Elder Walter F. Gonzalez knows much of gospel seeds. The beginnings of his own testimony were sown when a couple of young LDS missionaries taught his family the first discussion, were told not to return and probably walked away thinking they had failed.
Young Walter was 12 when those elders stopped by his home in Montevideo, Uruguay.
“The missionaries only taught the first discussion because my parents did not want them to come back — so they left behind a copy of the Book of Mormon and a pamphlet about Joseph Smith,” said Elder Gonzalez, 48, who was sustained March 31 to the First Quorum of the Seventy.
That Book of Mormon became Walter’s priceless gospel seed. When he turned 18 he sought out the missionaries, asking them to tell him of the Church he had learned of six years earlier.
“When the missionaries came back I had already read the Book of Mormon. After reading the first few pages, I knew that it was true,” Elder Gonzalez said. “The Book of Mormon is the key to conversion. It is the greatest book.”
Elder Gonzalez remembers wanting to be baptized after listening to the discussions, but he did not have his parents’ approval.
“Then, for the first time, I fasted and prayed,” he said. “A couple of days later my mother gave me permission to be baptized.”
He began serving in the Church immediately. Later, he met Zulma Anahir Nunez at an LDS young adults conference in Uruguay. They began dating and married in 1975. They started a family and began saving for a temple trip to the United States. Four years later, the Gonzalez family was sealed in the Washington D.C. Temple.
Like her husband, Sister Gonzalez is a first-generation Church member. She began parochial school when she was 3 years old, attending religious services twice a day. Time passed and her brother, who is three years older, left home with designs on becoming a priest. Yet both siblings felt there was something more to be found. Together, they began searching for answers to their spiritual questions. Their quest led them to the Church. Sister Gonzalez’s brother was 15 when a friend introduced him to the full-time missionaries.
“When he came back from listening to the missionaries he told me he had found the true church and hugged me,” she said, recalling his excitement.
Soon they were baptized. A short time later, Sister Gonzalez began teaching Primary and served as a Relief Society president before reaching her 19th birthday.
Sister Gonzalez said the example of strong local leaders helped solidify her testimony during her gospel infancy. The lessons taught by a generous Primary president remain with her today.
“I will never forget that woman, even though she has passed away,” Sister Gonzalez said.
The conversion stories of Elder and Sister Gonzalez can be added to the legions of South Americans who, in recent decades, have accepted the restored gospel’s message and become spiritual oaks in their respective lands.
“You can see the evidence that [South America] is a land of believers,” Elder Gonzalez said. “Our people are very open to the gospel message. . . . They are receptive to the Book of Mormon; its message is special in the Andes area.”
That growth has occurred quickly, he added. When Elder and Sister Gonzalez married, there were 12 adult members in their Montevideo unit. Now there is a stake. They marvel at the recent dedication of the Montevideo Uruguay Temple.
A graduate of Indiana University and an avid soccer fan, Elder Gonzalez has spent his career working in the Church Educational System. At the time of his calling to the Seventy, he was the CES director for the South America North Area and serving in the area presidency as an Area Authority Seventy. His ecclesiastical and professional tenure have given him a glimpse of the Church throughout South America.
“There is nothing that will stop the Church from growing in that area,” Elder Gonzalez said.
Strong families, education and focused priorities will determine the Church’s future in Latin America and throughout the world. Strengthen the Church by first strengthening the home, he counsels.
“Our job now is to live the gospel in our homes,” he said. “We need to strengthen ourselves and our families because the enemy is trying to weaken the family.”