New General Authority from Mexico says growth comes by leaving comfort zone

The inadequacy Elder Moisés Villanueva feels with his new call as a General Authority Seventy is similar to what he felt about six years ago. 

The call to preside over the California Arcadia Mission from 2014-2017 was “an overwhelming surprise,” he said. For the Oaxaca, Mexico, native, speaking English in the United States wouldn’t be easy. 

Shortly after arriving in California, Elder Villanueva interviewed a young missionary and asked him how he felt. The missionary said, “I feel overwhelmed. Adjusting to missionary life is too hard for me. I don’t think I’m capable of learning another language. I would like to go home.”

Elder Villanueva responded with empathy: “You know, I’m feeling the same. I would like to go home. This is also hard for me.”

Continuing the story, Elder Villanueva recalled, “I remember telling this missionary, let’s make a deal. We need to finish our missions. We need to follow the advice we read from the ‘Adjusting to Missionary Life’ manual. Let’s eat well, sleep well and exercise.”

Both the young missionary and Elder Villanueva relied on the Lord and finished their missions successfully. In his exit interview, the missionary told Elder Villanueva, “We made it.” Elder Villanueva’s response: “You have. I still have one year left.”

“It was a wonderful experience,” Elder Villanueva said of serving as mission president. “I learned a lot and I now understand that when we get out of our comfort zone, we grow.”

Elder Moisés Villanueva was sustained as a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the April 2020 general conference, at age 53. 

President Russell M. Nelson said in the coming days, we will not survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting and constant influence of the Holy Ghost,” Elder Villanueva said. “I know that this call comes from heaven, and I need to be worthy to receive the promptings of the Holy Ghost.”

Moisés Villanueva Lopez was born on Dec. 13, 1966, in Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico, to Rubén Villanueva Platas and Delfina Lopez Dominguez. Though he was only 10 years old at the time, Elder Moisés Villanueva still remembers how he felt as the missionaries taught him and his family the gospel in Oaxaca.

Elder Moisés Villanueva was born in Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico, on Dec. 13, 1966.
Elder Moisés Villanueva was born in Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico, on Dec. 13, 1966. Credit: Church News graphic

“I remember the Spirit that they left, the peace that I felt in my heart,” he said. 

Young Moisés was baptized with four of his siblings, and his mother — a single parent raising Moisés and his seven siblings in difficult circumstances — returned to Church activity. 

As 18-year-old Moisés was preparing for his mission, his family continued to face temporal challenges. He doubted his decision to leave and told his mother he wanted to stay and help her. 

Her response: “If you really want to help me, go and serve the Lord.” 

Kneeling down by his cot at the close of his first day in the Mexico Hermosillo Mission, he felt the Lord was pleased with his decision. He credits his mission for the growth of his testimony of the restored gospel. 

Elder Villanueva met his wife, Leticia Ávalos Lozano, after her family moved to Oaxaca when she was 13. Their brothers were good friends. They began dating after he returned from his mission and Leticia returned from the New Mexico Albuquerque Mission. 

They married in the Mexico City Mexico Temple on June 30, 1995, and have three children. Their family enjoys traveling, watching movies, playing tennis and biking together. 

Sister Villanueva has had her own set of experiences in learning to trust the Lord. When she was in college, her father Adolfo Ávalos Rico received a call to preside over the Guatemala South Mission. “My major was public accounting, and I was really good at it. But when the calling came, we decided I would go with him,” she said. 

Biographical information for Elder Moisés Villanueva.
Biographical information for Elder Moisés Villanueva. Credit: Church News graphic

“At the beginning, I wasn’t sure. How come the Lord is calling my dad? Doesn’t he know that I am studying? … I learned that sometimes we make plans, but the Lord has other plans for us. And if we are willing to leave whatever we have, He will bless us.”

Sister Villanueva said her parents have taught her by example to always be willing to serve. Her father served as an MTC president, temple president and Area Seventy. “They have never questioned their callings. They have always been ready to leave whatever and go and serve,” she said. 

Callings are an opportunity and privilege to serve the Lord, she said. “Even though sometimes we don’t feel capable and we feel like we’re not ready, if we have the desire, the Lord shapes us and He teaches us, step by step, little by little.”

Elder Villanueva earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Southeast Regional University in 1997 and a master’s degree in innovation for business improvement from Tecnologico de Monterrey in 2011. 

At the time of his call, he had been working as the chief executive officer of Sertexa, a transportation company he founded, and serving as an Area Seventy in the Mexico Area. Elder Villanueva’s previous callings include president of the California Arcadia Mission, public affairs director, counselor in a stake presidency and bishop.

“I now understand that when we get out of our comfort zone, we grow.”

Elder and Sister Villanueva said they feel grateful for the opportunity to serve amid the COVID-19 pandemic and its global impact. 

“We cannot see the end from the beginning, but Heavenly Father does. Even though there are many hard things that will come, the work will go forth,” Sister Villanueva said. “We are here to help the work progress.”

Elder Villanueva added his testimony: “This Church is led by our Savior Jesus Christ. He knows each one of us by name. He knows our needs, our challenges and our concerns. He also knows our strengths and even the desires of our hearts.”