Yesterday we had a long talk with the Relief Society President here in Izcuchaca. I learned a lot more about the history of the Church here in Izcuchaca, and the strength and Faith of Sister Sonia Mantilla.
I will try to tell the story, but I know that I won`t do it justice. I wish we could have recorded her when she told us, and sent it.
15 Years ago, the First Missionaries arrived in Izcuchaca (and Compone a little pueblo where sister Sonia lives). The Church started to grow very slowly. Brother Richardo Mantilla (Husband of the sister Sonia) was one of the first to embrace the Gospel. He started attending regularly every week in the Chapel/house of Izcuchaca. Sister Sonia was a little more Skeptical, but when she started to see the changes in her husband she decided to go to Church. The entire family got baptized, and became strong in the Gospel. Brother Richardo Mantilla was even called to be the President of the Family group of Izcuchaca.
But then the Missionaries were taken out of Izcuchaca. I won`t tell you what happened, but lets just say that some bad missionaries did what they shouldn`t do. The Family Group of Izcuchaca was destroyed, and the members were told that they would have to travel to Cusco to attend Church. The members became bitter, 1 because of what the missionaries had done, and 2 because they felt that they had been abandoned by the Church. Ever Richardo Mantilla became bitter and vowed that he would never return.
Sonia Mantilla didn´t agree. She understood the importance of her baptismal covenants, and tryed to do all she could to go to church... but it wasn`t possible. Cusco was more than an hour away, and it cost 2 soles to get there and 2 soles to get back. She went a few times, and Richardo got mad because she was using their money to go to church. He didn`t allow her to go.
She didn`t go to church for about 5 months, but she felt absolutely terrible. she didn´t know what to do. Then one day, a man knocked on her door offering to sell her 10 liters of milk fresh from a cow. She felt impressed to buy the milk but didn´t know why. Later, she thought about a neighbor that knew how to make Cheese, and she asked her neighbor to teach her. She taught her, and she sold the cheese. She made 2 soles! 1/2 of a Sunday trip to Cusco. She started buying milk and making cheese and started using HER money to make the trek to Cusco every Sunday.
Little by little she started making more and more cheese, and more and more money. Richardo couldn`t keep her from going to church, because she was using her money. The business started to grow. Now, a little more than 10 years later, she has 15 cows.
But more important, her Faith grew. Sonia didn`t miss one Sunday for more than 12 years. Through that time, her husband did everything he could to discourage her. He started drinking again, because of that, he started beating her, he yelled at her every sunday and tried to stop her from going to church, but she stayed strong.
Week after week, month after month, and year after year Sonia went to church. She grew and came to have a great testimony of the restored gospel. She went to the Temple in Lima and received her endowment, and all of this time she had a prayer in her heart that one day Richardo would change. That one day Richardo would return to the fold.
Three years ago the church returned to Izcuchaca. Missionaries came back, and the members started meeting in the Chapel/house again. The church is growing very very slowly. When I got to Izcuchaca 4 months ago Richardo Mantilla was still very inactive. Then, he started coming to the meetings on sunday, but refused to participate. We started working with him, and teaching him, and yesterday he accepted the assignment to give a talk on families. His Testimony is still weak, but he is starting the journey to return to the church.
As I listened to the Sister Sonia tell this story with tears in her eyes, I couldn`t help but marvel at her faith and strength. She told us that her only dream is to go to the temple with her husband and see him receive his endowment, and then be sealed as a family. I look at the Sister Sonia as a modern day Pioneer. She has been through some very hard challenges, but she has remained true to the faith.
I`m so thankful for the oportunity that I have to know people like the Sister Sonia. I was strengthened as I listened to her story. I hope you were all strengthened too.