Thirty-seven years ago while serving as a missionary in Otavalo, Ecuador, I had the distinct impression that a great missionary work was about to proceed among the Quechua-speaking natives living in the hills surrounding the town. However, when I met with the mission president at a zone conference a short time later he informed me that he was transferring all of the other missionaries out of my district, leaving just me and my companion. Additionally, he instructed me to not go into the countryside to teach but instead to only work with the Spanish speaking residents in town.
I wrestled with this apparent contradiction the whole day during the bus ride back to Otavalo and later while lying in bed at night. There was no question that I was going to obey the President’s directive, but I struggled with the apparent conflict. While pondering this matter, the song We Are All Enlisted kept coming into my mind. Then the verse in Doctrine & Covenants 84:107 came into my mind stating that we are to send the Aaronic Priesthood before us “to fill appointments that you yourselves are not able to fill.” My mind’s eye opened up so that I could see the Quechua speaking members teaching their relatives and neighbors by themselves without direct full-time missionary involvement.
The following Sunday we informed the small branch (congregation) that we were not authorized to teach in the countryside any more, so it was now all up to them. The burden of teaching their community rested directly on their shoulders, but we would help them learn how to teach the gospel message to their friends and family. We told them that they had to do a good job because I would interview everyone who wanted to be baptized and if they were not ready they would have to wait. We then proceeded to instruct the members how to be good branch missionaries.
A few weeks later, one of the members asked me to interview a couple of his relatives to see if they were ready for baptism. The whole way out there the member kept saying that he had taught them everything he knew, so he kept pleading that I would “pass them.” Needless to say, they were taught much better than anyone I had personally taught.
The taller young man in the photo below was the first individual who was baptized after being taught exclusively by the local branch members. There were many individuals who followed him into the waters of baptism. In fact, the work exploded among the Quechua-speaking community. To give you an idea of how quickly the work progressed once they got me out of the way, one year later so many persons had joined the Church in this small community that they built a chapel. On my last Sunday in Ecuador, I was able to attend the first worship service this now large branch of several hundred members held in their beautiful new chapel. Two years later they formed a stake (which is similar to a Catholic Diocese with several parishes) in this community. I soon realized that because this Quechua-speaking community was so close-knit they were not very receptive to foreigners but were much more open to hear the message from individuals in their own community. As you can imagine, I cherish this photo of the first family to lead this phenomenal conversion story.
Unfortunately, like too many missionaries, I did not keep in touch with the people from my mission. I had no contact with any of the LDS members from that small town for 37 years until last night, when we held the reception for the coordinators of the Bountiful Children’s Foundation from Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, and Cambodia. I was pleased to find out that the representative from Ecuador was from this small town I served in years ago. When I showed the coordinator from Ecuador this photo hanging in a prominent spot in my den and he was shocked to see that it was a picture of his family! The Bountiful coordinator is the small child kneeling on the right side in the picture. His older brother was the first person to be baptized under this member missionary approach and is now a bishop in the Church. The Bountiful coordinator is now the stake president (similar to the arch bishop who presides over a diocese).
Not only was this event last night a great tender mercy from the Lord to me, it was also a tender mercy to the Bountiful coordinator. He did not remember me, or course, but he did remember his family kneeling down and praying for the first time together and having their picture taken. To this day he wished he had a copy of this picture. Now he does.