy of “For the Strength of Youth.” The manual includes key instruction about the temple that has never been more relevant for Barranquilla-area youth:
“When possible, attend the temple and feel the joy and peace that come from serving in the House of the Lord," the pamphlet reads. "Prepare yourself for the temple covenants you will make in the future.”
Before concluding his remarks, President Oaks invited his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, to share a few thoughts. She shared many of her remarks in Spanish and acknowledged that many of the youth may sometimes find themselves alone in their faith.
“I want you to know you can be strong and you can do this alone,” said Sister Oaks, a Church convert.
Jesus Christ, she concluded, has built His home in Barranquilla.
As Sister Oaks was returning to her seat she was met by her husband, who gave her a kiss, prompting “ahhhhs” from the audience.
“I didn’t plan to do that, but I couldn’t help it,” he said, smiling.
President Oaks concluded with counsel about the Book of Mormon.
“Reading that book ranks first among the things you should do on a daily basis to learn the gospel and to strengthen you in keeping God’s commandments,” he said. “Why is this so? The major significance of the Book of Mormon is its witness of Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer.
“His Atonement is the most fundamental doctrine of our faith. Nothing you can learn will be as significant as these basics of our faith, and the Book of Mormon is the way God has given us to learn those great truths.”
Serving in the new temple allows the Barranquilla-area young men and young women to remain on “the covenant path,” he added. The Lord is eager to bless all who remain loyal to His covenants.
Elder Soares testified of President Oak’s prophetic calling and told his young audience that they belong to a “special generation” of God’s children.
“You were preserved by our Heavenly Father to come to this earth in a time of great opportunity and technological developments,” he said.
Times are turbulent, but the Lord knows His children are strong enough to weather challenges. The adversary also knows the power of Latter-day youth. He wants to confuse and distract them from their goals.
That’s why it is essential that young people keep their eyes focused on the temple, he said. The Barranquilla temple joins temples across the world as a symbol of faith in God.
“The temple produces a transformation in people and converts their efforts to get to the temple into something immensely valuable,” said Elder Soares.
Other devotional highlights Saturday included remarks from two youth — Jose Gabriel Uyoque and Estefany Velez — who talked about how temple worship and family history research is blessing their lives. Meanwhile, Barranquilla Colombia Temple President Cesar Davila noted the Latter-day blessing of being taught by President Oaks, Elder Soares and the other living prophets and Apostles.
Elder Enrique R. Falabella of the Seventy conducted the meeting.
A pair of videos featuring youth from the new temple district championed the blessings that await young people who embrace the gospel, serve in the temple and perform family history research.
Hundreds attended Saturday's devotional in a Barranquilla stake center. But the gathering enjoyed an intimate feel. President Oaks, Elder Soares, Elder Fallabella and their wives — Sister Oaks, Sister Rosana Soares and Sister Ruth Falabella — arrived early to shake hands or offer a wave to every young person in attendance.