Elder D. Todd Christofferson's recent trip to Peru was marked by its variety.
His 10 days in the South American nation — a "bastion for the Church" in Latin America — included face-to-face visits with prominent civic leaders and a series of Spirit-filled firesides and training sessions in front of thousands of local priesthood leaders, missionaries and rank-and-file members.
Even the venues on the apostle's Peruvian itinerary were dramatically different — ranging from the ornate government palace in bustling Lima to a tiny reed chapel built atop a floating island on Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake.
Elder Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, was accompanied on his Sept. 4-12 Peru trip by Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy, along with their wives, Sister Katherine Christofferson and Sister Kathy Ann Clayton.
Elder Christofferson and Elder Clayton conducted an annual area review of the South America Northwest Area and presided over two priesthood leadership conferences in Trujillo and Lima. The visiting authorities also offered spiritual direction to missionaries in four different missions and to thousands of young single adults, youth and other Peruvian members in a series of evening firesides.
While each of the member meetings was distinct, Elder Christofferson told the Church News they were all anchored to a central theme: "We always emphasized President Monson's focus on rescuing others — be they less-active members, other members with a particular need or non-members."
Stake presidencies, bishoprics and branch presidencies from several stakes in Peru participated in the two priesthood leadership conferences. Such gatherings allow Elder Christofferson and his fellow members of the Twelve to provide instruction while learning the issues and challenges facing local priesthood leaders across the globe. The Quorum of the Twelve began holding priesthood leadership conferences about two years ago.
"We calculate that over a period of four years we'll reach all the stakes and many of the districts of the Church," said Elder Christofferson.
Elder Christofferson and Elder Clayton were joined at the priesthood and member meetings by the South America Northwest Area Presidency — Elder Marcus B. Nash and his counselors, Elder Rafael E. Pino and Elder Juan A. Uceda. Area Seventies Richard Zambrano and Enrique Montoya also participated in the two priesthood leadership conferences in Trujillo and Lima.
"The teaching was powerful, instructive and edifying," said Elder Nash. "As a result, the many leaders and members who attended the various meetings grew in understanding, rejoiced at being in the presence of Elder Christofferson and were taught by the Spirit."
In each of the meetings, Elder Christofferson encouraged faithful members to take others on the path marked by the Savior: repentance, baptism, confirmation, partaking of the sacrament, participating in temple ordinances and keeping the covenants of all sacred ordinances, and to obtain for themselves the constant guidance of the Spirit.
Elder Clayton, meanwhile, spoke of focusing on the things that matter most — while avoiding distractions of lesser importance.
"I felt impressed in each place to give an [apostolic] blessing," said Elder Christofferson. Those impressions, he added, were particularly powerful in his meetings with priesthood leaders and the young single adults and youth.
A highlight for Elder Christofferson was visiting the Uros Titicaca Branch of the Puno Peru Bellavista Stake. Elder and Sister Christofferson were joined by Elder Nash and his wife, Sister Shelley Nash, the stake president, German Quispe, and his wife, Sister Francisca Quispe, and President Wilson B. Calderon and Sister Judith Calderon of the new Peru Cusco Mission for a meeting with the branch members living on the floating Los Uros Islands of Lake Titicaca. Utilizing a form of aquatic engineering that has been practiced on the lake for generations, the "islanders" have fabricated a solid, stable surface on top of the water out of root systems and reeds.
The Uros Titicaca members, under the direction of branch president Nelson Coila, recently constructed a three-building Church complex that includes a chapel and structures for the Primary and the Mutual. Each of the buildings are made of reed and include a wooden plank floor. Two light bulbs in the chapel are illuminated by electricity generated by solar panels.
"It was beautiful," said Elder Christofferson. "[The buildings] are small, but accommodate the branch of almost 50 people."
The Los Uros members asked Elder Christofferson to dedicate their reed Church complex. The apostle was happy to oblige.
"I asked them what hymn they would like to sing for our dedicatory service. With no sense of irony, they said, 'How Firm a Foundation,'" he said, smiling.
"They themselves, with their faith, are on a very firm foundation."
The visiting Church leaders also met with several Peruvian civic authorities, highlighted by a cordial visit with Peru's President Alan Garcia at Lima's "Palacio del Gobierno."
"President Garcia told us that when he was about 10-years-old his grandmother and an aunt joined the Mormon Church," said Elder Christofferson. "His grandmother took him to meetings from time to time and he remembered, as a boy, helping with the construction of our first chapel in Lima, carrying bricks and things like that."
The Peruvian president also expressed thanks for the humanitarian work the Church has performed in his nation, including a recent project to help scores of members rebuild their homes following a massive earthquake in 2007. "He recognized the quality of citizens that the members of the Church make and said that we could count on him for any need that we might have in the country."
Elder Christofferson and other leaders also met with Trujillo Mayor Cesar Acuna, who has helped the Church prepare to begin construction on a temple in Trujillo. Mayor Acuna serves as the president of the Peruvian Association of Mayors. Elder and Sister Clayton, meanwhile, paid a visit to Dr. Antonio Abruna, president of the University of Piura, and to the Regional President of Piura.
With its nine missions and a second temple in the works, Peru remains an anchor for the Church in South America, said Elder Christofferson. "Like everywhere else, the Peruvian members have challenges to deal with — but they have excellent, mature leadership."