LIMA, Peru — Two decades ago, President Russell M. Nelson — then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — stood at a new missionary training center here and prayed for the land of Peru, a nation “preserved through the ages for Thy holy purposes.”
“Thou hast promised that those who possess this land will be sustained as they are righteous and worship the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ,” he prayed in fluent Spanish. “Bless the people of Peru to know of this divine destiny of their land.”
Today a copy of the dedicatory prayer hangs in the MTC, where some 150 missionaries called to serve in one of 18 missions in Peru and Bolivia receive instruction and training.
President Nelson returned to Peru on Friday, Oct. 19. On Oct. 20, he addressed missionaries in the South America Northwest Area in their native language of Spanish. The devotional was broadcast throughout Peru from the Coliseo Mariscal Caceres, an indoor arena with a capacity of 7,000.
Peru was the first stop on President Nelson’s ministry tour to South America, a trip that included addresses in five countries in nine days and which culminated with the dedication of the Concepción Chile Temple on Oct. 28.
There are more than 4 million Latter-day Saints, 17 temples and 94 missions in South America.
Located in western South America, Peru was once home to many ancient cultures, including the Norte Chico civilization, which is one of the oldest in the world, and the Inca Empire.
Peru has more than a half-million members of the Church, 13 missions, and two temples, with plans to build two more. It is one of just five nations with more than 100 stakes; in addition to Peru, the United States, Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines have reached the 100-stake milestone.
There were Church members in Peru as early as 1940. However, the first branch was not organized until 1956 — the year full-time missionaries arrived in the country.
In June 1986, the Church opened the first missionary training center in Peru. The training center, dubbed the “chocolate house” because of its brown color, was replaced with the new facility 12 years later.
President Nelson dedicated the current mission training center on Aug. 27, 1998.
Speaking specifically to the Church leaders in attendance, President Nelson charged them to “take the responsibility to raise up a generation of young people worthy of participation as missionaries, worthy to teach and testify of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
That is exactly what Peru MTC President Robert Spence Ellsworth and his wife, Sister Laurie Benson Ellsworth, spend their days doing.
President Nelson was “very clear in his prayer about the purpose of this building,” said President Ellsworth. The MTC “is to bless not only those who come here but also Peru and the surrounding areas.”
Missionaries at the MTC represent a “deepening of gospel roots” in South American countries where there is a strong Church foundation, said Sister Ellsworth.
For example, Sister Hilda Sullca, a missionary in the MTC, joined the Church with her mother when she was 8 years old. In the last decade Sister Sullca has witnessed “individual progress in the Church and also the collective growth in this area.”
This was possible because Latter-day Saints served her. Months after her baptism, Sister Sullca's mother got ill and stopped participating in gospel activity. “From that moment on, members of Sister Sullca’s ward “picked me up and brought me to Church with them.”
Watching missionaries walk across the beautiful MTC grounds, filled with lush, colorful foliage, President Ellsworth speaks of President Nelson’s prayer and its impact on the facility two decades after it was offered.
“When he dedicated this facility he made special mention of this special country, of the choiceness of this country. We see that.”
Sister Ellsworth said missionaries read the dedicatory prayer and understand that “this place is sacred ground."
“As they read and understand the plan of the Lord for this complex, they can also understand their purpose as a missionary,” she said.
Gerardo Campero, MTC manager, said when his family joined the Church, his father’s great hope was that the grandchildren in the family would also embrace the gospel.
His father, Vladimir Campero, felt that when his family converted to the Church, “it is a conversion to pass along to generations.”
“I will be a happy father when I see my grandchildren sealed in the temple,” Vladimir Campero told his son.
President and Sister Ellsworth report that a great majority of their missionaries come from homes where they were raised by a strong mother and an absent father. When these elders deepen their testimony during their time at the MTC, many report to Sister Ellsworth their great desire to return from missionary service and become dependable husbands and fathers. "We want things to be different," they say.
"All of a sudden they are seeing purpose in the gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives," she said.