“Horacio Tulio Insignares: Magnifying the Priesthood,” Ensign, Aug. 1987, 26
“I know without any doubt that you will hold the priesthood someday,” the mission president told him. “You are worthy of it.”
“President, that is what I desire most. But I will wait with patience until the Lord extends it to me.”
Horacio Tulio Insignares of Bucaramanga, Colombia, a member with black ancestry, had little hope of seeing the fulfillment of that dream during his lifetime. But a year later, he heard some astonishing news: President Spencer W. Kimball had received a revelation from the Lord that “the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, … without regard for race or color.” (See Ensign, July 1978, p. 75.)
Three months later, Brother Insignares became an elder. He has served as stake president since 1981, possibly the first man of his race to hold that office.
When missionaries first spoke to him in 1968, he was confused by their words and wasn’t interested in hearing more. But eight years later, when he saw a similar pair of young men getting off a bus, he suddenly had an urge to talk with them. “When I looked at them, I saw something very different from the rest of the people on the street—something angelic.” He asked them to come to his home that evening.
Unfortunately, his wife, Dora, didn’t share his enthusiasm. Committed to her own church, she refused to meet with them.
When the missionaries came, Horacio again had a hard time understanding their message. “I wasn’t well spiritually. I’d never picked up a Bible and didn’t know how to understand scriptures.” But this time, he kept listening. “I wanted to change. Even though I didn’t understand what they were teaching me, I felt that what they were saying was true.”
However, he did ask many questions. Could Church members drink alcohol? What else should or shouldn’t they do? “I wanted to know so I could start obeying the commandments. I immediately threw away my coffee and alcohol,” he recalls.
The elders came again the next night, and the next—and set a baptismal date for later that month, 26 August 1976. Dora began listening, too, but by August 24, she still hadn’t decided to be baptized. “I challenged her to pray,” says Horacio. That night Dora had a spiritual witness and gained a strong testimony of the Church. Two days later, both were baptized, along with their two oldest children. “I felt I had entered the kingdom of heaven,” Horacio says.
The Insignares family immediately started receiving great blessings—temporal and spiritual. Dora found that she didn’t need to take medication for nervousness anymore. And Horacio’s supervisors started to see him in a new light. One day an idea came to him—“I knew it was from the Lord’s Spirit”—that improved company procedures, and he received a promotion. Then he won an award as best salesman. Later, he and two associates formed their own property management business. Within a year, they were doing so well that a larger company made them an attractive merger offer and Horacio became a partner in the firm. “This is a blessing from the Lord,” Dora told him. “You pay your tithes, you fast, you work hard—and the Lord blesses you.”
Before Horacio’s baptism, the elders had explained that he couldn’t hold the priesthood. “But I didn’t worry about why,” he says. “It didn’t matter. My concern was to be baptized a member of the Church.”
He attended all his meetings, including priesthood meeting, and served as financial secretary and as a counselor in the Sunday School presidency. Then one morning during Sunday School, the inevitable questions consumed his thoughts: Why couldn’t he have the priesthood? Wasn’t he as worthy as others in the branch who did? “I allowed Satan to enter my mind, and I decided I wouldn’t return to sacrament meeting that afternoon.” When he told Dora after they returned home, she says she “felt that something was falling inside of me.”
Dora ran the five blocks from their home to the chapel for help. “I ran like a blind woman because I could hardly see through my tears. When I got there I cried like crazy.”
Meanwhile, Horacio was at home, praying. “One influence was pushing me one way, and another was pushing me another way,” he remembers. When Dora returned with the branch president and the missionaries, “they gave me strength and support and I felt better.”
“Horacio is obedient and humble,” says Dora, “and we went to sacrament meeting that afternoon. I realized then that our testimonies were very strong. I knew we could not leave the Church—and we never did.”
A year later came the priesthood revelation, and the mission president traveled to Bucaramanga in September to interview Horacio. “But on that day, Satan again buffeted me,” he remembers. “He told me I should not go to the interview, that I should not receive the priesthood. Dora went to the appointment, but I stayed home, praying that the Lord would take away the doubts and confusion. Then my prayers were answered—I felt his Spirit and went to the interview.”
The next day, Horacio was ordained an elder and was set apart as branch president. “I remember well how my wife and I hugged each other in the chapel and cried.” Now they could someday be married in the temple and their sons could go on missions.
After serving as branch president for two years, Horacio was called as district president. “My desire then was to have a stake formed in Bucaramanga.” A year later, on 22 November 1981, Elder Robert E. Wells of the First Quorum of the Seventy came to create the Bucaramanga Colombia Stake.
Elder Wells later said: “As I interviewed the various priesthood leaders of that stake, there was that moment of inspiration when I saw the mantle of the Lord descend upon Brother Insignares, that handsome black man, and he was called as the new stake president. It was a moment of great rejoicing to place my hands on his head and with that special authority ordain him a high priest and set him apart as the first stake president in Bucaramanga. He is a man whom I honor and respect highly. For many long years he trusted in the Lord even though he did not understand.” (Brigham Young University 1981–82 Fireside and Devotional Speeches, Provo, Utah: University Publications, 1982, p. 171.)
Hector Elias Ariza, counselor in the stake presidency, remembers well an emotional moment in stake conference five years later when Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve asked President Insignares to stand before the congregation. “He said the president is a man of God, and he encouraged all the members to support him.”
Colombia is a country of great inequalities. Its cities boast tall office buildings, progressive technology, and college-educated professionals. But there is also great economic, political, and spiritual unrest. The green tranquility of downtown plazas contrasts abruptly with the browns and grays of unpaved streets in the poor neighborhoods. Many citizens face sickness or unemployment and have little hope for anything better.
For President Horacio Insignares, the welfare of stake members is of great concern. While personally succeeding in business, he has never forgotten the poverty of his boyhood. Immediately after Horacio’s birth in 1935, his father abandoned the family, and Horacio’s mother took in washing and ironing to support herself and her son.
“Any sick member concerns me,” he says. “Members with economic or marital problems concern me. I can’t leave these problems for any amount of time; I try to resolve them as soon as possible.”
Sister Otilia Gomez, a mother of nine, needed an urgent operation but had no money. “Take her to the hospital now,” the president told her husband. He assured the doctors they would be paid, then set about raising the money. “The members helped by contributing, and after one or two days, we had the money to pay for the operation.”
When Sister Gomez talks about President and Sister Insignares, she refers to them as parents—not only for their support when she was sick, but also for many other times they’ve freely given their love. “When he asked me to work in Relief Society, I was nervous because I’d never had a calling before. But he gave me support and I felt I could do it. I’ve worked in Relief Society ever since.”
An elderly widower worried about what would happen to his young children after he died. “I have no one else to leave them with,” he said. “Will you take care of them?” The president promised to so do.
When an extremist group bombed three LDS chapels in Bucaramanga, President Insignares urged the members to forgive and pray for the offenders. Then he met with the group’s leaders and asked them to stop. There have been no further problems.
When he was district president, one of Horacio’s greatest desires was to take the gospel to his hometown, Barrancabermeja, 2 1/2 hours away. At first the mission president was skeptical about opening up that town, but he authorized Horacio to take a missionary there and bring back a recommendation.
Horacio, Dora, their oldest son, and a missionary were soon on their way to his mother’s home, where thirty-five people were waiting to hear the first discussion. They were almost there when the car broke down. “Satan isn’t going to stop us,” he muttered. Hiding his car in a field—hoping to find it there when he returned—he hailed down a bus and took his family and the missionary to the meeting. “Here are the people,” he told the elder. “Teach them while I go get my car.”
The reaction to that evening’s gospel message was so positive that the mission president authorized the missionaries to return for one day—then two days—per week. President Insignares drove them each time; they ate, slept, and taught at his mother’s home. Soon elders worked there full time.
The first converts in the city were a relative and her fiancé. Then people started getting baptized in groups of ten and twelve, Horacio recalls. A year later, the branch became a ward. After three years, there were six hundred members of the Church there. Today Barrancabermeja has eight hundred members and two wards.
“One Sunday while I was getting ready for my meetings, I felt I needed to go to Barrancabermeja right then, even though I didn’t know why. When we got there, I saw a friend I’d known since I was little.
“‘Hermano,’ the man said, ‘I told my wife I would go with her to church today, and if I found a friend there, I would be baptized.’
“That’s why the Lord wanted me to be in that meeting,” says President Insignares. That man later became bishop of the ward.
Another priority for the stake president is to see that the members learn to live the gospel. A few years ago, he became concerned about a ward’s low activity rate and about one of its members, a 25-year-old single man. After learning that the man had stopped going to church so he could play soccer, he invited him in for an interview and called him to serve as a counselor in the bishopric. The young man accepted and dedicated himself to the work—especially with the youth—and the number of active young men in the ward soon rose from two to twenty.
President Insignares sees a great need to teach the basics of the gospel: “The problem I worry about most is that we haven’t yet learned to really love one another.” The stake presidency, high council, and bishops are studying about charity and praying for it in their own lives. And they’re carrying the message to each ward.
“When Church members feel bad toward someone,” says Sister Insignares, “they sometimes want my husband to feel the way they do. But I have seen him use his authority in a beautiful manner to work for peace. He tries to help the members understand that what matters is what the Lord wants, not what they want. I’ve seen him be terribly hurt personally, and then seek out the offender and give him an abrazo [a hug] and express his love.”
President Insignares knows the difference the gospel can make to husbands, wives, and families. One month before he became stake president, he and Dora used their savings to go to the Salt Lake Temple to be sealed. They’re looking forward to a temple in Bogotá so they can be sealed as a family.
They have five children: Hugo and Dionne (de Calderón), each married, with one child; Horacio, on a mission in Colombia; and teenagers Jorge and Milady, who are still at home. Rounding out the family are two dogs: Kimber, a large but friendly German shepherd, and pint-size Pitufo.
The living room in their home reflects the warmth of many home evenings. Pictures of temples, prophets, and the Savior hang on the walls. Scriptures, Church books, and Liahona magazines on shelves and tables are read often.
“While I was growing up, we would read the scriptures often, and Dad would explain what they mean,” says son Horacio. “We would talk about things happening in our home and set goals. And we would always have family prayer. Sometimes Dad would show us filmstrips about the Church and ask us questions about them.”
Hugo remembers the interview he had with his father upon being released from his mission: “I felt like I was losing something, as if the angels who had watched over me during my mission were leaving me. I started feeling like a little boy, very alone and needing protection. My father must have understood, because we were both crying. I wanted refuge in his arms, and he gave me a hug. I could feel great love, both his love for me and my love for him.”
When Dionne and Milady were told they must partake of the Holy Eucharist or be expelled from their Catholic girls’ school, their father let them decide how to handle it. “The school authorities told me that if I said I didn’t care about the Church, they’d give me a scholarship for all my schooling until college,” says Dionne. “But I told them not to give me anything because I preferred the Church.” The girls transferred to another school.
Shortly afterward, a friend observed, “You have great faith, Dionne.”
“It comes from my father’s example,” she replied.
Putting his arms around Milady, President Insignares gives his daughter a warm squeeze. “Before we were members of the Church we had problems,” he says. “Today, even though we have challenges, I think we are happy. Don’t you think so, my little girl?”
“Si, Papi,” she giggles.
His leadership, his personable nature, his genuine love for people, and his warm, friendly smile have made President Insignares a highly respected man in Bucaramanga. As he walks down the street he greets—and is greeted by—many. And he treats everyone the same. The man selling newspapers gets the same kind word as the attorney or government leader. He buys an item from a street vendor who is recently out of prison and needs work. He hugs a peddler woman on the street: she is a sister in the Church and he is not ashamed to show love to her, even in public.
“We are very happy,” he says, “to have a home in which we love each other and to be serving the Lord whom we love. Things have gone well for us; we cannot desire more than we have. We thank him each day for all the good things he gives us.”