The teacher pulled her aside one day and told her she was wrong — what she believed wasn’t right.
Marcela Buitrago was in the third grade and it was the first time she remembers anyone confronting her about her religion.
“She told me that it was not right and that I shouldn’t worship Joseph Smith,” she said. “I remember telling her, ‘My church is called the Church of Jesus Christ, not the Church of Joseph Smith. We believe in Jesus Christ.'”
Buitrago, a 21-year-old from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, is one of many from around the world who has grown up as the only member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in her area. Although July 24 is usually reserved for parades and pioneer attire, there are still individuals today who are forging a path for the gospel in their own homelands, and that is certainly something to celebrate.
For Tarisai Machanzi, a BYU-Idaho student studying civil engineering, growing up LDS was difficult because most people from his hometown, Mutare, Zimbabwe, misunderstood the beliefs and practices of the Church.
“Most people believe the Church to be a cult since we use the Book of Mormon and not just the Bible,” he said. “It is common to be shunned upon at school if you are Mormon or Islamic. Mormons are either considered Satanic or people who worship God the wrong way.”
Machanzi commented that many people from the upper and middle classes know or have heard about the Church; however, most of them believe it to be non-Christian because of its uniqueness compared to the Pentecostal churches in the area. Because many people think the Church is a cult, fear and misunderstanding lead to consequences for members.
“Most members of the Church are part-member families,” Machanzi said. “I know a lot of people who got disowned for joining the church. Lots of people lose their jobs when their bosses discover they are Mormon.”
Anggita Putri, an MPA student at the BYU Marriott School of Management from Bogor, Indonesia, said there were also people from her hometown who misunderstood the Church. She shared an experience from high school where she pointed out the church building to a friend on the drive home.
“He said, ‘I thought that was an evil church,’ and I was shocked,” Putri said. “So, the opposition was not physical, but we still received opposition.”
Putri also pointed out that “everywhere is different in Indonesia” because of how big the country is. Many people just know the Church because it’s “the church with the American missionaries,” she said.
Because Putri was the only member her age, she had a lot of time to think about the Church and what she really believed.
“I couldn’t rely on my parents’ testimonies,” she said. “That pushed me to apply the scriptures and really ask, ‘Do I really believe in the Church?'”
Putri and Buitrago were born into the Church and expressed gratitude to their parents for having the courage to meet with the missionaries and join the Church when they did. Both also had the opportunity to be sealed to their families in neighboring temples, as neither Honduras nor Indonesia have a temple yet.
Putri was among the first group of members from Indonesia to travel to the Taipei Taiwan Temple to be sealed to her family. In both countries, it is a large sacrifice for the members to travel to the temple, but the journey is made easier every year as more temples are built in surrounding countries.
“It’s expensive for a lot of people, but the Church makes it possible for them to go.” Putri said, adding that the members in Indonesia go to the Manila Philippines Temple almost every year now.
In Honduras, the closest temple used to be a 14 hour drive. The opening of the temple in El Salvador last year reduced that to four hours and now a temple is being constructed in Honduras.
Because of missionary efforts and modern day pioneers, the Church is continuing to grow and expand all over the world, continually overcoming opposition in its way.
“The Church has a bright future in Zimbabwe,” Machanzi said. “Right now kids are being born in the Church, and with time
they will grow and become leaders. More missionaries are being sent and the gospel is going to spread much faster. Currently, I can say the Church is laying a foundation in Zimbabwe.”
Being a pioneer doesn’t just mean traveling across the plains and desert to reach the Salt Lake Valley. Through example, struggle, faith and progress, Latter-day Saints are proving that the definition of a pioneer is much broader.
“We are not loud-spoken, but we are the examples in our family,” Putri said. “I wasn’t always brave enough to talk to my friends, but I was being a good example and showing others how the gospel has changed my life.”