As Lilian Hurtado approaches her sixth decade, her life reveals a pair of absolute certainties.
First, the Lord’s hand was guiding her long before she came to know the Lord. Hindsight, she says, now allows her to see His divine guidance at many key moments when, at the time, she thought she was alone.
And second, discovering, accepting and living the gospel has allowed her to enjoy countless life-changing blessings — and has allowed her to bless and change the lives of others.
Sister Hurtado was born in a rural region of Ecuador not far from the coastal city of Guayaquil. Young Lilian’s father managed dozens of men who worked the agricultural fields that surrounded her home. By the time she was 12 or 13, she was working as the cook for dozens of laborers.
“Each morning I would wake up a 3 a.m. to begin preparing for the 6 a.m. breakfast,” she said. “By the time breakfast was served I was already working on the day’s lunch.”
In all, she fixed three meals a day, preparing a variety of local dishes. She often experimented with whatever ingredients she had on hand and created new recipes.
It was hard work — but she found she enjoyed cooking for others. She took pleasure watching others taking pleasure in her food. She did not know then that her skills preparing meals for others would serve her well throughout her life.
At around that same time Lilian began feeling spiritual promptings. She was not raised in a strong religious home and she questioned many of the local beliefs about God. Why, for example, had she been taught that the day of prophets had passed at a time when folks desperately needed the guidance of a living prophet.
The years passed and Lilian moved to the city in search of better job opportunities. During one difficult moment in her young life her thoughts turned again to God.
“I went home and, for the first time, offered a prayer from my heart. I wanted to know if God existed,” she said.
Her prayers were soon answered. She was living with her grandmother and raising her newborn son, Presley, when a pair of Mormon missionaries from North America stopped by their home. The young elders asked if they could share their gospel message.
“As I was listening to the missionaries I felt peace in my heart,” she said.
She later accepted their baptismal invitation and began attending the local branch in Guayaquil. She even set aside her initial fears and accepted a calling to serve as the Primary secretary.
A short time later she learned that the mission home in Guayaquil was in need of a full-time cook. Word of Sister Hurtado’s skills in the kitchen had begun to spread. She stopped by the mission home to meet with President William “Jack” Mitchell.
Other than the young missionaries, she had met only one other foreigner in her life. “I was terrified to meet President Mitchell.”
Still, she was offered the job that she holds to this day — 36 years later.
Sister Hurtado’s cooking has become the tasty stuff of legend in southern Ecuador. During her time at the mission home she has prepared meals for 17 mission presidents and their families, thousands of missionaries, countless members and dozens of General Authorities. She has even cooked for a prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley.
Along the way she’s learned to cook several North American dishes that she admits to “modifying” a bit with a few local twists and ingredients.
“But Lilian does so much more than cook — she does it all,” said Sister Tamina Ridd, who served with her husband, President Randall L. Ridd, in the Ecuador Guayaquil North Mission from 2005-2008.
Sister Ridd said Sister Hurtado is often called on to speak to newly arrived missionaries about the Ecuadorian people and culture. She’s the mission’s “go-to” person to find anything needed.
And then there’s her banana bread.
For decades Sister Hurtado has baked a loaf of sweet banana bread for each elder and sister on their birthdays. The missionaries love the warm treat and are anxious to share it with others.
Several years ago the missionaries began offering slices of Sister Hurtado’s bread to their teaching contacts. The bread, they taught, satisfied the belly — and their gospel message would forever satisfy the soul.
The missionaries’ “miracle bread” approach has gleaned scores of teaching opportunities that have resulted in dozens of baptisms.
Sister Hurtado’s service extends beyond kitchens and banana bread. For the past 15 years she has served as an ordinance worker in the Guayaquil Ecuador Temple. And she loves helping out with her two growing grandsons.
“I have learned that if we are obedient to the Lord, we can become the best that we can be and we will always be blessed,” she said.
Recently Sister Hurtado traveled outside Ecuador for the first time in her life so she could attend general conference at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. She baked 25 loaves of banana bread in the hours leading up to her departure to be used by the local missionaries.
“I can’t wait to see President Thomas S. Monson and listen to the words of our leaders,” she said.