BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA — Hours before President Russell M. Nelson addressed 12,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here in Tecnopolis Arena on Wednesday evening, he personally greeted individual children receiving new wheelchairs at a local Latter-day Saint meetinghouse.
To both groups he offered the same message: The Lord will pour down blessings on those with a willing heart.
“My advice today is very simple,” said President Nelson to Argentine members. “Please keep the commandments of God. Remember to pray to Him every morning and night. Pray with your families. Pray in private. Pray to our Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. In doing so, He will direct you for good in everything you do.”
The capacity congregation waved white handkerchiefs as President Nelson left the arena. To the delight of the audience, the Church leader pulled out his white handkerchief and waved back.
Argentina marks the fourth stop on President Nelson’s five-country, nine-day Latin America Ministry Tour. Traveling with his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, President Nelson has visited Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador and Argentina — meeting with dignitaries (including Colombian President Iván Duque and Ecuador President Lenín Moreno) and addressing large devotional congregations in each location.
He is scheduled to complete the tour Sunday in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Before arriving at the devotional Wednesday evening, President Nelson visited one of the Church’s many humanitarian projects in Argentina.
When her son was old enough to start kindergarten, Paola Loza carried the child to the local school. However, born without nearly half a body, Juan Carlos Loza was turned away. “I was told that without a wheelchair, he could not attend,” Loza recalled.
Summarizing the reality facing many with disabilities in this South American nation, she added: “The wheelchair means respect.”
The unique partnership between CILSA — a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that works in Argentina for the full inclusion of people with disabilities — and Latter-day Saint Charities is making sure that children in need in this South American country receive that respect.
Today they are ensuring that individuals have “the quality of life that he or she needs to be included — so that nobody is left behind, so that everyone has the opportunity to be, to do and to grow,” said Silvia Carranza, CILSA president.
Dozens of children in new wheelchairs played outside the Villa Urquiza Ward meetinghouse before President Nelson’s visit. Juan Carlos Loza sank a basketball from the 3-point range and then talked about the 30 blocks he travels daily in a CILSA/Latter-day Saint Charities wheelchair to get to school.
A few minutes later, he shook President Nelson’s hand.
“Giving to others means seeing Jesus Christ in the other person,” Carranza said of President Nelson’s visit and the work the Church and CILSA accomplish together. “When we see Jesus Christ in the other person, it is impossible not to give.”
Gustavo Mernies, president of the Buenos Aires Argentina Belgrano Stake, said the Church and CILSA rely on one another. Mernies said Latter-day Saint Charities makes and individualizes the wheelchairs, and CILSA distributes them in the nation where Argentine policy dictates that every wheelchair must be matched to an individual before it arrives in the country.
“What is my definition of this partnership? It is a miracle,” he said. “It allows us to reach out to people to help when they need it, how they need it.”
An acorn to an oak
Following a pattern set in the first stops of his ministry tour, President Nelson delivered a personalized address for members in the country in Castilian or standard Spanish.
He recalled the opportunity to return to Buenos Aires — where he was once honored by the government of Argentina for his pioneering efforts as a heart surgeon and where so much significant Church history occurred.
In 1925, three leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — Elder Melvin J. Ballard, Elder Rey L. Pratt and Elder Rulon S. Wells — embarked on a 34-day journey, by land and sea, from Salt Lake City to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Their arrival did not produce a great harvest. Few joined the Church.
Still on Christmas Day 1925, in the park of Tres de Febrero in Buenos Aires, Elder Melvin J. Ballard dedicated South America for the preaching of the gospel.
“Bless the presidents, governors and the leading officials of these South American countries, that they may kindly receive us and give us permission to open the doors of salvation to the people of these lands,” he prayed.
Six months later, as Elder Ballard was preparing to return to Utah, he spoke about the future of the Church in South America.
“The work of the Lord will grow slowly for a time here just as an oak grows slowly from an acorn. It will not shoot up in a day as does the sunflower that grows quickly and then dies. But thousands will join the Church here. It will be divided into more than one mission and will be one of the strongest in the Church. … The South American Mission will be a power in the Church.”
Indeed, more than nine decades since that inspired prophecy, the Church has flourished across South America. In Argentina alone there are 460,000 members, 14 missions, 77 stakes and two temples, with two more announced by President Nelson last year.
In the five countries where President Nelson and Elder Cook are traveling as part of the Latin American Ministry Tour, there are more than 2.6 million Latter-day Saints, 14 operating temples (including the recently dedicated Fortaleza Brazil Temple), and 65 missions. Four other temples are announced or under construction in Brazil.
The Father’s plan
During his remarks, President Nelson asked members to sanctify the Sabbath, participate in the sacrament worthily and regularly, and pay tithing with a willing heart.
“We can transform our personal lives to be worthy to enter the temple. We must cleanse ourselves of the sins of the world. We need to purify our language, elevate our thoughts and live our lives with obedience to God’s commandments.”
Elder Cook centered his remarks around “The Father’s Plan.” He asked Latter-day Saints to focus on three areas. “First, immerse yourselves in the home-centered, Church-supported curriculum introduced last year. … Second, honoring the Sabbath in our homes is fundamental if we are going to accomplish what President Nelson has taught. … Third, focus your goals on the temple.”
Sister Nelson encouraged the Latter-day Saints to take part in family history work. Those on the other side of the veil “are very much alive” and are “eager to receive by proxy the essential ordinances.”
She left the congregation with a promise. “As you search for your ancestors, your doubts will fall away.”
Sister Cook said the most important treasures of life are ones that won’t fit in a treasure box.
“They are my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
“They are my testimony of Jesus Christ and His restored gospel; that knowledge of our loving Father in Heaven, His plan of happiness and especially His love.”
Elder Benjamín De Hoyos, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s South America South Area, and his wife, Sister Evelia De Hoyos, also spoke during the devotional.