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Mormon apostle visits Venezuela and Peru, says LDS Church is strong and growing (+photo gallery)

Published: Thursday, Sept. 12 2013 1:20 p.m. MDT

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve visited Latter-day Saints in Peru in August 2013.

James Dalrymple, IRI

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Tad R. Callister of the Presidency of the Seventy traveled to Venezuela and Peru Aug. 16 to 26, meeting with members and missionaries and conducting an area review and priesthood leadership training meetings. Elder Cook and Elder Callister were accompanied on the trip by their wives, Sister Mary Cook and Sister Kathryn Callister. They were also accompanied on portions of the trip by members of the church's South America Northwest Area presidency: Elder Juan A. Uceda and his wife, Sister Maria Uceda; Elder W. Christopher Waddell and his wife, Sister Carol Waddell; and Elder C. Scott Grow and his wife, Sister Rhonda Grow.

In each country Elder Cook and Elder Callister said they met local members and leaders who were "outstanding and spiritually strong" and who "focused on their temple covenants."

Venezuela

Elder Cook and Elder Callister visited Venezuela, located on the northern coast of South America, on Aug. 16-18. During an adult devotional to a large congregation that was broadcast throughout the country, Elder Cook left an apostolic blessing on the people and country that face many challenges. He also bore witness of the Savior and the Atonement.

"I know that there's been hardship in their lives that are beyond what most of the Saints across the world face," he said in a discussion with the Church News. "And I felt inspired to talk to them about how the Savior's Atonement overcomes not only sin and death, not only allows us to have exaltation and salvation, but that it does cover all of the heartache, all of the heartbreak, all of the evils, all of the seeming unfairness of life."

The church has a strong and growing membership in Venezuela. The first branch of the church was organized in the country in 1966 and the Venezuela Mission was created in July 1971. Today the country has some 150,000 members, four missions and a temple, dedicated in 2000 by President Gordon B. Hinckley.

Elder Cook's assignment in Venezuela was the first time in many years an apostle could meet with members and conduct large-scale priesthood leadership meetings in the country.

He said "the kindness and the sweet approach" of the Latter-day Saints in Venezuela and their "obvious love of the Savior" was remarkable. Being with them was "a very tender, sweet experience."

Elder Callister said the Venezuelan Latter-day Saints were "hungry to hear the words of an apostle."

"They love the gospel and want to be in touch with some of the leaders."

He added that although many in the country struggle economically "they are happy. They are positive. They are very receptive to all the messages. They had a spiritual hunger in their eyes and their hearts to be fed."

Because of the political climate in Venezuela, North American missionaries were removed from the country in 2005.

Elder Cook — then executive director of the church's Missionary Department — said because native Venezuelan missionaries made up only about 50 percent of the missionary force in the country at the time, the church looked at consolidating the four missions.

"The leadership in Venezuela said, 'We know that the Venezuelan missionaries left could only fill two normal-size missions, but please don't do that. We will rise up, and we will call additional young people and we will fill those missions.' And they've done it."

Elder Cook said during his recent trip he looked at the missionaries with tender feelings.

"They were spiritually strong and you could just tell that they were fabulous. And the success they've been having is rather remarkable," he said, noting that Venezuela is one of the higher baptizing missions in the church. "The members support them in a wonderful way."

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