During his recent nine-day assignment to the South American trio of Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles looked forward to daily greeting the Saints, including shaking the hands of hundreds of members, leaders and missionaries.
He repeatedly thought back to an experience years earlier in the same area with Elder Richard G. Scott, when as a General Authority Seventy he joined the late Apostle in visiting with members in Cordova, Argentina. Elder Rasband knew of Elder Scott’s love for the people and his desire to shake their hands after meetings, but as the two faced limited time to make a connecting flight that day, Elder Rasband suggested dispensing with greeting the members.
“That was a mistake on my part,” Elder Rasband recalled. “He literally pointed his finger in my chest — I’ll never forget it, I can still feel it — and he said, ‘I will cut my message short because shaking hands is part of my message.’ And he did.”
Following Elder Scott’s brief message, the two shook every hand — and departed in time to make the connection.
The memory spurred Elder Rasband on to greet the Saints during his late August and early September visit to the South America South Area. And Elder Rasband not only applied that teaching moment from years ago, but he shared it in several ways.
One was with the members during his recent assignment. “I said ‘Let me tell you what I learned from this Apostle in Argentina — shaking your hands is part of my message today,’ and they loved it,” he said as he told of his experiences with Elder Scott. “It’s just another little mode of ministering and expressing love. … And I kept doing it up ‘til the very end.”
The other shared teaching came when Elder Carlos A. Godoy of the Presidency of the Seventy, who accompanied Elder Rasband to South America, approached the Apostle prior to a meeting with some 700 members and suggested “maybe we had better skip this shaking hands today.”
Elder Rasband responded with a finger in the chest of his companion — a la Elder Scott — and a reminder of his earlier experience. “It has been passed on,” Elder Rasband said.
The recalled experience and using it to express love to the members and teach them and the leaders were representative of the South America South experiences for Elders Rasband and Godoy — ministering, expressing love and mentoring new leaders.
The right vision
For Elder Godoy, it was his first international assignment since being called to the Presidency of the Seventy in the April 2018 general conference, being mentored throughout the trip by Elder Rasband, who before his 2015 call to the Apostleship presided over the Presidency of the Seventy as its senior member.
And together, Elders Rasband and Godoy in turn mentored not only the member leaders in meetings but the Area Presidency of Elders Benjamin De Hoyos, Mark A. Bragg and Juan Pablo Villar — the latter two General Authority Seventies in their first such assignments.
“It was a great opportunity for them to start with the right vision and the right spirit,” Elder Godoy said, adding that he was an equal recipient of the training and mentoring. “And they got the message that whatever they are doing should be done by focusing their priorities, goals and plans with the priorities of our prophet, President Nelson.”
Ministering by example
Besides helping reiterate and underscore President Nelson’s teachings in all their meetings, Elders Rasband and Godoy looked to minister by example. “It was for me ‘a message without words,’” said Elder Godoy of all the settings, whether large or small. “Just shaking hands, being with them, spending time with them was a message of ministering and how important they are to the Lord.”
They coupled the ministering by example with verbal messaging from the Prophet as well as from themselves. “I said, ‘Would you all like to have a little message from President Nelson?’ and, of course, they all got excited,” Elder Rasband said of the meetings, when he would then tell of President Nelson’s instructions to the Apostles in their temple meeting to go out and convey his personal love, best wishes and appreciation for the members.
“Then I would make it our message — ‘We love you and we thank you’ — and on those principles of a simple handshake and a message of love and appreciation, then we taught the gospel of Jesus Christ. But it had the foundations of this tender little ministering and the expression of love and appreciation.”
The pair of leaders gained a greater appreciation for the members and the obstacles they face. — such as during the visit to Argentina, that country’s government devalued the national currency by 30 percent. But still, the Saints in Argentina — as well as Paraguay and Uruguay — remain strong and faithful.
“They have their personal, family, economic and even church challenges,” Elder Godoy said. “But at the end of the day, they love the Lord. And they are willing to be taught, they are willing to follow their leaders. They’re humble people with challenges in their lives, but their hearts are in the right place.”
Elder Rasband described the myriad of meetings with people of all ages and varied callings and responsibilities as an opportunity to uplift and encourage. “We’re putting spiritual gas in the tanks of our members,” he said.
“They come to these meetings, and they don’t need to be berated, they don’t need to be given a guilt trip, they don’t need ‘do this, do that.’ They come to know that God loves them and that they’re appreciated and that we care about them and that the Lord loves them.”
Symposium and radio program
In addition to the meetings, Elder Rasband highlighted the opening of Paraguay's inaugural Symposium of Strengthening Society Through Strong Families as the keynote speaker. It was held in Asuncion's Palace of Congress, as the government’s Ministry of Education and Sciences brought together religious, government and academic leaders for the multi-day seminar.
The catalyst for the interfaith symposium started a year earlier with an invitation from Paraguay’s ambassador to the United States when he visited Elder Rasband and asked him to share a message on religious freedom and families similar to the one the Apostle gave previously in El Salvador. Elder Rasband agreed on the condition that the government sponsor the event, rather than the Church. A year after the invitation, on Aug. 30, the symposium became a reality.
“We changed the whole nature of those meetings by starting and talking about the importance of the pillar of religious liberty and the pillar of family, that they go together,” Elder Rasband said, adding that the seminar was considered a success, with plans to have similar events in coming years.
On that same day, Elder Rasband was featured on an Asuncion radio program hosted by Dr. Federico Franco, a former president of Paraguay. Members in the country were encouraged to tune in, as were the missionaries, many of whom listened with those whom they were teaching.
Elder Rasband covered a wide range of topics during the radio interview — from the earlier symposium speech to the name of the Church and on to principles of self-reliance and welfare. And when asked about the Church’s position on abortion, he used the opportunity to speak of the Plan of Salvation.
“It was like friends talking about different subjects and not like a professional (radio host) talking to somebody he doesn’t know,” Elder Godoy said, adding “It was a different way of spreading the gospel and the news about the Church to thousands.”