Gospel Remains a Constant in New Puerto Rican Seventy’s Ever-Changing Life
Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News associate editor
- Elder Alvarado's personal conversion is rooted in the Book of Mormon.
- There's a natural balance between obedience to the commandments and compassion and empathy for others.
“For us, living the gospel is a family affair.” —Elder Jorge M. Alvarado, General Authority Seventy
Thousands of years ago, Heraclitus offered an oft-quoted observation that Elder Jorge M. Alvarado and his family would surely challenge.
“The only thing that is constant,” said the Greek philosopher, “is change.”
Make no mistake, the Alvarados are well acquainted with change.
For almost 30 years, they have lived in various locales in their native Puerto Rico and in the mainland United States. Jobs and professional opportunities were often evolving for the newly called General Authority Seventy. And both Elder Alvarado and his wife, Sister Cari Lu Alvarado, have served in a variety of ecclesiastical assignments.
Sorry, Heraclitus, but the gospel remains an indisputable constant for the Alvarados. Home addresses, Church callings, and jobs may change—but family prayer, faithful Sabbath-day worship, and the anchoring principles of the temple never do.
The guiding role of the Book of Mormon is another proven Alvarado constant.
“Our leaders have told us that if we read the Book of Mormon, our families will be strengthened,” said Elder Alvarado. “We have read the Book of Mormon throughout our marriage and ever since our kids were born. We are promised great blessings if we read the Book of Mormon—and I believe that strongly.”
The 48-year-old General Authority’s own personal conversion is rooted in the Book of Mormon.
Miguel and Iris Alvarado joined the Church in Puerto Rico in 1977 when their son Jorge was six years old.
Young Jorge was baptized two years later and never missed Sabbath services. By almost all definitions he was an active member.
“But my own conversion happened when I was 16,” he said.
In high school, Jorge was selected to be the president of his seminary class in his hometown of Ponce. That year, the students were studying the Book of Mormon.
His new responsibility prompted personal soul-searching.
“I had to ask myself, ‘Do I really know the Book of Mormon is true?’ How could I be the president of the class if I didn’t even know if that book was true?”
He picked up his copy of the Book of Mormon and began earnestly reading it for the first time.
“I knelt down and I prayed and I knew then that it was true,” he said.
The Book of Mormon remains a defining element in his life.
When he served in the Tampa Florida Mission, he shared the Book of Mormon with everyone he taught. Missionary work also taught Elder Alvarado key lessons of obedience that serve him well to this day.
He knew little English growing up, so it was thrilling to receive an English-speaking missionary assignment. But just weeks after arriving in Florida his mission president, G. Vern Albright, told him he was assigning him to a Spanish-speaking area. It was frustrating news.
“But President Albright told me, ‘Elder, I’ll make you a promise: if you work in Spanish [areas], you will have opportunities to use English—and you will always be successful in your jobs and in the Church.’”
The new missionary chose to trust his priesthood leader. “And following my mission, all of my work and Church callings have been in English. It’s been a great blessing.”
Serving a mission, he added, was a learning center “for everything that I’ve done in my life.”
He witnessed the law of the harvest—you reap what you sow. He discovered the natural balance between obedience to the commandments and compassion and empathy for others.
“And I learned to let the Spirit be my teacher.”
He also watched as many people accepted the gospel. “But I learned that I was not the one that made that happen. It was the Lord.”
A short time after returning from his mission, Elder Alvarado stopped by the local Church distribution center in Puerto Rico to pick up a few items. The employee who assisted him was Cari Lu Rios, a fellow Ponce resident. They knew each other vaguely from past Church activities.
The young returned missionary was immediately smitten. “When I looked into her eyes, I knew she would be my wife.”
The feeling was not mutual, said Sister Alvarado, laughing—at least not initially.
But they had fun with one another. Soon they were spending most of their time together and realized they had become a couple. They married in the Washington D.C. Temple six days before Christmas in 1992.
The Alvarados are the parents of three children—two daughters and a son.
The family has lived in both Puerto Rico (where the Church is still relatively young) and in Utah, where Latter-day Saint meetinghouses dot most neighborhoods. The Alvarados were also missionary companions when Elder Alvarado presided over the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission.
But at each stop in their lives they have found communities of believing people.
“Wherever we have been, we have been home,” said Sister Alvarado. “That’s the wonderful thing about the Church.”
They now face another pivotal moment as they serve Latter-day Saints and others worldwide. As he considers ways that he might counsel others, Elder Alvarado recalls advice he once received from Elder Franciso J. Viñas, now an emeritus General Authority.
“Elder Viñas told me the greatest testimony that you give is the way that you live your life with your family,” he said. “So I would tell people to involve their families in all they do. For us, living the gospel is a family affair.”
Sister Alvarado, he added, was the constant glue that kept the family together—especially when professional or Church duties took him away from home. The couple became tech-savvy, utilizing Skype and FaceTime to be together even when separated by thousands of miles.
Wherever they serve, the Alvarados remain proud “Boricuas”—the term Puerto Ricans use in reference to their own island history.
Puerto Rican Latter-day Saints have experienced emotional extremes in recent years. Recovery from the horrors of Hurricane Maria in 2017 continues to this day. Many members were devastated by the historic storm. But joy was found when President Russell M. Nelson visited the island last year, followed by the October announcement to build the San Juan Puerto Rico Temple.
“The temple will bring to Puerto Rico all that the members need to understand why we say we have the fulness of the gospel,” he said.