Faithful sister finds joy from lifelong service

VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico — Growing up in Tabasco, Mexico, in the 1940s sometimes meant growing up fast for children like Maria Lopez de Balboa.

Young Maria dropped out of school after finishing the third grade to help her father, Conrado, pick plantains and make bricks. She didn't want to end her education, but there was no choice. Maria worked so her family of 12 could eat.

"It was necessary to work because we had a large family and my father was the only breadwinner," she said. "But in my spare moments, I always stopped to think that there would be more to my life."

Perhaps religious duty was her life's calling, she thought. At a young age, she began teaching the catechism in her Catholic parish. Later she investigated other faiths, joining none.

"I knew I wanted to belong to a church that was based on service," Maria said.

Just before her 20th birthday, Maria learned about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from her uncle, Samuel Oteo. Brother Oteo was introduced to the Church while living in Tucson, Ariz. When he returned to his home state of Tabasco in southern Mexico, he and his wife were part of just a few members in the area.

Maria listened to her uncle's testimony. Touched by his spirit, she agreed to listen to the missionary discussions. She studied and knew the elders' message was true. On June 17, 1957, Maria was baptized, becoming only the sixth member in the state of Tabasco.

"I felt like I had found a church that eliminated my doubts and gave me a place where I could be useful," she said.

Immediately, she scratched her itch for service, serving simultaneously as president of the Primary and Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association in her small branch in Villahermosa. During her first four years in the Church, Sister Balboa served in every auxiliary organization. Still, she felt she could do more.

Soon she was called to serve full time in the Mexican Mission. A product of old-fashioned Mexican tradition, Sister Balboa worried that her parents might not let her leave home and travel to the mission headquarters in Mexico City.

"But after much pleading, they agreed," Sister Balboa said.

Eighteen months of missionary service solidified Sister Balboa's convictions and prepared her for a life of Church service. When she returned she resumed her duties in her small LDS branch and found work in a fabric store. Soon she met Luis Balboa. They fell in love and became engaged. Maria enlisted her missionary savvy and taught her fiance about the Church. Luis was baptized and the two married.

Since then, Sister Balboa has counted her family as her most enjoyable field of labor. She and Luis had five sons, fulfilled many Church callings, saved their money and traveled to the United States in 1973 to be sealed in the Mesa Arizona Temple.

Following Brother Balboa's passing in 1994, Sister Balboa again committed herself to service. The recent opening of the temple in Villahermosa gave her a new opportunity to labor for others in the Lord's house.

Through the Church, she has found the purpose yearned for as a little girl.

"My main desire has been to be a good example to my children," Sister Balboa said. "[My family] has been my motivation to remain firm and faithful in the Lord's work."

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