Out of obscurity
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The opening section of the Doctrine and Covenants includes the prophecy that the Church will emerge "out of obscurity and out of the darkness." That day may have arrived in much of South America.
"We are out of obscurity and darkness," said Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve following his recent return from South America. "This truth is reflected in the way [South American] government officials know and recognize the Church, and how Church representatives are received whenever we come."
Elder Bednar accompanied a fellow and more senior apostle, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, on an Oct. 19-28 visit to the South America South Area. They were joined on their assignment by Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy, along with their wives, Sister Kristen Oaks, Sister Susan Bednar and Sister Diane Hallstrom. Highlights of the Brethren's visit included a review of the South America South Area; missionary and priesthood leadership meetings; and youth and young single adult devotionals that were broadcast across Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
They were hosted during their travels by the Area Presidency — Elder Mervyn B. Arnold, Elder Jorge F. Zeballos and Elder Francisco J. Vinas of the Seventy. The visiting General Authorities also enjoyed an audience with a wide range of government and religious officials — including Uruguayan President Jose Mujica and Paraguayan President Luis Federico Franco.
"Every one of the officials we met showed great respect for the Church," said Elder Oaks, whose schedule also included a visit with the archbishop of Santiago, Chile, Monsignor Ricardo Ezzati Andrello. "Most were very knowledgeable about the Church.... I was very pleased with the respectful spirit with which we were received."
Elder Oaks credited local members for the burgeoning friendship enjoyed by the Church and many civic leaders in southern South America. "We've had a succession of very fine leaders in the South America South and Chile Areas. They have laid a good foundation."
He also noted the personal associations that many government leaders have experienced with individual members. Those positive associations have yielded trust and respect — resulting in a "tipping point" of access for visiting Church leaders such as Elder Oaks, Elder Bednar and Elder Hallstrom.
Local government leaders, Elder Bednar observed, "are aware of and respect our values."
The apostles also marveled, with a smile, at the number of government leaders (including Paraguayan President Franco) who have played basketball with various members. Uruguayan Interior Minister Eduardo Bonomi Verala, for example, became acquainted with Elder Vinas years ago during spirited "battles" on the hardwood.
Elder Oaks, Elder Bednar and Elder Hallstrom also relished the time they spent with thousands of members across the South America South Area.
"I was highly impressed with the deepening multi-generational Church in these countries," said Elder Hallstrom. "It's common to see fourth-generation members."
The itineraries of the visiting authorities included meetings with more than 1,800 missionaries serving in the area's four nations. "We shook hands with all of the missionaries that we met and they looked good," said Elder Oaks. "It was an impressive force of missionaries from North and South America."
Some 15,000 people also viewed a pair of devotionals for area youth and young single adults, respectively. Elder Oaks presided over the young single adult devotional, which was broadcast to 326 locations throughout the area. Elder Bednar was the presiding authority at the youth devotional, which was seen by young people, ages 12 to 18, and their parents gathered in 439 locations.
The southern nations of South America have become, as prophesied, a power in the Church. "But there is still a lot of work to do in these countries," said Elder Oaks.
At each training meeting and devotional, the visiting Brethren spoke of the importance of achieving a higher level of "real growth" through increases in sacrament meeting attendance, temple endowments and marriages and young people serving full-time missions. In the young single adult devotional, for example, Elder Oaks emphasized the importance of partaking of the sacrament each Sunday.
"It's imperative," he said, "that you attend sacrament meeting and partake of the sacrament each Sabbath day so that you will have the promise that you will always have the Spirit to be with you."
In the youth devotional, young men and young women were invited to ask questions of Elder Bednar, Elder Hallstrom and the other General Authorities. The Brethren answered a wide range of questions about missionary preparation and remaining righteous in an increasingly wicked world.
"Many of the questions had to do with spiritual conversion, which is a central part of our message," said Elder Hallstrom. "We were very impressed with their depth of thinking."
The Brethren also counseled local priesthood leaders that real growth can be realized in the area only with increases in missionary service and retention. A prolific core of returned missionaries is needed to ensure future generations of seasoned leaders, said Elder Oaks.
The testimonies of the visiting General Authorities were heard by more than members and civic leaders. Elder Bednar was featured on a Paraguayan public television program where he discussed the Church and its Christ-centered history and doctrines. "We taught the gospel for 30 minutes on national TV," he said. "It was great."
Elder Arnold described the visit of the General Authorities and their wives as "inspiring, uplifting and very informative."
"Their love, kindness and teaching will be forever remembered."