As site preparation moves forward for construction and eventual dedication of the Cochabamba Bolivia Temple, members are likewise preparing and dedicating themselves to be stronger in the gospel.
Among those members are contemporary pioneers who sacrificed and struggled, helping the Church get started some 30 years ago. They now experience a rich and enduring satisfaction as they watch construction work proceed on the temple site overlooking Cochabamba.One of these early members is Elder Rene Cabrera, Area Authority Seventy and a former mission president. He was baptized in 1972, an era when the handful of members had begun the daunting task of building meetinghouses.
"That was in the days when members paid part of the cost of the building, and this through work," he said.
"My testimony was greatly strengthened during this period to see all the brethren in a beautiful work. It was not just a matter of building and dedicating chapels, but the members were also being built and becoming more dedicated during this time.
"Many people joined the Church because of these experiences."
He said the growth during this period, including his own baptism, was in part an answer to the prayers and faith of those who started construction with but little resources.
"I have no doubt that the Church in Bolivia will continue to grow and become stronger," he continued. "I do not remember one moment in the past when the Church decreased. It only increases and goes up, affecting every member."
Elder Cabrera's wife, Teresa Perales de Cabrera, joined the same branch as converts. He was a branch president before he was married, but they married before the branch was made into a ward. He was then was called as bishop. The Cabreras later were called to Peru, where he presided over the Peru Lima East Mission.
Sister Cabrera said all her family was baptized in 1973, except her father, who joined six months later.
"This was very curious to us because it was he who invited the missionaries into the home, and it was he who was most enthusiastic about the gospel. He liked the Church very much, but he was not eager to be baptized," she said.
"A few days before he was to be baptized - it was more of a goal than a baptismal date - missionaries were praying for him at the same time we were praying for him. That night he had a very special dream. He woke up early and asked my mother to go find the missionaries and arrange for his baptism that weekend. When my mother knocked on the missionaries' door, one answered, "I know who is knocking on the door, because I have felt the answer to my prayers."
Sister Cabrera said that after her father was baptized, they became a very strong family in the gospel, and her father was eventually called as bishop.
Other early members looking forward to the completion of the temple are Luis Octavio and Carmen Molina of the La Paz Constitucion Stake. They were among eight people baptized Jan. 31, 1965, and now have a large posterity in the Church. The Molinas served a full-time mission in the Lima Peru Temple.
"We were the first members in La Paz, and we met with four American families," she said. "We did not have a chapel, so we met in the home of Brother Dube (Thomas). Our meetings were very warm and sweet. We had the help of our children and the missionaries and the American families.
"There were some very special moments, filled with the Spirit of the Lord, which we came to know in reality. Thus it is in times of bonding, the times of work, and service.
"We were baptized in a rainstorm, at noon. But the Spirit is neither too hot nor too cold. We felt very happy and blessed by providence. We felt uplifted and in communication with our Heavenly Father."
The day after the baptismal service, her husband lost his job.
"We asked Heavenly Father in a prayer for work. The next morning a young messenger came searching for my husband, and he found work the second day after our baptism."
She said many other blessings have come in their lives, including a priesthood healing of her husband when doctors said he was likely to die from a serious illness.
"Now, a temple will soon come for all - all the Bolivians who don't now have a temple now can have all the things of the Lord. We love our Church. We love our prophet. We love our Lord, Jesus Christ, and all of our beloved brothers and sisters." Eduardo Mercado Talavera and his wife, Wilmer, of the La Paz Bolivia Sopocachi Stake, were baptized July 18, 1965, half a year after the Molinas. The following January he was called as the first local president of the first and second branches in La Paz, and later as the first local district president. "We had great and very beautiful experiences," he said. Among these were accompanying President Spencer W. Kimball on a mission tour President Kimball gave one of his children a blessing of health, "the greatest experience of my life," said Brother Mercado. Since that time, his children have have grown up and are strong in the gospel. As his sons returned from their missions, he marveled at their personal growth. Seeing that, and the many strong priesthood leaders who are now serving, fills him with a profound sense of gratitude.
"We never dreamed that the Church would grow so large in such a short period of time," he said. "I can't get out of my mind what I have seen in my lifetime: the change from what we had to the way the Church is now growing. And not just in numbers, but in collective spiritual progress."
Baptized in April of 1966 were Lizardo and Maria C. de Pedraja, whose son Carlos, baptized May 30, 1965, is currently serving as president of the Argentina Salta Mission. Brother and Sister Pedraja later served full-time in the Texas McAllen Mission.
Sister Pedraja, who was among the first Relief Society presidents in Bolivia, said, "I am very happy to have a beautiful family and missionaries in three generations.
"Now the Church is well-known and respected, but in the early days we suffered a great deal. We worked very hard.
"When our son, Carlos, was called as a missionary by President Spencer W. Kimball, we had many problems with my family because they didn't understand how we could send our son away from his studies to be a missionary. But, with time, my family understood that the things of God come first, and we were with the truth.
"I still try to be a missionary with whomever I meet. I have to talk with them about the Church and share my joy."