For thousands of Guatemalan Latter-day Saints, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf's recent visit here marked a pivotal moment in this country's rich Church history.
The second counselor in the First Presidency traveled to Guatemala last month to dedicate the Church's 136th temple in the highland city of Quetzaltenango. That event was met with joy as thousands gathered at the temple site to participate in the opening of the temple and other dedicatory events. But President Uchtdorf's time in Guatemala was not limited to the Dec. 11 temple dedication. The Church leader, along with Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve and other Church leaders, also visited with scores of Guatemalan members in local meetinghouses and at an outdoor youth conference.
Such intimate meetings gave many faithful rank-and-file members here a rare and memorable opportunity to meet and receive loving counsel and encouragement from leaders they typically follow via general conference broadcasts and Church publications. The visiting authorities were accompanied by their wives, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf and Sister Kathy Sue Andersen.
Elder Andersen said many Guatemalans were both humbled and thrilled by the Uchtdorfs' visits. The couple, he added, made an immediate connection with all they met.
"The people at the local [meetinghouses] were so grateful that President and Sister Uchtdorf would take the time to be with them," he said.
At each visit, President Uchtdorf passed along the love of President Thomas S. Monson and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve to the Guatemalan members. "And, of course, he demonstrated the love of the Savior," added Elder Andersen.
He said President and Sister Uchtdorf were especially sensitive to the children and took time to express their love and the Lord's love for each boy and girl.
The Guatemalan members called their time with their visitors a priceless memory. Quetzaltenango member Elvia Reyes de Santos was asked to help prepare meals for President and Sister Uchtdorf and the other visiting authorities and their wives during one segment of their tour. Her efforts did not go unnoticed; President Uchtdorf and Elder Andersen met briefly with Sister Reyes de Santos and several other workers in the kitchen area to thank them for their service.
"When I heard that a temple was being built in Quetzaltenango I wondered what I could do to help," she said. "I knew that I could cook for the visiting authorities. It has been a blessing."
President Uchtdorf, Elder Andersen and Elder Enrique R. Falabella, a Guatemalan-born Seventy and president of the Central America Area, also spoke at a Latter-day Saint encampment in the Guatemalan hills for some 700 youth. President Uchtdorf spoke of the historic purpose of his visit to dedicate Guatemala's second temple. He counseled the young men and women to remain worthy to attend the temple and to carry with them their own booklet "For the Strength of Youth," which can be a reminder and a symbol of the importance of obtaining a temple recommend to allow them entrance into that sacred edifice.
President Uchtdorf emphasized the importance of acquiring as much education as possible and of learning a foreign language such as English that will help open the world to them. The Church leader endorsed the value of Church-sponsored activities that afford faithful young people opportunities to socialize and enjoy one another's company. Temple marriages, he said with a smile, could come as a result of young men and women gathering together for worthwhile recreation and activities. He told of meeting his wife, Harriet, as a youth in his ward in Germany.
Throughout their trip, the Uchtdorfs and Andersens enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of the Guatemalan members and their neighbors. Sister Uchtdorf and Sister Andersen even donned the colorful textile blouses that are still commonly worn by the indigenous women living throughout Guatemala.
The Church has had a presence in Guatemala for more than six decades, with the first stake being organized in 1967. President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the nation's first temple, the Guatemala City Guatemala Temple, in 1984. Today, there are four missions and more than 220,000 members in Guatemala.