BARRANQUILLA, Colombia — There is an oft-spoken Colombian expression that Latter-day Saints here perhaps utter with deeper meaning following Sunday’s dedication of the Barranquilla Colombia Temple.
“El que tiene tienda que la atienda.”
Translated literally, it means whoever owns the store attends and cares for it. Metaphorically, it’s a reminder to take ownership and accountability for anything of great value and importance.
As worshippers walked out of the Church’s 161st temple Sunday following one of the day’s three dedicatory sessions, they seemed almost unaware of the stifling Caribbean heat. Instead, they appeared refreshed by a soaring combination of joy and renewed dedication.
“This day is so special for me because my German ancestors came initially to Barranquilla — this is where my family’s history in Colombia began,” said Elder Mathias Held, a General Authority Seventy and a Bogota native. “But now that the temple is here, we can never take it for granted. We need to make sure we come here often.”
One of Elder Held’s fellow Colombian converts, Barranquilla resident Juan Carlos Cabrera echoed his thoughts:
“I feel so blessed today — we’ve looked forward to this Sunday since this temple was announced. I bought an apartment so close to the temple that I can walk; there’s no reason for me not to serve.”
A defining day in Colombia
Almost two decades have passed since Colombian Latter-day Saints celebrated the opening of their country’s first temple — the Bogota Colombia Temple, dedicated on April, 24, 1999, by President Gordon B. Hinckley.
Now a second Colombian temple is found in the country’s northern tip near the Caribbean Sea, a region known to produce top-flight soccer players, champion prizefighters and some of the world’s friendliest people.
President Dallin H. Oaks presided over Sunday’s dedication. By the time he left the temple, the sun was falling, and the day seemed anxious to end. But many from the Barranquilla temple district waited around to bid farewell to the first counselor in the First Presidency.
“This was a magnificent occasion at an extraordinarily beautiful temple,” he told the Church News following the dedication. “Sister Oaks and I were thrilled to be a part of this, and we pray for the Lord’s blessings to be upon the people of this nation and the work of the Lord here.”
Elder Enrique R. Falabella, a General Authority Seventy who presides over the South America Northwest Area, fought emotion as he considered the eternal work that will soon happen inside the walls of the Barranquilla temple.
“This is an experience I will never forget; being with President Oaks and Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.”
Other General Authorities participating in Sunday’s dedication included Elder Kevin R. Duncan and Elder Hugo Montoya. The visiting Brethren were accompanied by their wives — Sister Kristen Oaks, Sister Rosana Soares, Sister Ruth Falabella, Sister Nancy Duncan, Sister Maria Montoya and Sister Irene Held.
Sunday’s dedication was broadcast to Church meetinghouses across the country.
Few people at Sunday’s dedication likely recognized Sister Diane Eberhard. She and her husband, Elder Charles Eberhard, arrived in Barranquilla days ago from Mesa, Arizona, to began serving an 18-month mission in the new temple.
But she is a true pioneer here.
As a young girl in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Sister Eberhard lived with her family in a jungle camp outside of Barranquilla. Her father, James Clark, was in the oil business, and the American family of eight called northern Colombia their home for several years.
There was no Church presence. So Brother Clark and his wife, Glenna, received permission from Church headquarters to hold services in their home. The Clarks were the only Latter-day Saint family living in what has now become the member-rich Barranquilla temple district,
“I have a lot of love and admiration for my parents,” she said while sitting on a bench outside the temple. “They faithfully gathered us together every Sunday for Sabbath services and reading scriptures and having Primary during the week.”
Excursions to Barranquilla — “the big city” — were memorable and fun. But Sister Eberhard admits she never imagined a temple would one day be built here within sight of the mighty Magdalena River.
“To have a temple here brings tears to my eyes,” she said. “During the temple dedication, I felt that my parents were close by.”
The Church’s official beginnings in Colombia happened more than a decade later when the first two Latter-day Saint missionaries — Elders Randall Harmsen and Jerry Broome of the Andes Mission — arrived in the capital city of Bogota in 1966 and began sharing the gospel to all who would listen. Later that year, the Colombian government granted official recognition to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The past half-century has been a Church success story. Today there are over 200,000 members worshiping in some 250 congregations across the country, with five missions in operation.
But the growth of the Church in Colombia has sometimes happened amid trouble, violence and civil strife. A few decades ago, Colombians had to rely largely upon one another when North American missionaries were pulled from the country.
Holladay, Utah, resident Cary Hunter was serving his mission in Colombia in the late 1980s when he received an unwanted call from his mission leaders saying his service in Colombia was ending immediately
“My heart was broken as my companion and I threw our belongings in our suitcase to rush to the bus station,” he recalled. “It all happened so fast, and I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to the Church in Colombia.”
Hunter recently returned to his mission for the first time to participate in the public open house of the Barranquilla temple.
“It is hard to explain the feelings I felt when we drove down the road and saw the Barranquilla temple for the first time,” he said. “It had been 30 years since I had been in Colombia. I had left my mission in such a hurry, not knowing what would become of the church in Colombia, and now I was looking at the most beautiful building I think I had ever seen.
“My heart was so full of gratitude that I was able to play a small part in bringing such a blessing to the people of Colombia.”
His spirits soared even higher when he discovered many of the people he taught as a missionary had remained involved in the Church.
“Through all the tough times that Colombia went through, they had stayed strong and never lost faith,” he said. “I think it is because of the strong will and the dedication of these types of people that the Lord has blessed them with a second temple.”
The power of a temple
In the months and years leading up to Sunday’s dedication, Barranquilla Colombia Hipodromo Stake President Ivar Romero has witnessed the power of the temple — even one yet to be opened — to change lives.
“This temple has already proven to be a great motivator and faith builder,” he said. “I have seen many people return to the Church because of this temple. People of all faiths see this temple and realize they want to be here with their families.”
He admits Colombia has known hard times. But the Latter-day Saints have endured and prospered because the Lord knows them.
“This is the evidence of the love the Lord has for His people in Colombia,” he said while gazing at the temple. “Without a doubt, the Lord is showing His love for us.”
As President Oaks was about to step into a waiting vehicle that would take him to the airport before flying home to Salt Lake City, the Church leader stopped for a moment before offering a few final words of counsel to the Colombians whom, in the coming days, would be worshipping in the Church’s newest temple.
“Be faithful. Be honest. Be good citizens of your nation. The Lord will bless you in His work.”