How ‘the happiest place on earth’ strengthens members from California to Central America (and everywhere in between)

The temple in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala — similar to the Oakland California Temple — is situated on a hill. And while it may not be easily visible from everywhere throughout the surrounding city, the Quetzaltenango temple also stands as a beacon and a symbol of love for the Saints there.

Of the youth in Quetzaltenango, Sister Becky Craven said, “Whenever they are in the city and they can see the temple … it is a sign or reminder of who they are.”

They know they are children of a loving Heavenly Father and they want to share that knowledge with others, said the second counselor in the Young Women general presidency shortly after returning from trips to both Northern California and Central America in late September. 

Traveling with Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, and Sister Cristina B. Franco, second counselor in the Primary general presidency, Sister Craven spent the weekend of Sept. 13-15 in San Jose, California, conducting training meetings and devotionals with members.

Less than a week later, Sister Craven and Sister Bingham went on to visit with members in Guatemala and Honduras from Sept. 20-22. In Central America, Sister Bingham and Sister Craven were accompanied by members of the area presidency — Elder Brian K. Taylor and his wife, Sister Jill Taylor, and Elder Alan R. Walker and his wife, Sister Inés Walker.

Sister Becky Craven with a group of Young Women in Central America during a recent ministering trip in September 2019.
Sister Becky Craven with a group of Young Women in Central America during a recent ministering trip in September 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

During both trips, much of the women leaders’ discussions centered on the importance of temples and the key role that the ordinances and covenants available through temples have in the gospel and the work of salvation.

“The members in Honduras and Guatemala treasure their temples,” Sister Bingham said. “We drove by the beautiful lot identified for the San Pedro Sula temple (Honduras) location, visited the grounds of the magnificent illuminated Quetzaltenango temple one evening, and heard the sisters bear testimony of the uplifting, peace-giving influence of being within the temple.”

It was also encouraging to witness the excitement that new converts had for the temple, Sister Bingham said, noting that many converts shared how they were preparing to go and be sealed to their families. 

Happiness from the temple

Sharing her own first experience with the temple — from when she was 12 years old and living in Argentina — Sister Franco told Latter-day Saints in San Jose of the sacrifices her family made to go to the temple and be sealed together.

The temple in Buenos Aires, Argentina, wasn’t built until many years after she left the country, Sister Franco explained. So when her father was called to serve as a bishop, he was given one ticket to travel to Salt Lake City for general conference. While in Utah, he could receive his endowment. But rather than going by himself to the temple, Sister Franco’s father decided to wait and save up money so the whole family could go together and be sealed.

“In that process, my mom got sick with cancer and so more than ever we wanted to make that trip to have an eternal family,” Sister Franco said. 

It was a difficult time and even though they had been saving money for what felt like forever, every time they got close to having enough, the rate of the dollar exchange would set them back. 

“I learned at a very young age that dollars and pesos are not the same,” Sister Franco said.

After a few setbacks, even her father began to doubt whether they would be able to save enough money in time to go as a whole family. But that’s when a small miracle occured.

“My uncle, who was not a member of the Church, had been saving every dollar and he came with a bag full of dollars to my home — literally,” Sister Franco said laughing. Being a generous man, her uncle had saved money to help her father take his children on a special trip to Disneyland. Instead, her uncle brought the money and left it for her father, knowing they needed it for their temple trip.

Sister Becky Craven with members in Antigua, Guatemala during a recent ministering trip to the country in September 2019.
Sister Becky Craven with members in Antigua, Guatemala during a recent ministering trip to the country in September 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

“When my uncle left, my dad had a talk with us and said, ‘You know, this is exactly the money we need so that we can go to the temple. So we aren’t going to Disneyland, but I am going to take you to the happiest place on earth, which is the temple.'”

Perhaps, as children, they were sad at first to not get to go to Disneyland, Sister Franco said, but getting to go to the temple with her family was a wonderful experience — one for which she is forever grateful. 

The temple is the happiest place on earth, she noted, and being able to share that blessing with others is always a joyful experience.

Communities on the covenant path

Seeing the joy that the temple and the knowledge of the Savior brings to people’s lives is an amazing part of being able to travel and meet with members around the world, Sister Craven said. 

“I love feeling like I belong to the fellowship of Saints, no matter where I go,” she said. “It’s just a remarkable feeling to know that there is a community of Saints, no matter where we are, and that we are tied together by the covenants that we’ve made to serve each other and to serve the Lord.”

In San Pedro Sula, Honduras, members will soon receive a temple of their own, Sister Craven said, and their excitement is palpable. 

One young woman expressed her excitement for the temple by sharing her hopes that it will not only strengthen members and bring others back into activity, but also the hope that it will change the environment of her community, Sister Craven said.

“And I believe that. I believe a temple not only strengthens the members, but it also strengthens their country, it strengthens their community,” she said.

The youth can see and feel the difference that having a temple can make in their community and that shows how strong they are, Sister Craven said. The youth around the world are taking up the charge to be leaders and it is amazing to witness the difference their strength and leadership is making.

While visiting a small family of two granddaughters living with their grandmother in Antigua, Guatemala, Sister Craven said it was clear from the second she entered their home what their priorities were. 

Sister Becky Craven hugs Fatima Reyes, a youth member in Central America during a recent ministering visit to the area in September 2019.
Sister Becky Craven hugs Fatima Reyes, a youth member in Central America during a recent ministering visit to the area in September 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Pictures of the Savior and the temple were visible everywhere in their small home, she said. And the older granddaughter, 17-year-old Fatima Reyes, told Sister Craven of how she and her friends make it a priority to visit the temple in Guatemala City as often as they can. The trip to the temple takes a little over an hour, but they love the temple and are very focused on making it a priority, Sister Craven said. Fatima and her friends are “a clear, strong example of how youth can lead in their families and at Church.” 

Youth in the Church, whether they are living in Northern California or Central America, experience challenges that, at times, can make following the covenant path feel difficult, Sister Craven said. Yet, everywhere she goes, the youth demonstrate a strength and understanding of their responsibilities to love and care for one another. They want to “help others stay on the covenant path and to focus on Jesus Christ in their lives,” she said. 

For Sister Bingham, meeting with members of the Church in various places around the world is always reassuring. 

“Just like members I’ve recently met in San Jose or Sierra Leone, the members in Central America are dedicated disciples dealing with the same challenges faced by individuals and families the world over,” Sister Bingham said. “Family problems, economic uncertainties and health challenges are common to us all.”

But there is a noticeable peace and happiness in people’s lives as they follow the covenant path, she said.