Friday, June 13, 2014

La Capilla Abierta

"Venid y Ved"

"Come and See"

      The Argentina Neuquen Mission is so pleased to have the Capilla Abierta Program. "Capilla Abierta" means "Open Chapel" or what is referred to in the United States as an Open House.  Our history with this fantastic program began when President and Sister Lovell went to a Mission Presidents´Seminar in the fall of 2013.  There they met the Area Coordinators for the program who just happened to be Elder and Sister Doug Knapp, old friends of President Lovell.  Sister Lovell was so excited about the program she put in a request for the full Capilla Abierta kit.  After working through several technicalities, our mission was approved to receive one of the six kits then available in the entire church.  Elder and Sister Ehmke were called to be the mission coordinators for the program.  They eagerly drove the mission truck to Buenos Aires for training and to bring the materials back to Neuquen.

Elder and Sister Ehmke,
Capilla Abierta Coordinators

     The Capilla Abierta "Venid y Ved" is a program with a missionary focus, the purpose of which is to bring souls unto Christ.  Based on the concept of the Visitors´Center, the Capilla Abierta is held in ward and branch meetinghouses, where sister missionaries conduct tours and teach principles of the Gospel.  It is a joint effort between full-time missionaries and members.  The purposes of the Capilla Abierta Program are:

                     1.  To attract nonmembers and generate missionary referrals
                     2.  To strengthen less-active and active members of the Church and encourage them to
                           prepare for the temple
                      3.  To motivate young men and women to serve full time missions
                      4.  To increase the spirit of missionary work in the ward or branch
                      5.  To improve the relations between full time missionaries and members

     President and Sister Lovell were excited to begin the program and invited all the stake presidents in the mission to a mission home asado.  The intent was to begin the Capilla Abierta Program on a small, local level, introducing it to the two stakes in Neuquen.  Once the stake presidents learned about the program, requests were made that same evening for events throughout the mission. The plan of beginning simply and locally was immediately modified.  Elder and Sister Ehmke began filling their calendar!  In the following months, 20 Capillas Abiertas were held covering every stake and district in the mission!  

     The direction from the Area Office was to hold a minimum of two events each month.  However, enthusiasm prevailed.  An average of four events each month was held.  This meant traveling to each unit holding a Capilla Abierta two times:  once for their ward or branch training and meeting with all of the missionaries who were going to be serving in the event and once to hold the Capilla Abierta. The statistics speak wonders for the success of this program in the mission:

                      Number of Non-Members Attending                              525
                      Number of Less-Active Members Attending                     89
                      Number of Members Attending                                    1,117
                      Number of References Received                                     573

     While the statistics are impressive, they only are numbers.  However, they represent many remarkable, spiritual experiences in the lives of those involved.  The five areas of focus for the program were realized in each of the Capilla Abierta events. 

     The Roca 2 Ward provided one such experience.  A young 16 year-old Church member was sitting at the reference table visiting with Sister Ehmke.  She noticed a copy of the Book of Mormon printed in Chinese.  She began talking about a Chinese friend of hers who is a neighbor.  She asked if she could take the copy of the Chinese Book of Mormon to her.  This young sister felt the impression that she should leave immediately to present the book.  Upon returning, she reported that her neighbor was so excited to find scriptures in her own language that she wanted to know more about this Church that could give her the words of Christ in a language she could read.  She asked if she could come to Church the following morning. Our young friend later reported that her Chinese friend came to Church Sunday morning bringing her mother with her.  Both of these nonmembers are now receiving the missionary lessons and attend Church regularly.

A 16 year-old Roca 2 Ward Missionary

     Experiences are also to be found among the less-active members of the Church.  A sweet sister in the Cinco Saltos Ward was invited to attend the Capilla Abierta by one of the ward members.  She was reluctant to agree but finally accepted the invitation saying that she only had a few minutes to spare that evening.  When the sister arrived at the Capila Abierta she again affirmed that she only could stay a few minutes.  Two hours later she was still visiting with members, enjoying the association with the Church and felt touched by the Spirit.  She reported that she had forgotten what the Church was like, what it has to offer and how good it felt to be a member.  She had been less-active for over six years.  She committed that evening to return to full activity and has not missed a meeting since!

Two ward members help a less-active sister 
feel comfortable coming back to the Church.

     The Capilla Abierta has had a tremendous influence on the missionary spirit of each of the units.  The Cipolletti I and II Wards held a combined Capilla Abierta which drew 52 non-members.  The ward members talked for several weeks after about how wonderful it felt to have invited so many non-members. The missionaries assigned to those two wards had no difficulty from that moment on receiving help from ward members in their missionary work.  In fact, several sisters reported that they had to turn down requests from members to go on splits with them.  There were just too many members who wanted to be active in actual missionary lessons and teaching!

Cipolletti II Ward

     One of the purposes of the Capilla Abierta is to provide missionary experiences for the youth.  In the Neuquen Centro Ward, a group of youth came to the Church basketball court to play  some ball the afternoon the the Capilla Abierta.  The bishop went out to explain that there was an activity going on that evening in the Church and we needed to keep the noise level down.  He invited all eight of the young men in to see what was going on and to enjoy the refreshments.  Seven of the eight chose to accept the invitation. They took time to go through a complete tour, spent a great deal of time in the refreshment area where the ward had placed a television showing Mormon Messages.  The ward youth spent time with them during the tour, in the refreshment area and at the reference table.  The missionaries received a referral card from each of the young men, got their email addresses and made arrangements to add them to their Facebook.  The reports indicate that several of these young men have followed up with missionary discussions and regularly come out to ward youth activities.

Enthusiastic youth!

 Young Men and their adviser helping with street contacts.

Two of these Young Women have their papers turned in to serve full time missions.

     The Capilla Abierta in San Martin de los Andes was scheduled for a Fast Sunday evening.  The day dawned dark, rainy and windy.  During the testimony meeting that morning, several branch members bore their testimonies about their excitement for the event scheduled that evening.  The purpose of their fast was to ask for clear weather and success in the Capilla Abierta.  After raining most of the day, the weather cleared an hour before the event was scheduled to begin.  The activity was supposed to end at 9:00 that evening. The branch members were so pleased that non-members were still arriving to their activity after the scheduled end of the event.  Sixty-three branch members participated in the event that evening, arriving early to prepare the rooms for the presentation for their auxiliary, serving as guides, preparing refreshments, and helping to clean up after the event.  Their prayers were further answered when 14 less-active members returned to the Church to participate and 35 non-members felt the spirit of enthusiasm and camaraderie. Missionaries reported that the week before the Capilla Abierta there had been a total of three lunch invitations.  The week after the Capilla Abierta, there were so many invitations they could not accept them all!  

The San Martin Branch building nestled into the foothills
of the Andes Mountains.

     A Capilla Abierta begins with warm "bienvenidos" as visitors enter the building.  From there they are guided to the chapel where two sisters are prepared to share their testimonies about the Savior and listen to the "voice of Christ" as they sit in reverent quiet gazing at a life-sized Christus.

     After several minutes in the chapel, visitors are escorted into the cultural hall where there are 18 panels depicting the basic teachings of the Church.  Beautiful colored fabric posters provide the backdrop for the full-time sister missionaries to teach about the Savior´s teachings in the ancient worlds, the apostasy, the restoration, the Book of Mormon, the Plan of Salvation, the eternal nature of families and temples.  The chapel and cultural hall are literally turned into a Visitors´Center during the Capilla Abierta.

     Most visitors report that by the end of this portion of the Capilla Abierta they have been sweetly touched by the Holy Ghost, especially while listening to the words of the Savior and the humble, but sincere testimonies of our sister missionaries.  The ward or branch guides then lead the visitors to the baptismal font. There two full-time elders, dressed in white, teach about the principle of baptism.  They incorporate a large poster depicting the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  The doors are then opened to the baptismal font, which has been filled with water.  A clear, simple explanation of the this ordinance, requiring the priesthood of God, is easily explained.  (The elders frequently ask, "If someone wants to be baptized, can we do it right then?"  We have to appreciate and love the enthusiasm of our Elders!)

Two of our great Elders serving in Roca!

     That concludes the missionary lead part of the Capilla Abierta.  The second half of the tour includes the stands or displays of the purposes and function of the Church auxiliaries.  Ward members have demonstrated their creativity and love for the organizations.  The Ehmkes have seen cupcakes made by the Young Women with tiny flags thanking the visitors for coming to their stand.  They have been impressed with the beautiful handwork from the Relief Society sisters depicting everything from home bottled fruit, to needle work, to beautiful paintings and craft work.  Even the priesthood has done a fantastic job of showing the purposes of both priesthoods and the responsibilities of fathers in the home.

     Before the evening ends, visitors and members pass by the reference table.  There we have enthusiastic Elders and ward members sharing printed pamphlets and other literature of the Church, which provide additional information about the principles, purposes and programs of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. This also gives members and missionaries a final opportunity to answer questions and invite each to return again.

     The Argentine Neuquen Mission is very grateful for the missionary support the Capilla Abierta provides to all.  The program has been a blessing and will continue to bless the lives of many as seeds of testimony are planted, as renewal of spirit is shared and as each feels of the love of the Savior.

A special "Thank You" to Elder and Sister Ehmke for all they have done to share the Capillia Abierta with so many wonderful members and investigators!

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