LDS Columbians enlist faith amid troubled times
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Folks who wander through the small public park near the Bogota Colombia Temple can perhaps thank the Spirit of Elijah when the paths and gardens are well-groomed.
The baptistry inside the temple cannot always accommodate the large youth groups that often fill the temple so the young men and women waiting for space to open up are occasionally enlisted to spruce up the temple grounds and the nearby park.
The flexibility of the youth and other temple-goers reflects the devotion of many LDS Colombians amid troubled times. Struggle has become synonymous with the South American country. Colombians continue to suffer through a decades-old civil war that has claimed thousands and offers few hints of ending. Most of the nation is feeling the bite of economic woe.
"A lot of Church members and leaders are without jobs," said Miriam Muťoz Santacruz, an LDS woman from the interior city of Cali.
Indeed, about 18 percent of Colombians are reportedly unemployed and roughly 60 percent are considered "sub- employed," or barely able to cover the expenses of life's basic needs, said Bogota Colombia Temple President Jerry P. Cahill.
Still, many endure. Temple attendance in Bogota this year is higher than the average recorded over the past three years. Busloads of members continue to travel from the corners of Colombia to claim temple blessings. The commitment of the faithful "hasn't diminished at all," said President Cahill, adding he had just welcomed a group of 40 Tulua youth to the temple who had traveled hundreds of miles to reach the capital city.
Much of the activity inside the Bogota temple results from the Colombian members' devotion to family history research. The vast majority of the work comes from personal family lines, President Cahill said.
Sister Santacruz said each temple trip typically represents faith and sacrifice.
"Members do activities and sell things to raise funds to go to the temple at least once a year," she added.
Latter-day Saints are also doing what they can to help themselves and their fellow ward and branch members.
"The active members are very united," said Fabian Hernandez of Palmira. "Because of the bad economy members have tried to help each other."
Bishops have also asked their congregations to be diligent home and visiting teachers so leaders can be more effective in supporting the members, said Sister Muťoz. Many are following Church counsel to set aside food and other provisions to prepare for troubled times.
"Every Wednesday we have classes to learn how to can food," Sister Santacruz said.
Time will tell when internal and economic strife leave this soccer-crazed, picturesque country. Meanwhile, President Cahill finds hope whenever he witnesses scores of Colombian youth and their families finding sanctuary in the temple.
"They have found great spiritual strength."