“Peru,” Ensign, Feb. 1977, 37
“This letter will be short and sweet. I’m simply going to ask you if you can send us more Welfare Service Missionaries.” This request last year from Russell H. Bishop, president of the Peru Lima Mission, to the Church commissioner of health services wasn’t the first request he’d made for more. And Peru certainly isn’t the only country requesting more welfare service missionaries in that flourishing worldwide program. But as one part of Peru’s strong effort toward sanctifying its Saints, it has had remarkable success.
Why? The letter continues: “Wherever they are, the work improves, organization is better, home teaching is better, welfare service committees are organized, and the essence of the Church is tasted and felt and experienced by all involved.”
Here are a few of the achievements recently made by twenty-eight busy welfare service missionaries:
—A national welfare conference, attended by Elder A. Theodore Tuttle, his son, David Tuttle, from Brigham Young University, who introduced a program for increasing literacy, and the president of the Peruvian Cancer Society.
—A series of presentations on preventing cancer in cooperation with the National Cancer League and advertised in the name of the Church. One in Lima brought in 120 nonmembers. (One member, motivated by the presentation, promptly scheduled a check-up, discovered that she had a tumor in the early stages, was successfully treated, and is now back at her duties.)
—A citywide health month in Arequipa, sparked by the welfare service missionaries with support from the mayor; the Church was identified by name in the advertising.
—Heavy participation in the literacy program. About eighty tutors, including some welfare service missionaries, have been trained and are beginning to graduate students from their course. (Peru is the fourth country in Latin America to adopt this literacy program, which began in Bolivia in 1972; the other countries are Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Colombia.)
—Local stake welfare missionaries. Approximately 150 have been called to teach personal and family preparedness skills in the two Lima stakes.
—In Lima, gardens are sprouting behind many of the chapels. One ward is also raising rabbits and guinea pigs. Another ward is teaching home teachers how to grow gardens so they can pass the information on to their families.
—The president of the Peru Heart Foundation has invited welfare service missionaries to speak before several community meetings, including one conference of fifty doctors where the missionaries shared the program with the president of the World Health Organization in the Andean Region.
—A five-month project of being registered with the government as a charitable organization came to a successful conclusion with the signature of the General Health Minister.
All this and missionary work too! With about 17,000 members, 19 chapels finished or under construction, a home study seminary-institute enrollment that hovers around 15,000 with plans for early morning classes this year, and two stakes stretching their wings, the Church is on the move in Peru. Its members are creative and imaginative in their approach to the challenges of Church membership, and they are diligent in accomplishing their goals.
Of course, that’s the history of the Church in Peru: good ideas plus hard work. Technically, the Church in Peru started when Frederick S. Williams had a good idea in January 1956. (See Frederick S. Williams, oral history by William G. Hartley, 1972, typescript in Church Archives.) He was working in Lima at the time, but his experience in South America extended back to his mission in Argentina in 1927–29. Since then he had presided over the Argentina Mission and later the Uruguayan Mission.
The Mormons in Peru were a small group composed of a few American families, but Brother Williams wrote to the First Presidency, asking for association with one of the South American missions. By the time President Henry D. Moyle stopped through on his South American tour, “we’d found so many people that the quarters were getting awfully close. … We had put boards across two chairs with quilts and blankets on them to give seating, and we had classes in bedrooms.” The first branch was organized as part of the Uruguayan Mission. Sometimes when the president and his two counselors were traveling as part of their demanding jobs, Brother Williams’s sixteen-year-old son Fred, the branch clerk, was the presiding officer.
Four years later, the Church was ready to open a mission. A cablegram came from the First Presidency: “Secure permanent visas for President and Sister [James Vernon] Sharp, who are en route to New York. They are sailing next Monday.” Brother Williams recalls, “I kind of wanted to laugh. It had taken me three months to get a permanent visa for myself with the use of an attorney. Here I had three days to get a permanent visa, and they we’re on their way. But the Lord had prepared the way for it.”
That preparation had come through Brother Williams’s earlier kindness to a young convert who wanted to go to BYU. He straightened out some red tape related to her admission, and a grateful uncle offered his services to repay the favor. He happened to be a government official in charge of the visa department. Brother Williams laughs in recalling the experience. When he went to the official’s office and explained his problem, the official simply replied, “Would 5:00 P.M. [today] be too late?”
The mission was organized as a separate entity by Elder Harold B. Lee of the Council of the Twelve on 1 November 1959. Seven missions have since been formed from its territory.
When good ideas—like beginning a branch, a mission, a literacy program, or welfare services—are imported into Peru, it’s only a matter of time before they become home-grown products, thanks to the diligence and faith of the members. For Avelino Flores, a counselor in the presidency of the Puno Branch and a Sunday School teacher, the turn-around came from a simple act of kindness.
He helped two young men wrestle a piano into a building. They happened to be the elders and the building was the branch meetinghouse. Once the piano was installed, Brother Flores’s attention was caught by some pictures on the wall depicting scenes from something the young men called the Book of Mormon. The core of his patriotic heart responded when they described Christ’s visit to the Americas. “We are very proud of our heritage, and the idea that Christ had visited my ancestors and taught them had a great effect on me,” he says. “I wanted to know more.”
He and his wife were baptized and experienced a welcome year of happiness—their marriage had been difficult before because of his drinking. “Sometimes I didn’t even go home nights or weekends,” he says. The Word of Wisdom saved their marriage!
A year after their baptism, however, Brother Flores went through another period of problem drinking. And when he pulled out of it, his wife was stricken with a serious illness.
Through great exercise of faith, she was healed. That testimony and a new perspective on the importance of both of them and their five children made the change permanent. “We love each other more now than ever before and we are happier,” he says, “although we are still poor. Now I am an elder with callings in the Church and I feel I am progressing. Now, more than ever before, I believe that this is the true Church of Christ. I have this testimony by the Spirit. When I try to explain my testimony to my brethren and my friends, I feel as if I’d like to shout to them and tell them, ‘These are the last days. Be faithful!’”
Brother and Sister Flores are one family of many. The conversion rate per month fluctuates between 65 and 80 converts. Family home evening is a program that speaks to the hearts of Peruvians, and converted family members are most eager to share the gospel with other relatives. Wilfredo Rojas of the Comas Second Branch cites as an example the mechanic working on his car. He spotted the bumper sticker about family home evening and asked Brother Rojas to tell him more.
Brother Rojas, who is in charge of the genealogy program in Peru, was also pleased when the Church received recognition from the Order of Malta, an organization enthusiastically involved in genealogy. One of its officers found the information he needed on a point of European ancestry—not in Europe, but in Salt Lake City.
The young people are preparing themselves to be missionaries through study, prayer, and working with the missionaries. (One popular activity is a “door-knocking party,” where the local youth split up and tract with the missionaries.) The yearly average conversion rate is about 850 now.
Local members hold 99 percent of the Church positions, says José Sousa, first counselor in the mission presidency. He quips smilingly, “When a local brother is called upon to be mission president, we will have 100 percent.”
Peru, heart of the ancient empire of the Inca nation, throbs to a new beat these days. The prediction that the time would come when “the South American Mission will be a power in the Church”—Elder Melvin J. Ballard’s promise in 1926—is now being fulfilled among the ridges and valleys of the high Andes in this country.
The Ensign thanks those who provided information for this article: J. R. Allred, President Mario Perioti of the Lima Peru Stake, Wilfredo Rojas, President Russell Bishop of the Peru Lima Mission, and José Sousa, director of seminaries and institutes in Peru.