It would be a mistake to visit one place in South America and believe it represents the whole of South America, Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said after returning from a recent visit to Chile and Argentina.
"There is great diversity, even within one country," Elder Renlund said.
But from the remote areas in northern Chile — where the land is so dry and barren that water has to be piped in from Bolivia to create sustainable living environments — all the way down to the southern part of Argentina — where the climate and scenery are entirely different with extreme cold conditions for much of the year, there are people "partaking of living water and following the Savior," Elder Renlund said. "The members are committed Latter-day Saints who exemplify the best in gospel living."
Despite the differences of landscape and culture between the two countries, "the one thing they have in common is their dedication to the gospel of Jesus Christ and their desire to serve one another," Elder Renlund said.
Guided by the Spirit
Following a tight, nine-day travel schedule (Feb. 15 to Feb. 24), Elder Renlund and his wife, Sister Ruth L. Renlund, along with members of the South America South Area Presidency, visited some of the most remote areas of Chile and Argentina.
"[They] asked to visit with members that may not have had the opportunity to have a visit from a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the past," Elder Mark A. Bragg, a General Authority Seventy and counselor in the area presidency, said of Elder and Sister Renlund. "It was incredible to watch as [they] took each opportunity to greet people personally."
There was visible joy and peace among the people at every gathering, Elder Bragg said.
At each location, Elder and Sister Renlund and the members of the area presidency emphasized the teachings of President Russell M. Nelson, stressing that the Savior's Atonement is the only enduring path to happiness.
"Our purpose is to testify of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement, majesty, power, compassion, and desire to bless. That purpose, that Apostolic charge remains constant," Elder Renlund said. "What is impressive is that the Holy Ghost tailors direction for the congregation and the individuals with whom we interact."
Elder and Sister Renlund prepared for each meeting, Elder Bragg said. "They prayerfully considered the needs of each group, they counseled together, and followed the Spirit in each meeting so that no meeting was the same as another."
Blessing the outliers
Many of the meetings were held "off the beaten path," Elder Bragg explained, but Elder Renlund emphasized the universal access of the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ that are available to all, regardless of circumstances or location. He said a major theme of the visit was that no matter where members are in the world, the saving ordinances available through the covenant path can help guide all of God's children back into His presence.
“I love seeing the way the gospel blesses people regardless of where they live. It strengthens families and improves their perspective on handling the trials and challenges of life,” Sister Renlund said.
Attending one of the member meetings was a young couple who had traveled more than 600 miles to meet with Elder and Sister Renlund in person. At another meeting, in the remote area of El Calafate, Argentina, a small chapel was filled far beyond the 30 to 40 members who were expected to attend. The members of the small branch brought friends and neighbors to the weeknight meeting and nearly tripled their normal Sunday attendance, Elder Renlund noted.
"Their faith and faithfulness brought a remarkable spirit to the meeting," Elder Renlund said.
At nearly every meeting, attendance far exceeded the expectation and, in some cases, the capacity of the meetinghouses.
"Elder and Sister Renlund's desire to meet with the Saints in these outlying districts will bless the area immensely," Elder Bragg said.
A vision for growth
Despite their grueling schedule, which often had them traveling long distances on small planes and eating boxed lunches as they went directly from one meeting to the next with barely any time to rest or recuperate, Elder and Sister Renlund took all the time necessary at each location to minister to the "one."
"All the people could feel their love and concern," Elder Bragg said of Elder and Sister Renlund.
Speaking of a gathering in Ushuaia, Argentina, Elder Bragg noted that more than 600 people attended — representing the majority of active members throughout the remote southern district of Tierra del Fuego. "It was an incredible sight," Elder Bragg said. Even the vice governor of Tierra del Fuego rearranged his schedule to attend the meeting after having visited with Elder and Sister Renlund earlier in the day.
Focusing on the area presidency's vision to deepen conversion and strengthen the faith of the Saints, Elder Renlund spoke specifically about the blessings of the home-centered, Church-supported curriculum and how families will be blessed by observing the Sabbath day.
"The area presidency and their wives are outstanding in every way," Elder Renlund said. "Elder and Sister de Hoyos, Elder and Sister Bragg, and Elder and Sister Villar are remarkable disciples of the Savior and great examples to me of consecration and dedication."
Over the past few decades, the growth of the Church in Argentina and Chile has been nothing short of miraculous, Elder Renlund said. "It is evidence of Heavenly Father and His Son gathering scattered Israel."