BOGOTA, Colombia — In Colombia’s capital city of 7.1 million people, the ratio of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the general population is 67 to one.
That could make life hard for youth growing up in this South American nation, where Bogota’s bustling city center is defined by its dense population as well as its Spanish architecture, culture and history.
Before addressing a capacity congregation in Movistar Arena on Sunday, Aug. 25, President Russell M. Nelson greeted a small group of teens from Colombia. “Anything worthwhile in life is difficult to do,” he told them referencing the daunting statistic. “But you can do hard things as you link yourself to the Lord.”
Less than 10 minutes earlier, as the youth waited for President Nelson to arrive, they spontaneously knelt and prayed together, offering thanks for the opportunity to greet a living prophet.
“This will forever be in my heart,” said Laura Guzman, 17. “I cannot describe in words how wonderful it is to know that God loves me.”
Bogota, located in the heart of Colombia and sitting 8,600 feet above sea level, is the second stop on President Nelson’s five-country, nine-day Latin America Ministry Tour.
This is President Nelson’s fifth visit to Colombia. He first traveled to the country as an apostle in 1986.
Traveling with his wife, Sister Wendy W. Nelson, and Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Mary G. Cook, President Nelson asked 10,400 Latter-day Saints to “prepare for the blessings of salvation and exaltation.”
“Salvation is an individual matter. Exaltation is a family affair,” President Nelson said, sharing his remarks to a delighted congregation in Spanish.
“Dear brothers and sisters, you can have all the necessary preparation to achieve the blessings of salvation and exaltation here in Colombia. You are the hope of Israel and the children of the promised day.
“Please: Study the scriptures as families. Pray together. Renew your baptismal covenants by regularly participating in the sacrament. Pay your tithes with grateful hearts. Attend the temple as often as your circumstance allow.”
‘The Lord’s way’
Sister Nelson asked the congregation to “do things the Lord’s way.” She shared three examples of men who have done this — Nephi, Joseph Smith and President Nelson.
As a surgeon, President Nelson “followed eternal laws and did not build his life or his career “after the manner of men,” she said.
Elder Cook focused his remarks on Alma’s counsel to his three sons — Helaman, Shiblon and Corianton — and emphasized the need for a personal testimony. He also asked members to bridle their passions and repent of their sins.
“The concluding counsel that Alma gave to his sons is some of the most important doctrine in all of the scriptures. It relates to the Atonement. … None can return to God by his or her own good works alone without the benefit of the Savior’s sacrifice.”
Sister Cook said she finds great comfort in knowing “the Lord is mindful of His people no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. We rely on the Lord for His help and are ministered to by the Holy Ghost.”
In addition to the Nelsons and the Cooks, Elder Enrique R. Falabella, a General Authority Seventy, and his wife, Sister Ruth Falabella, addressed the congregation.
During a VIP reception before the devotional, President Nelson greeted local government and religious leaders.
Lorena Rios, Colombia’s director of the Office of Religious Affairs, called herself a friend of the Church.
“To me, it is an honor to welcome President Nelson to my country,” she said.
The Church and the Colombian government have worked together on humanitarian efforts and in defense of religious liberty, she explained. “We are doing important things together.”
Colombia is the only Latin American nation that has enacted government policy to protect religious liberty. As part of that policy, the Colombian Senate created a commission to preserve religious liberty in the nation.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the government “are strategic partners,” Rios said. “We are promoting cooperation between religions and government.”
In addition, the Church of Jesus Christ has “good practices” and a social support system that can be shared with other churches as they encourage interfaith efforts that teach and instill values in the county, she said.
Monsignor Francisco Duque, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Colombia, which has about 2,000 members, praised the Church for these efforts.
“We are grateful to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its active role on our interreligious council and for its vigorous support of religious freedom in Colombia.”
‘We felt happy’
On May 11, 1966, President Spencer W. Kimball offered a prayer on the land of Colombia. The first stake was created in the nation just more than a decade later on Jan. 23, 1977. In March of that year, President Kimball addressed 4,600 Latter-day Saints during an area conference.
Irma Pineros, now a member of the Church for 39 years, attended that 1977 meeting. Later she would participate in a similar meeting with President Gordon B. Hinckley.
After listening to President Nelson speak on Sunday, she greeted and hugged friends, celebrating that a prophet had once again returned to her land.
Mercedes Alcedo traveled with her family to Colombia from Venezuala to participate in the devotional. When she heard President Nelson’s address, she was filled with the feeling that he is a prophet of God.
“We felt something beautiful,” she said. “We felt happy.”