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SALT LAKE CITY — For those in South America, where membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has grown exponentially over the last several decades, the opportunity to see their prophet is a rare and coveted experience.
“In these very difficult and crazy times, to have someone who represents the Lord in all his wisdom and can guide us in all that we have to do is, I think, the most important thing,” one young man in Peru told the church's newsroom.
Faithful Latter-day Saints believe the church president has been chosen by God to lead the church, and that he receives revelation or guidance from God, both for members and the world.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spent nine days, Oct. 19-28, ministering to church members who live in South America.
"If you're keeping the commandments of God, you will feel joy every day of your life," President Nelson told saints in Peru, kicking off the tour to five South American countries — just months after he returned from a global tour to Europe, Asia and Africa.
President Nelson, accompanied by his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Lesa Stevenson, returned from the tour Monday after visiting members of the church in Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile; some of these members traveled hundreds of miles to see the man they call prophet.
Here are some of the highlights from President Nelson’s trip:
As President Nelson prepared to meet the president of Peru, a tour guide outside the government palace ventured a question.
“Who is that man?” she asked, according to a report from Church News.
Then she added another query as she looked to President Nelson: “Will you bless Peru?”
Later that day, the 94-year-old leader honored her request during a broadcast devotional.
During his visit to Peru, President Nelson visited with the president of the country, Martín Vizcarra, who is new to the post but cognizant of the 600,000 members of the church in his country, the Church News reported.
The president was warm and welcoming, President Nelson said afterward, and the two discussed a variety of issues — including children’s welfare and world corruption.
“He was very concerned about the welfare of the children,” President Nelson said, according to the Church News. “And he asked for our help with their children, so they won’t feel lonely or poverty-stricken.”
President Nelson then praised Vizcarra for the work he has done to fight corruption in local government, and added that he’s “loved by the people because he’s anti-corruption.”
The church president finished the day by speaking to 900 missionaries in the area, and then by surprising another congregation in Lima by giving a speech in Spanish.
“Tonight’s meeting was very special for me and also for the people of my country,” a young man at the event said.
El Alto, Bolivia
The very next day, President Nelson also surprised members of the church in Bolivia by again dismissing his translator and speaking in Spanish as he had done in Peru.
“One of the parts that was very happy for us was to listen to him speaking in Spanish, in our language, and he made us a wonderful promise for our families,” said a young man at the event.
Some members began gathering three hours before the meeting was due to start to hear the prophet speak. During the meeting, President Nelson had the children in the congregation stand up and wave their arms, then sing “I am a Child of God” — a favorite children’s hymn in the church.
“There’s the future of Bolivia, the future of the church in Bolivia,” he said afterward.
In Paraguay, President Nelson spoke to a small group of millennials and allowed them to ask questions, then spoke to a larger audience later in the day during a conference where he advised members to strengthen their families.
“I was very happy to be close to the voice of the Lord on the earth. I felt a very deep love and concern for each one of us. Even though we just met him, I felt like President Nelson knows us personally,” Diego Cristaldo told the church's Newsroom after the young adult event.
In Uruguay, President Nelson met a four-generation Latter-day Saint family — all of whom are still living. He then spoke to the people of Uruguay during another conference and asked the children to stand up and wave again.
Soon after, he accompanied his grandson, who is serving as a missionary in the area, to a dinner appointment.
In a meeting with Pope Francis' biographer, President Nelson also condemned religious violence and encouraged members of the Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ to work together to "stem the tide of violence," according to the Deseret News.
"We should love one another," he told Sergio Rubin, author of the international bestselling authorized biography, "Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio."
He emphasized that violence has no place in society after Rubin asked him about extremists whose violence is motivated by religion.
On Sunday, President Nelson concluded his tour of South America by dedicating the Concepción Chile Temple — a place where Latter-day Saints believe they can make sacred promises with God.
Chile is home to a temple in the nation’s capital, Santiago, but the length of the trip made it difficult for some members of the church to attend. The dedication of the temple in Concepcion makes that trip vastly easier for those members.
Prior to the dedication, President Nelson was joined by Elder Stevenson and other church leaders in an exterior cornerstone ceremony. Three sessions of the religious meeting followed, where a dedicatory prayer was offered inside the building.
“The dedicatory session was extraordinary," Latter-day Saint Nakad Saade told the church's newsroom. "A spiritual experience that lifts us up. It invites us to serve even more in the House of the Lord.”
The day before the dedicatory service, President Nelson held a luncheon with dignitaries, including Jaqueline Van Rysselberghe, a senator and national president of the Unión Demócrata Independiente party.
“I’ve met members of the church from different parts of the city, and there was a common thing about all of them: They all have a great spirit of service among them," Rysselverghe said. "When we have had emergencies — and in this city, we have had many emergencies — many members of the church volunteer to help, to serve and to assist on behalf of other people. Therefore, what we see here today, the beauty of this building, reflects the beauty of the souls of the members of the church."
Later Saturday, more than a thousand of Chilean youth attended a devotional where they heard from President and Sister Nelson, Elder and Sister Stevenson and Bishop and Sister Caussé.
“At lunch [Saturday] I told one of our distinguished guests that the safest place to be in Chile in an earthquake is in the temple in Concepcion,” President Nelson told the youth. “It's the safest place physically and spiritually. The temple is a holy place. It's like heaven on earth. We are very grateful for this magnificent house of the Lord. … The temple is the object of every activity, every lesson and every progressive step in the church.”
More than 200 temples are either in operation, announced, under construction or being renovated worldwide, and 17 temples in South America.