Editor's note: A returned missionary to Bolivia assigned to cover for the Church News the dedication of the Cochabamba Bolivia Temple, Deseret News staff writer Jerry Johnston was returning home to file the story when he collapsed from cardiac arrest at the airport in Dallas, Texas, on May 2. With the lifesaving help of medical personnel standing in line behind him and flight attendants, he was resuscitated and taken to a hospital where he later underwent triple bypass surgery. He is recovering well and completed this account of the dedication; John L. Hart, Church News associate editor, assisted with the report.
COCHABAMBA, Bolivia The last weekend in April, Bolivian families were busy.
Some visited the famous pre-Incan ruins of Tiahuanaco near La Paz, with its mysterious door of the sun, door of the moon and stories of the God who came to visit. Some attended parties and danced the Cueca, a native Bolivian dance of white handkerchiefs, but many were in this city for the dedication of the Cochabamba Bolivia Temple on April 30 by President Gordon B. Hinckley.
The setting of the temple in Cochabamba is both distinctive and symbolic. In the mornings the dawn breaks on the tall statue of Christ that stands on a hill overlooking the city, then falls on the statue of the Angel Moroni on the temple. At dusk, the city of Cochabamba is a sea of lights with the temple standing like a lighthouse on the north shore. It is a temple worthy of the heart and heritage of a wonderful people.
President Hinckley's presence and words were galvanic to the Bolivian members, who represented a cross section of society, from well-to-do industrialists in expensive suits to women from the Altiplano dressed in traditional cholo hats and colorful skirts. Many traveled great distances by bus, train, auto and airplane from all parts of the nation and abroad.
As President Hinckley emerged from the temple to take part in the cornerstone ceremony, members waved to him. He applied mortar to the cornerstone, and was followed by his wife, Marjorie, and by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve and others. He then invited a youngster, Raphael Mendieta, to also place mortar.
Sing with heart and feeling
The choir for the first session was made up of members from the Altiplano, one of the most austere sections of the continent. The cornerstone choir's singers came from all over the nation. Both choirs sang with heart and feeling
"It is an enormous blessing to have President Hinckley here," said Rene Cabrerra B., Church distribution center manager. "During the groundbreaking ceremony in 1996, he said he would return in two years when the temple was finished. True, it has been a little more time than that, and some doubted, but this is a great blessing for us."
Temple in heart of Bolivia
Brother Cabrerra continued: "To have a temple in Cochabamba is to have a temple in the heart of Bolivia, where all the members throughout Bolivia have relatively easy access to the temple by bus."
"The Spirit is very strong at the temple," he said. "We have had very good experiences with the good, but less-active members during the open house. To see their faces and their eyes and to hear their comments gives us the feeling that the Lord is waiting for them with open arms. I know that many of them have returned."
Because of recent social unrest, the open house was reduced from two weeks to one, and the dedication from two days to one. However, both events accommodated large numbers of people. The Armando and Maria Rios de Guitierrez family of La Paz, owners of a small textile shop, were among the 9,084 who attended the dedicatory services.
"In 1970 we met LDS missionaries, but we couldn't understand them," said Sister Gutierrez. "Then years later, one of our friend's daughters was in a bus accident. She was not hurt, but our friend was a Mormon and it made us start to think about the Church.
"God was tugging us by the ears," she said. "We are here now and we know this is the true Church. The Lord said that His house is a house of order, and that is how we feel about the Church. We've never been happier."
Enrique O. Huerta of the Cochabamba Bolivia Universidad Stake said, "We were supposed to be under martial law for 90 days, but it was lifted after 13 days. We anticipated 50,000 visitors in two weeks of open house, but instead, we got 65,570 in one week. Twenty thousand people came in one day. They were lined up for blocks and stayed until midnight."
Leaders of Bolivia's 112,000 members, with 22 stakes, feel the Church here is on the brink of significant progress. President Adrian Velazco Chavez of the Oruro Bolivia Stake, said, "The temple has changed lives and changed hearts. We see many who will come to the temple in less than a year to receive their endowments and their sealings."
Former missionaries who returned to their area of service felt that the dedication of the temple was a seminal moment for them as well.
Among them was Douglas Fisher, there with his wife, Cheryl. The first missionary to serve in Cochabamba, Brother Fisher recalled meeting the expatriate Newell Judkins family. He was an American diplomat and served as the first branch president. The first branch meeting was held Nov. 22, 1964, with 19 people, including the Judkins family, four missionaries and eight passersby invited from the street to participate. They met in a little house on a site now occupied by the Diplomat Hotel, a favorite staying place for members. So the area has been frequented by members since 1964.
Kerry Black of the Lakeridge 8th Ward, Orem Utah Lakeridge Stake, who was a missionary in 1968, helped organize the second branch in Cochabamba. While serving as a missionary here, he had a "strong impression" that someday a temple would be built in this valley. At this time, "we were opening the second branch and there were 200 members here."
Upon his return, he found that while the city had changed, "the people we baptized were the same as always, faithful stewards who had made significant sacrifices for the gospel. It was a wonderful thing to see them." He noted that in the place of that fledgling second branch, Jaihuayco, is now the Cochabamba Jaihuayco Bolivia Stake.
Ernesto Loza, Church regional membership supervisor, said that when he was a missionary in Bolivia, he knocked on doors all day, sometimes 80 doors in a day, and people in all 80 homes would ask that they not be contacted again. That was the only way of finding investigators. Very few members assisted in those days, and if a referral was given, it was usually for a neighbor or family member. The Church grew very slowly.
Now, however, there were 2,232 referrals just from the open house.
"There has been a great change," he said.
Jerry Johnston's e-mail: [email protected]
John Hart's e-mail: [email protected]