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On a breezy Friday afternoon this past April 28, the LDS sanctuary at 6950 Indian Creek Dr., which cost the church three million dollars to build, is desolate except for two twenty-year-old elders emerging from a silver Chevy Malibu idling in the parking lot. Ademir Cacique, a Mexican-American from Vallejo, California; and Matthew Bean, from Richfield, Utah, just wrapped up a meeting with a recent convert and are on their way to meet a Venezuelan woman who is wrestling with the idea of becoming a Latter-Day Saint.
Cacique, who sports a perfectly gelled dome of black hair, has been on his mission for nineteen months. He began in North Miami and has traveled to Sunny Isles, Kendall, Plantation, and Miami Lakes. He worked at an Applebee's to save money for his mission. Members of his hometown ward also helped him raise funds. "Members are always willing to assist young men," he says. "Money is never an issue."
Bean, a tall blond with a long, slender nose and flushed cheeks, bears a slight resemblance to a young Steve Martin. He is wearing an iridescent yellow tie, a white short-sleeve shirt, and brown slacks. "I've been on my mission for sixteen months now," Bean says. "Five months on Miami Beach. This is the longest I have been in an area. It is a great place to be in. The members on the Beach are really fun to work with. They are really excited about helping us out."
Church member Sebastian Sanchez, a 26-year-old Chilean, is going to assist them with teaching Thais Montefusco the merits of Mormonism. The elders arrive at Montefusco's apartment, where Sanchez is already waiting for them in her living room.
Sanchez, his parents, and three siblings converted to Mormonism thirteen years ago in their home country. In 1995 they moved to Miami Beach, where they used to attend Mormon Sunday service in a second-floor space of an office building on Washington Avenue. Sanchez carries around cards stating the seventeen truths about the Latter-Day Saints, which he hands out to people he meets. "We heard missionaries tell the story of Joseph Smith," Sanchez says. "They taught us the doctrine that is not taught by the Catholic Church."
Sanchez, who is dressed like a missionary white short-sleeve dress shirt, tie, and slacks leads the opening prayer. "Dear Celestial Father," he orates in Castilian, "we give you thanks for allowing us to share the truth that has been restored through your true church. We ask that you help Sister Thais continue her lessons."
The elders hold a brief discussion with Montefusco about the importance of the Ten Commandments and how she can fulfill them in her everyday life. The elders, Montefusco, and Sanchez read from several chapters of the Book of Mormon. Afterward, the elders explain the importance of family participation in learning the Gospel. "The family is the center of the evangelism," Bean says in Spanish. "That is why it is important to teach good principles in the home."
The elders have also brought a DVD player in order to show Montefusco a tale about Wilford Woodrow, a nineteenth-century man who converted to Mormonism after meeting two missionaries. But first Cacique inquires if Montefusco has read the Book of Mormon during the past week. A flushed Montefusco replies in the negative. "I haven't had to time to read because I'm supposed to move to another apartment by next week," she says.
As Cacique and Bean connect the player to Montefusco's TV set, she shares that her husband and her eight-year-old stepson Luis are Mormons. She, however, is Roman Catholic.
While Luis is playing Jedi with his toy light saber, Cacique pulls up the menu screen on the DVD. The Mormon disc is set up in six different languages: English, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, and Chinese. It contains more than fifteen episodes depicting Mormon tales. Cacique scrolls down the list until he finds the Woodrow tale. "This gentleman had a lot of questions concerning which church to join," Cacique says, "until a couple of missionaries showed him to the church restored by Joseph Smith."
As expected, Woodrow is baptized a Mormon by the end of the short film. The elders conclude their meeting with Montefusco. Before leaving, Cacique tells her they will continue to pray for her to find her way into the Mormon faith. He inquires if she would be interested in being baptized May 6. Montefusco hedges, stating she would like to wait for her husband to come home from Caracas so he can attend the ceremony.
She admits she is still struggling with some of the Mormon tenets. For example, Latter-Day Saints do not pray to the Virgin Mary. "How do you stop believing in the Virgin?" she asks. "That is my conflict. That is what I have a hard time dealing with. I was raised Catholic and studied with nuns. My instinct is to always say, 'María Santa Purisma.'"
Cacique responds, "God will help you overcome that. But you have to be ready. We are not going to exhort you."
Bean adds there is no rush. "All testimony begins with a seed," he says. "You have to nurture it for it to grow. You will see."