LIMA, Peru — Outside of the stately Government Palace in the Peruvian capital city of Lima, President Russell M. Nelson paused before meeting Peru President Martín Vizcarra, catching the eye of a local tour guide.
“Who is that man?” she asked.
Then, looking at President Nelson, the woman — who is not a Latter-day Saint — added, “Will you bless Peru?”
The interaction was one of many during the first leg of President Nelson’s ministry tour to South America; in addition to the meeting with the president of Peru, the 94-year-old leader also addressed missionaries in the South America Northwest Area and spoke to almost 6,000 at a member devotional broadcast throughout the country from Lima's Coliseo Mariscal Caceres, an indoor arena.
At the conclusion of the day, President Nelson offered a blessing on the land and people of Peru.
He promised, in Spanish, that Peruvians would find delight in the words of Jesus Christ by applying His teachings every day. “As you do this, you will have joy,” said President Nelson.
A land of rich history that was once home to the Norte Chico civilization and the Inca Empire, Peru has recently moved “from a period of high inflation and emigration to one of economic security,” said Elder Enrique Falabella, a General Authority Seventy and president of the South America Northwest Area, headquartered in Lima.
Peru has more than a half-million members of the Church, 13 missions and two temples, with announced 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.
President Nelson asked the Peruvian members — described by one Area Seventy as “people willing to give up their bed for another person to rest” — to teach their children and each other about Jesus Christ.
President Nelson’s visit to the country — his 10th to Peru — “shows, without a doubt, that Peru is also in the minds of our leaders and that the Lord has inspired His servant, President Nelson, to impart His blessings to this people,” said Elder Falabella.
During the morning visit to the Government Palace, located in Plaza Mayor in an area of Lima known for its colonial architecture and wood balconies, President Nelson, Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Falabella spoke to Peru’s senior leader about various topics, including the welfare of children, world corruption, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The meeting was "an extraordinary privilege” for the Latter-day Saint leaders, President Nelson said, adding that the president of Peru “was very warm and gracious, welcoming. We had a real treat this morning."
Both President Nelson and President Vizcarra began service in their current positions this year. President Nelson was ordained as the Church’s 17th president in January; President Vizcarra moved into the Peru’s presidential office two months later in March.
Still President Vizcarra is aware of the 600,000 Latter-day Saints, called an “important force for good in the country” by President Nelson. President Vizcarra is aware that "we are trying to reach the poor people in Peru, helping them with the things they need,” said Elder Falabella.
Elder Stevenson said the group had a “wonderful conversation” about children.
“He was very concerned about the welfare of the children,” said President Nelson. “And he asked for our help with their children, so they won't feel lonely or poverty-stricken.”
President Nelson also praised the work work of Peru’s First Lady, Maribel Díaz Cabello. “She was not in the meetings, but she is a well‑known educator and very concerned for the welfare of the women and children particularly,” President Nelson said. “She is a wonderful example of the power of a woman in her country.”
President Nelson expressed support for the work of President Vizcarra, who has made fighting government corruption his top priority. "We are concerned with the problems of corruption all over the world," President Nelson said. "This is where [President Vizcarra] is making a great effort. Really, he's loved by the people because he's anti-corruption."
Following the visit with the Peruvian leader, the Latter-day Saint delegation toured the building and learned the history of the government, the country and the Presidential Palace — where construction began in the mid-1500s.
Then President Nelson left a message with the leader: “I also told him we’d be praying for him, and he loved that.”
Member, missionary meetings
Just two hours later, President Nelson, Elder Stevenson and Elder Falabella were joined by their respective wives — Sister Wendy Nelson, Sister Lesa Stevenson and Sister Blanca Falabella — for a filled-to-capacity missionary meeting held in the Limatambo Ward meetinghouse. Each of the six also addressed members at the Coliseo Mariscal Caceres.
“This is an historic occasion,” said Elder Falabella during the missionary meeting. “We have 5,000 missionaries watching this broadcast.”
Sister Falabella asked the missionaries to “speak with their heart” when sharing the message of the gospel. Sister Stevenson asked the congregation to set goals and focus on people. Elder Stevenson focused on the teachings found in "Preach My Gospel" and testified that “the Book of Mormon is the word of God.”
Sister Nelson told the missionaries that the adversary is real. “You are going to be successful as the Lord’s missionary, but the adversary is not going to make it easy.”
President Nelson addressed the missionaries about his favorite book — the Book of Mormon. He then blessed them with health and strength, safety in their travels, and a mind and a body that will allow them to do missionary work. “I bless you and bear my testimony that Jesus is the Christ,” he said.
Children, bearing traditional gifts, lined up to greet President and Sister Nelson on Saturday night as they arrived at the Coliseo Mariscal Caceres. A scarf for Sister Nelson included images of llamas and vicuñas. President bent down to the children’s level to accept his gift.
Before the meeting, President Nelson met with a few youth from the area and answered their questions. “It is a question of happiness...,” he told the youth. “If you are keeping the commandments of God, you will feel joy every day of your life.”
Then President Nelson addressed the Latter-day Saints “from my heart” in a language “that is not my own.”
“With your permission, I would like to address you in Spanish,” he said.
With this news, the entire coliseum began clapping.
“It is a very historic moment in the lives of the members of the Church here,” said Elder Falabella.
Of all the events taking place in Peru at that moment “there is nothing more important … than what is taking place here,” added Elder Stevenson.
Sister Stevenson asked the missionaries to pray daily.
Sister Nelson spoke of a visiting Peru with President Nelson days after an earthquake shook the nation. One of the miracles of the trip, planned a year before the disaster, “was its timing,” said Sister Nelson. “The Lord knew then-Elder Nelson needed to be here in Peru at that exact time.”
Elder Stevenson told the members they live in a time when the heavens are opened because they can follow a living prophet. “Can you feel the blessings of having a living prophet here on the earth today? We should pray for him, we should study his words, we should listen to his conference addresses, and we should follow his inspired teachings.”
Hours before the devotional began, every seat in the coliseum was filled — reflecting a generation of faith and sacrifice in the area, where the Church’s first branch was organized in 1956 — the year full-time missionaries arrived in the country.
Jose Piscoya Velasquez joined the Church on Aug. 11, 1963.
At the time of his conversion, there were only nine branches in all of Peru. Now 55 years later, he says the Church grew “like my family grew.”
In his own family, Velasquez had only one son when he was baptized. Today he has 10 children, 17 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren.
Secundino Delgado was 25 years old when he joined the Church on Christmas Day almost 50 years ago. He was one of 40 baptisms that day in Lima. “They called it a 'white Christmas,' ” he said.
President Nelson will continue the South America ministry tour with visits to Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile. The ministry tour concludes Oct. 28 with his dedication of the Concepcion Chile Temple.