“Saints of Peru, Bolivia Eager for Temple Blessing,” Ensign, Jan. 1986, 79
Peru, nestled at the top of the Pacific Coast “spine” of South America, is only a medium-size American country, but it covers a continent’s-worth of extremes.
From the lower, tropical jungles near Iquitos, on the Amazon in the northeastern part of Peru, the terrain rises to more than 22,000 feet at Huascaran Peak in the Andes. Accordingly, temperatures within the country vary from one end of the thermometer to the other.
Peru’s history stretches from domination by the Incan empire through Spanish colonialism to the modern republic. In its cities are found wealthy Peruvians, enjoying the lifestyle of western Europe and the United States, while at least one tribe of natives still follows primitive ways deep in the jungle. On the whole, Peru and neighboring Bolivia are probably the two countries most economically disadvantaged in South America. Once dominated by the Incas, they share much today in history, geography, and culture.
While Peru does not compare in size with the giants of its continent—Brazil and Argentina—Peru nevertheless is as big as Great Britain, France, and Spain combined. The mighty Amazon River begins in the eastern part of the country, as the Rio Ucayali. Once, before the airplane, travelers going from Iquitos to their nation’s capital, about six hundred miles away, had to choose between the arduous trek through the jungles and over the Andes or a 7,000-mile trip down the Amazon to the Atlantic, up to the Panama Canal, and back down the Pacific Coast to Lima. Most chose the latter.
Structures devoted to religious purposes are not new to Peruvians. They have, after all, the world-renowned Incan ruins and impressive cathedrals, particularly in Lima, where the influence of Spanish colonialism is still easily seen.
Now the more than 100,000 Peruvian Latter-day Saints have a temple of their own. The beautiful, modern structure stands in Lima’s La Molina area.
“It is a blessing for our country,” says Jose Marquez, a Young Adult representative in the Caja de Aguas Ward, Lima Peru Central Stake. “Not only will the members benefit, but also the nonmembers. This is a sign that the Lord loves this land.”
“Now it will be possible to go to the temple of the Lord and have our families sealed for time and eternity. It will be within the ability of every Church member to save enough money to travel to the temple and enjoy this blessing of the Lord,” says Jorge Leano, regional representative for the La Paz Bolivia, Cochabamba Bolivia, and Santa Cruz Bolivia regions.
While Peru and Bolivia are ancient lands, the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in those countries is not long.
Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Council of the Twelve, accompanied by President Rulon S. Wells and President Rey L. Pratt of the First Council of the Seventy, dedicated South America for the preaching of the gospel in 1925. It was not until 6 July 1956, however, that the first branch in Peru was organized as part of the Uruguay Mission. In 1979, President Ezra Taft Benson, then president of the Council of the Twelve, rededicated the land for the preaching of the gospel. At that time Peru had some 30,500 Church members and five stakes.
Now there are twenty-eight stakes, ten districts, and four missions in Peru. In a country of approximately nineteen million people, the Church is growing at the rate of 15 percent per year.
In Bolivia, a country of more than six million people, Church growth has been similar. The first missionaries did not arrive there until 1959. The first stake was organized in 1979. Now there are eight stakes, seven districts, and a mission, with a total of more than 30,000 members.
Many Church members in Peru and Bolivia live in humble circumstances, especially in the high altiplano areas, where making a living can be hard. Regardless of background or economic station, however, members who will use the new Lima Peru Temple express their eagerness for the blessings its dedication will bring.
“I am excited, and we are preparing so that we can be worthy as a family to go to the temple,” said Ester Enciso of the Santa Cruz Ward, Lima Peru Limatambo Stake.
Hernan Pesantes, patriarch of the Limatambo Stake, noted that as Church members, Peruvian and Bolivian Saints “now have a greater responsibility to better our family life each day, and our faithfulness” in order to understand and live fully the covenants of the temple.
It is obvious in the commitment of members who will be able to go there frequently that they are not taking the temple for granted. Maritza Obadilla, Young Women secretary in the Chaclacayo Ward of the Lima Peru San Luis Stake, expressed her own gratitude for “the opportunity to make covenants with the Lord that cannot be made in any other place.” But, she added, entering the temple brings to members a dual responsibility: first, worthiness to receive their own blessings, and second, the duty to keep the Lord’s house constantly in use in the service of others.
Correspondent: Robert Whitchurch