A few days after returning from his 12-day trip to Ecuador and Colombia, Elder D. Todd Christofferson gathered with his fellow brethren of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Salt Lake Temple.
The Quorum’s 92-year-old leader, President Russell M. Nelson, referenced Elder Christofferson’s recent travels with a remarkable observation:
“President Nelson said, ‘On the day I was born [in 1924] there was not a single [native-born] member in South America,’ ” said Elder Christofferson. “In one lifetime, we’ve got millions.”
Elder Christofferson himself has been a first-hand witness of the miraculous arc of Church growth on the South American continent. When he began his full-time mission to Argentina in 1964, missionary work had not formally commenced in either Ecuador or Colombia.
Today, those two northern Andean nations are home to hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saints. Temples operate in Bogota, Colombia, and Guayaquil, Ecuador — while construction is underway on the Barranquilla Colombia Temple and a future temple has been announced for Quito, Ecuador.
Meanwhile, strong leadership has emerged in both countries “in just a generation or two,” noted Elder Christofferson.
Today’s dedicated leaders, members and missionaries, he added, are writing key chapters of the story of the Church in Ecuador and Colombia.
Elder Christofferson’s April 13 through April 24 trip included stops in the Ecuadorian cities of Guayaquil and Quito and the Colombian cities of Cali, Barranquilla and Medellin. His wife, Sister Kathy Christofferson, accompanied him.
Joining the Christoffersons at various segments of their trip were members of the South America Northwest Area Presidency — Elder Carlos A. Godoy, Elder Enrique R. Falabella and Elder Hugo Montoya, all General Authority Seventies — and two Area Seventies, Elder Omar A. Alvarez and Elder Nelson Ardila.
Elder Christofferson presided over several priesthood leadership conferences, missionary meetings, special stake conferences and devotionals for youth, young single adults and stake and ward councils.
The miracle of the Resurrection
On April 16, an Easter Sunday devotional for stake and ward councils was held in the Ecuadorean capital of Quito and broadcast across the nation. While Elder Christofferson and others on the program took time to discuss councils and Church service, the meeting’s central messages were focused, appropriately, on the first Easter and the Savior’s gift of resurrection.
Elder Christofferson taught that a belief in Christ’s victorious Resurrection could comfort and sustain people — even during difficult times such as the death of a loved one.
Two days later, the apostle presided over a youth devotional in Cali, Colombia.
“It was a rainy night, and young people arrived on buses from many different places,” he said. “It was a sweet experience to see them so enthused and vibrant despite the weather.”
A sacred offering
While in Colombia, the Christoffersons toured the Barranquilla temple construction site. The project is moving along quickly and the Colombian members are excited for their country’s second temple.
At an April 19 devotional for stake and ward councils that was broadcast to all of Colombia, Elder Christofferson spoke of how, in ancient days, worshippers brought animal offerings to be sacrificed at the temple.
Jesus Christ put an end to animal sacrifices following His Resurrection, asking instead for a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
“Now the Lord wants something far more substantial: us,” taught Elder Christofferson. “We are the offering — what we are and what we are becoming. That is far more important and much more challenging and difficult.”
He encouraged the members to begin preparing themselves for the upcoming temple dedication in Barranquilla. The words “Holiness to the Lord” will be inscribed on the temple.
“A more holy you would be a wonderful offering to take to the temple,” he said. “So look at your life. Are there things that are unworthy or inappropriate that you can eliminate? Are there wonderful and positive [Christ-like] attributes that you can incorporate into your lives?”
Relief during troubled times
In his discussion with Church News, Elder Christofferson noted that several countries in the South America Northwest Area have been hit hard by natural disasters in recent years — including last year’s catastrophic earthquake in Ecuador and ongoing flooding in Ecuador, Colombia and Peru.
He marveled at the response of the Latter-day Saints in the aftermaths of such tragedies. They have “really stood out,” offering both organizational skill and Christ-like generosity.
“I’m happy to be associated with such capable leaders and members,” he said.
Elder Christofferson also noted the historic difficulties facing the members in neighboring Venezuela. Many there are relying upon the Lord for endurance.
“Baptisms are up in Venezuela. Sacrament meeting attendance is up. Temple activity is up. We’re dividing stakes there. It’s incredible what [Venezuelan] members are doing in such challenging circumstances.”
The ‘instrument of conversion’
Elder Christofferson’s recent trip also offered opportunities to be with missionaries from eight missions in Ecuador and Colombia. “They looked good — they are strong missionaries.”
He counseled the missionaries to place the Book of Mormon “at the front and center” of their teachings and in their own gospel study and learning.
“The Book of Mormon is the instrument of conversion,” he said.
[email protected] @JNSwensen