In 1996 President Gordon B Hinkley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uttered his famous challenge to the Chilean saints:
“Now is the time, this is the hour, to make a resolution within your heart to stand a little taller as a Latter-day Saint, to live the gospel a little more fully, to honor the Lord in your life, and to do the right thing at all times and in all circumstances.”
Damian Andres Vergara, a member of a devout Catholic family living in Vina del Mar, Chile, was just 3 years old when President Hinckley said this. It would be twenty years before these words would give meaning and purpose to his life.
“My name is Damian. I’m 22 years old. I’m from Chile and I’m Mormon. This word may sound pretty normal for everyone in the LDS world, but a year and a half ago it wasn’t normal to me. Even now it is really hard to explain it to some of my family and friends,” said Damian.
“Everything started when I went to visit my aunt and her family in Washington. They are Mormon and I was not surprised when the first thing they asked me after our hellos was ‘Do you want to meet the missionaries?’ This was not the first time they asked me this and I said no, again. They probably thought that it was my time, but I didn’t know that. I always wanted to accept, but I was afraid of what my family and friends would say.”
“A week later they planned a trip to Salt Lake right on General Conference day. I knew the reason why they wanted to go that day, but we didn’t even have tickets so I was not worried about sitting with thousands of Mormons for two hours. Then someone told us that we didn’t need to try to get tickets because it was all full and they only had tickets for Internationals. It was true. I got tickets and had the opportunity to be at the Saturday Afternoon session and Priesthood session. When you are there you can feel that something special is going on. The Choir did a wonderful job, plus the talk of President Monson was the confirmation that I was waiting for.
“At that precise moment I decided to do what Heavenly Father wanted me to do, all the feelings that I had before went out of my head, and I was not afraid anymore. I knew that from that moment I will never be alone; He will always be with me.”
“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.”
– Pablo Neruda, Chilean 1971 Nobel Prize Winner, poet, and diplomat
“I got baptized three weeks after that. My family and friends in Chile didn’t know what was happening. Two days after my baptism, I flew back to Chile. My family noticed that I was different, not drinking tea or coffee, and they asked me what was going on. I tried to explain to them, but they didn’t listen. Three weeks later, they were still mad. They didn’t want to talk with me and every Sunday was a discussion, when I was going to church. It was a hard time for me, but I knew that it was not going to be forever, they will get used to it and they will understand.
“During those times when I felt alone or sad, music was a great medicine to me.”
“I am so grateful for everyone who does music and especially [pianist] Garth Smith. I started listening to his music when all this was happening. During the hard times, his music always gave me happiness and hope. My favorite is Missionary Medley.
“Every step I take and in everything that I accomplish in life, I remember those [difficult] moments because those were the moments that made me stronger and made me work harder to be a better son, a better brother, and a better man.
“Missionaries are so important when you are new at Church. You spend time with them and you want to be like them. They do a wonderful job and I experienced that. They gave me the greatest gift that someone could get. That is why I want to repay that and I am preparing to serve a mission. I don’t care about the place where I will go—I only care about the people who are waiting to change their lives and need the happiness that only the true gospel could give.
“My advice to everyone out there is to not be afraid. Don’t close your door to happiness. Everything will work out and, if you have a time that you feel sad or lost, scriptures and music will help a lot.”
Damian Andres Vergara makes his home in Vina del Mar, Chile. An award-winning writer, Damian recently completed a degree in International Business. He enjoys walking, running, and skiing. Vergara especially loves spending time in nature. “On the mountains or at the beach I feel something special for God’s creation and it is great opportunity to feel closer to Him.”