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Pioneer members' son grew up with Church branches in Uruguay

Elder Francisco J. Vinas has shaped his life through sacrifice and devotion to the gospel.

The son of pioneer members in Uruguay, he and the Church grew up together in that country. As a youngster he attended the first tiny branch meetings. Now, as an adult, he has served as regional representative over multiple stakes. His sustaining to the Second Quorum of the Seventy on April 6, 1996, at age 49 is another in a long chain of challenging callings.The 6-foot tall native of Spain has served as branch president, bishop's counselor, high councilor, bishop (at age 26), stake president's counselor and stake president (at age 30). He served as stake president for seven years, then was called as regional representative. At age 40 he was called as president of the Argentina Salta Mission. Following his mission he was transferred to Spain, where he served as branch president, regional representative and area authority. Sister Vinas also served in a number of leadership callings - ward Relief Society president and stake Primary president.

"We are really grateful for the opportunity to serve the Lord," he said. "It hasn't been easy, but it is the biggest blessing we have." He explained he was not surprised to receive a call from Salt Lake inviting him as an area authority to attend general conference. "But when I received a call to go to Salt Lake City with my wife, we started wondering what was happening. After we arrived, we learned that we had an appointment with President James E. Faust

second counselor in the First PresidencyT. Then all kinds of thoughts began to come to our minds." He described the meeting with President Faust as "a very impressive experience."

Their welcome by the General Authorities was filled with warmth, "as though we were home," said Elder Vinas.

Elder Vinas began his association with the Church at an early age. His family's journey to Uruguay actually began with the Spanish revolution of 1936. His father, Rafael, was caught up in the widespread conflict. After the war, the victorious side under revolutionary Francisco Franco imprisoned those of the opposition, including Rafael Vinas. He remained in prison for four years, and after being released, remained in Spain for about another eight years. Then the Vinas family decided to leave their homeland in search of more liberty. They moved to Paraguay in 1948.

Coincidentally, that was the year that the Church began opening missionary work in Paraguay. Young "Paco" was 2 when they arrived in Paraguay. Within two years they had met Elders Norval Craig Jesperson and Daryl Lamar Anderson, two of the four first missionaries to Paraguay.

Elder Jesperson, from Colonia Juarez, Mexico, who later served as a mission president in Peru and is now a member of the Lehi 5th Ward, Mesa Arizona Lehi Stake, remembers well his service in Paraguay in 1950.

"We rode a river boat to Asuncion, and as we traveled further north, the land grew more tropical; we began seeing parrots and crocodiles. When we arrived, the Paraguayan customs office was in a little building, right off the dock, and we entered through a hole in the wall."

By the time the elders arrived, a branch had been organized.

"The branch met in the same place where the elders lived," said Brother Jesperson. "About 15-20 people came, mostly investigators. We tracted door-to-door; we had no references in those days."

Among the first families they worked with was the Vinas family, whom he described as a strong traditional family of Spanish immigrants.

The Vinas family also met and were influenced by Pres. Frederick S. Williams of the Uruguayan Mission, who opened the work in Paraguay and Uruguay under the direction of the First Presidency.

"We decided to move to Montevideo, Uruguay, so my father went there alone first. He stayed at the mission home with Pres. Williams and his family. Two or three months later, we arrived with all the family -

young Paco, his mother, two brothers and a grandmotherT. We spent the first night in the mission home and my father continued to investigate the Church." At the time, young Paco was 4, the same age as the Church in Uruguay.

He said that his father was baptized in 1951 by Elder Richard G. Scott, then a missionary, now a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.

The early branch meetings were held in the mission home, Elder Vinas recalled.

"I remember very well the first district conference I attended in Montevideo, held in the mission home. There were only 20 members then, plus the missionaries and mission president and his family.

"We started to grow with the Church, and we saw the first events happening.

"I remember that as a family, we went to two different branches each Sunday so each branch would have more people in attendance. I was only 4 of 5 years old. "These were very memorable times in our lives. We were the pioneers."

He remembers the beginning of construction on a meetinghouse and everyone helping. The cornerstone on this facility was laid in 1954 by President David O. McKay.

"The country was wonderful, the people were excellent," he said. Although the Vinas family had no other family members in Uruguay, "we had the Church, so our life was in the Church. We enjoyed the brotherhood."

He participated in Aaronic Priesthood activities and attended local schools.

About 1960, when the Vinas family was attending a sacrament meeting, a familiar person began speaking. It was Elder Jesperson, who had returned with his family to visit. The Vinas family began waving to him and a tearful reunion took place after the meeting.

In 1964, the year Francisco graduated from college, he and Cristina Helena Gaminara met. "We met in the Montevideo Rodo meetinghouse," she said. "We were very young. We were married two years later."

He began a promising career with the Bayer company as product cost supervisor. He also enjoyed playing basketball and coached several teams.

In 1973 he was called as bishop of the Montevideo 5th Ward. By now he had changed employment and worked in the finance department of the local Presiding Bishopric's office.

"In those times," he said, "the Church invited bishops to come to Salt Lake City to general conference." Because the Church would pay for his airfare, they felt this would be an opportunity for them to be sealed in the Salt Lake Temple, so they began saving for her airfare.

"It was very hard economically to do this," he explained. "At that time, I had a pickup that I used for work. We decided to sell it to pay for her ticket. That left us with practically nothing. We also received help from my wife's family that came at the last minute, a miracle. I have a testimony of the great privilege of going to the temple."

He explained that the Vinas family learned to be patient in having children. "The thing we wanted most was to have children, but they were not forthcoming. We had to be patient and wait for the right time. We waited seven years to have our first child."

He and his wife continued to save to be able to take their first child, Adriana, to the Sao Paulo Temple, which was completed in 1978, to be sealed to them.

Elder Vinas said that "the whole experience taught us to have more faith in the Lord; the Lord will do things in His own time. We have learned to have trust in the Lord."

He said the other members in Uruguay have had similar experiences. "The members have developed great strength as they have saved enough money to go to the Sao Paulo Temple. The temple has motivated them to leave behind the less-important things so they could have a temple marriage. This has been a great benefit to them spiritually."

In addition to working with youth, missionary work is an important part of his life.

"The work in Latin America will continue to grow. The work will go forth in stages; there will be months when the Church grows rapidly, and there will be times when it grows slowly. Many times, there is a growth that you can't see and can't be registered in numbers. For example, we are seeing whole generations of young people going on missions."

The day the family returned from Argentina to Uruguay, he was again called as a regional representative.

Now an employee of the Church Educational System as a regional coordinator, he was transferred from Uruguay to Spain in 1993.

"I was happy to return to Spain, the country where I was born, and where all my ancestors are. I have always had a feeling that someday I would return.

In Spain, he said, "We felt like we were entering a time machine because the Church in Spain now is almost the same as it was in Uruguay 25 years ago. We are living the same kind of experiences over again. It has been a great experience to work with the wonderful members in Spain.

"When I was young in Uruguay, I could not imagine the district, then meeting with 20 members, growing to five stakes. In Spain, the members will gain the same vision of what is going to happen. The Church is starting to grow in Spain. We will soon have a temple in Madrid.

"In order to further strengthen the Church, we must all have a vision of the Church growing even more than it has already."


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Elder Francisco J. Vinas

Family: Born Dec. 28, 1946, to Rafael and Sacramento Serrano de Vinas. Married Cristina Helena Gaminara de Vinas, daughter of Luis and Belfis Barros Gaminara, Dec. 30, 1966, in Montevideo, Uruguay, and sealed in the Salt Lake Temple. Children, Adriana Cristina, 21; Gabriel, 15; and Silvia Patricia, 9.

Education: Bachelor's degree in 1964 from Instituto Alfredo Vazquez Acevedo.

Employment: Church Educational System coordinator for Spain, former finance worker in area Presiding Bishopric's Office; product cost supervisor for Bayer Q.U. Ltd.

Church service: Branch president, bishop, stake president's counselor, stake president, regional representative, mission president and area authority.

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