In 1980, the Chulupi (or Nivacle Indians), natives of Paraguay, founded a settlement on their ancestral lands in Mistolar, remote area of the country, about 400 miles from Asuncion, in the mostly uninhabited Grand Chaco, or forest. Prior to 1980, they had worked on plantations in a German-Russian Mennonite settlement for many years. There, they had been introduced to the New Testament and were seeking for more.
In 1980, Walter Flores, a well educated Chulupi, accepted the gospel in Asuncion, Paraguay and was soon baptized. Brother Flores felt a burning need to have the gospel taught to his people, a tribe of about 200 people. At the invitation of the Chulupi leader, Siriaco Perez, a close friend of Brother Flores, Elders Bruce Blosil and Ricky D. Lloynd were sent to this remote area along the Pilcomayo River, to teach them.
One of the missionaries, Elder Lloynd said, "In our first major meeting we sat with 40 of the men and Walter spent most of the time explaining his conversation and bearing his testimony. . . . When it got dark, the whole colony, from 150 to 200 people, would gather around a gas lamp for a meeting. We'd present the discussion again. Indian leaders translated from Spanish to Nivacle." ("Paraguayan Indians: Branch thrives in jungle, Church News, November 27, 1983.)
Soon members of the colony desired to be baptized. Most of the adults, 139, were baptized on November 18, 1980, in a plastic-lined earthen font. The service took several hours. Sixty-three men were also ordained to the office of priest. The missionaries continued to visit the colony regularly, but during the rainy season, they had to travel to the village in a horse-drawn wagon. This journey took as many as seven days. Twenty-two more were baptized on Christmas Day, and in April, 1981, 45 more joined the Church.
The colony thrived in the gospel. They built a meetinghouse of wood and tin delivered from Asuncion. Permanent quarters were made for missionaries, who previously had been sleeping in open hammocks or tents. In 1982, Elder John Sanders was stationed at the colony. "After breakfast, we'd go around to have people speak in the meeting, work on branch records, then we'd have lunch. We had seminary three days a week. At 1:30 in the afternoon, we'd help with the community garden and do little work projects. Thee times a week, the branch held evening meetings with speakers and the choir."
They faced unique challenges because they were geographical isolated from mission leaders and other members of the Church. But they maintained their colony and a branch was established with their own leaders. Mission and Stake leaders would try to visit at least monthly.
One spring, as snows melted in the Andes Mountains, the Pilcomayo River overflowed its banks and flooded the community. They were forced to relocate the village six miles from the river. In 1987 the floods returned with even great force. Their chapel, homes, gardens, and belongings were washed away or destroyed. For a month they waded in knee-deep water. Elder Ted E. Brewerton, a member of the Seventy, was sent from Argentina to help. Argentine Saints gathered supplies for him to take to Mistolar.
Elder Brewerton related this about the Mistolar Saints: "These members had virtually no communication with others except through infrequent radio contact. The mission president, John Whetten, and I made the challenging two-day journey to visit this branch of 214 members. When we arrived, we found the people smiling and happy, though on the surface it seemed that they had little reason to be joyful...."
"I asked the 27-year-old branch president if, because of the harsh conditions, any of them were sick. He answered, 'Oh, I don't think so, but I will check with another priesthood leader.' That leader looked at the branch president and said, 'You know we have thirty-nine priesthood bearers, and if someone is ill, we anoint and bless them and they often recover.'
"Then I asked if any of the 214 members were less active. The branch president raised his head and said firmly, 'Not one of us is less active in this church of Jesus Christ. We made covenants when we were baptized, and we promised the Lord that we would remain true and faithful to him to the end.' I was humbled by their commitment." (See "Rejoice in Christ," By Elder Ted E. Brewerton, Ensign, December 1994)
Elder Brewerton discovered that the settlement's only livestock were three sheep and a few chickens and goats. Men were out hunting for anything to survive on. Overnight temperatures were below freezing. One of the remaining sheep was slaughtered to provide the guests with a meal. Elder Brewerton recalled: "We ate sparingly of the meat, knowing they would use anything we left."
Elder Brewerton called for a meeting to be held in the evening. During the meeting he dedicated the land that it would be blessed and that the weather would be moderated. A sister closed with prayer: "Father, we have lost our beautiful chapel, we have lost our clothing, we no longer have homes, we have no food to eat, we don't have any materials to build anything, we have to walk ten kilometers to get a drink of dirty river water and don't have a bucket. But we desire to express to thee our gratitude for our good health, for our happiness, and for our Church membership." ("Mistolar: Spiritual Oasis," Tambuli, September, 1990)
In 1988, an even deeper snowpack melted in the Andes. The Mistolar Saints had faith that they would be spared because their land was dedicated. The floodwaters rose twice, but receded both times before reaching the village. (See also, "Living the Gospel in Mistolar", Heidi S. Swinton, Pioneer Spirit.)
In August 1989, Jorge and Rosa Arenas left Mistolar with their three young children and two other families to travel by bus to the Buenos Aires Temple in cold weather. Brother Arenas, the branch president, said, "Many plans were made in order to travel to the temple, and to return to Mistolar to teach and help other members to know about the House of the Lord." The Arenas' baby was sick and became worse by the time they reached the temple. They were sealed together as a family and then returned to Mistolar. The baby's condition turned critical and he died five days later. Jorge Arenas related: "As I held my son, I was thinking how grateful I was that we had just been sealed in the temple. I know that he is with our Heavenly Father and that we will be with him again someday. Now we are tying to keep all the commandments of our Heavenly Father, because we are thinking of our baby." ("Pioneers in Paraguay," Ensign, March 1994)
Julio Yegros also took his family on this trip to the temple. He lost two little children during this trip. Brother Yegros testified: "After our return from the temple, I thought that the Lord tried me with the loss of my two sons, but my goal is to obtain eternal life. I know that the little ones have returned to the presence of Father. But my wife and I have to work hard to arrive there."
In 1990, the Church News reported on the branch: "Various families have been to the temple. Two youths have served as full-time missionaries. Youths assist with the seminary, and many adults have completed an institute course on reading and writing. The majority of the members take part in Sunday meetings, and they do home teaching and visiting teaching assignments with unusual diligence." (See Church News, June 2, 1990.)
Several families, including the Arenas family later moved from Mistolar to establish the settlement of Nivacle Boqueron. They nicknamed their village, "La Abundancia" (Bountiful). Missionary couples have helped to dig a well, and assist the Saints to raise goats and crops. The branch meets in a one-room wooden chapel lit by kerosene lanterns. Almost every evening a seminary class is held and a choir practice. Outside the chapel is a homemade baptismal font. (Ensign, March 1994).