Planning on spending any time in Colombia? First learn these three words: “A la orden.”
It’s a flexible expression that visitors will hear in all corners of the South American nation. It can mean “How can I help you?,” “At your service,” or sometimes even “You’re welcome.”
“A la orden,” embodies Colombia’s well-known reputation for being home to some of the world’s friendliest people — and it reflects the nation’s Latter-day Saint history.
A predominately Catholic country, Colombia has been friendly to the Church essentially since the day two full-time missionaries began sharing the gospel in 1966. By the end of that year, the Church enjoyed legal status.
While violence and internal strife have sometimes impacted missionary work, Colombia’s Latter-day Saints have long proven their devotional mettle.
Fifty-two years after the arrival of the first missionaries, Colombia is home to over 200,000 members, five missions, a temple in the capital of Bogota and another temple soon to be dedicated in coastal Barranquilla.
The friendship existing between the Church and the Colombian government has evolved into a partnership of mutual respect in recent years. The Colombian Congress honored the Church in 2005 for its humanitarian service. Meanwhile, the Church has emerged as a trusted voice and champion of religious freedom.
Recently, representatives from Colombia’s interior ministry and office of religious affairs recognized the Church for participating in the creation of Colombia’s Public Policy on Religious Freedom. The policy’s objective is to establish “a commitment to strengthen guarantees for those who practice religion.”
Elder Enrique Falabella, a General Authority Seventy who presides over the South America Northwest Area, received the recognition on behalf of the Church, according to Colombia’s Mormon Newsroom.
After receiving the recognition, Elder Falabella assured the government representatives at the event that the Church would continue to champion religious freedom in Colombia and across the globe. Elder Falabella's wife, Sister Ruth Falabella, and several other members also attended the recognition ceremony.
The growing partnership between the Church and the Colombian people comes as no surprise, Elder Falabella told the Church News. "The Church has built strong ties in Colombia in recent years and, more and more, it is recognized for its contributions to the values that should govern a society."
Over several decades, Latter-day Saints in Colombia have earned their respect of their fellow countrymen and women through "selfless service," particularly in times of emergency and need, he added. The Church has also made friends working hand-in-hand with the goverment to protect religious freedom.
The Church's brightest days in Colombia belong to the future, promised Elder Falabella.
"The Church is growing significantly in the country, but more than the numerical growth of the Church in Colombia, the members have a desire to serve and make sacred covenants that strengthen them as families, as well as to facilitate the ordinances to their ancestors," he said. "The construction of a second temple in Barranquilla, Colombia, says a lot about Heavenly Father's love for his children. No doubt the prayers of the members living on the (Caribbean) coast were heard."