As a new General Authority Seventy, Elder Juan Pablo Villar can point to three life-shaping experiences in his first year after becoming acquainted with the Church — a witness of the Book of Mormon, a confirmation that God knows each individual and the importance of a simple, heart-felt testimony.
For a soon-to-be-17-year-old in Santiago, Chile, that first contact came from learning his older brother Ivan had joined the Church without his parents’ approval and was preparing for a mission. Ivan’s explanation to his family — including his testimony and his desire to serve — had an impact on his younger brother.
“I didn’t understand all the meaning of that,” recalled Elder Villar. “But at that moment, he put a seed in my heart.”
That seed grew when his missionary brother gave his name as a referral. Introduced to the Book of Mormon by the sister missionaries who contacted him, Elder Villar received a prompt testimony of its truthfulness.
“For myself, it was not necessary to kneel down and pray, because the moment they shared their testimony, I knew in my heart it was true,” he said. “When I knew that, everything else had to be true.”
And an early concern also was resolved. “I sometimes wondered if my Father knew if I was here on the earth,” he recalled. “And when I received the missionaries in my home, I received the confirmation that He knows — He knows me. And He wants me to be His servant, His disciple.”
Ivan, who was serving in a neighboring Santiago mission, received permission to baptize his brother in 1988; later, their mother and their other brother, Claudio, also joined the Church.
Between the time of his baptism at age 18 and his departure to serve in the Chile Viña del Mar Mission a year later, Elder Villar admitted to “feeling very foolish, very ignorant” in Church matters.
“I remember wondering if I would be a good missionary with so little experience in the Church and so little knowledge,” he said. “But I also felt in having a testimony — if not a great knowledge of the Church — that I could share my testimony from my heart, and that is the only thing I needed to do. So I tried to do my best.”
Those early experiences — and others similar throughout his life — helped prepare Elder Villar for his current call, being sustained as a General Authority Seventy on March 31. At the time, he was serving as an Area Seventy in the South America South Area.
As a returned missionary conducting a young single adult fireside one evening in Santiago, Elder Villar introduced the scheduled speaker, a recently returned mission president — and introduced himself to the mission president’s daughter, who was preparing to serve a mission herself. The two kept bumping into each other at subsequent events and activities — they started dating, she stepped back from her mission plans, and Juan Pablo Villar and Carola Cristina Barrios were sealed in the Santiago Chile Temple in 1994.
Two years into serving as president of the Santiago Chile Las Condes Stake, Elder Villar began feeling promptings that he should pursue studies of English in the United States and an MBA degree at Brigham Young University — but he also knew the expected tenure of his calling and wondered if he should postpone those promptings.
So he sought guidance and counsel from a member of his stake — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who had been assigned to Santiago for two years to preside over the Chile Area.
“I remember he said, ‘Your education is more important for the Church right now, because you can have more callings. If you have that desire, do it — improve your education and you will better serve your country.’ ”
With three children under the age of 8 in tow, the Villars sold their possessions and moved to Provo, Utah, for three years — the first eight months to study English and prepare for college studies, and the remainder of the time to complete the MBA.
“And after that, we came back to Chile, because we were more useful to Chile rather than staying in the United States,” Elder Villar said. “We had the opportunity (to stay), but we decided as a family to go back to fulfill our commitment.”
And it is a commitment to divine direction that has helped shape Elder Villar’s life of service.
“Since my baptism, I have made all my decisions by asking myself first, ‘How can I help or how can I serve better my God and my brethren?’ So when I need to make a decision with my family that is impacting myself professionally or ecclesiastically or in our family, we discuss, ‘How can we serve better?’ Now I can say that I recognize the hand of the Lord all the days of my life.”