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20131107 LDS CHURCH Open House Mission Chapel JS 0016Raul Garcia was searching for answers as a young teen in El Salvador. He wanted to know why he was here on Earth.

What would happen when he died?

There has to be something more to life, Garcia thought. He asked the pastors at his mother’s protestant church, and they couldn’t give him a satisfactory answer. Around the same time, missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints befriended Garcia’s sister. Garcia said those missionaries were able to tell him about a plan for salvation and explain premortal life, the belief that people are made spiritually in heaven before they are sent to Earth.

“To me, it was like, ‘Wow.’ That’s what I was looking for, is there life after this, too, and they were able to answer,” Garcia said. “I’m not here just by chance. There has to be something, a reason that I’m here, and they were able to explain to me the purpose of my life and where I was going.”

He was baptized nine days later. Garcia and his wife and daughter now live in Mission, a part of the local ward, or congregation, of the church.

The church held an open house last week to unveil its new Mission chapel at the corner of Mile 2 and Bryan Road, which will house three wards: two English-speaking and one Spanish. The three wards had been meeting in the McAllen facility. Since 2010, Bishop Gary Nelson, of the Sharyland Ward, said 2,000 people have been baptized in the McAllen Area.

“Everybody’s welcome here to come and worship with us,” Nelson said.

The 17,000-square-foot building was filled with church members and missionaries eager to discuss their faith and what they’re about.

Garcia helped man the “Family History” booth, emphasizing the importance of researching and known ancestral roots. Members of the church believe a soul can be saved after death if a descendant is baptized in a family member’s name.

“In our church, we believe that this life is not the beginning nor the end, so we believe when people die, they go to another place,” Garcia said. “He (God) loves all of us, not just us who are alive, but also the people that have passed on.”

Garcia, as a first-generation believer in his family, said he has started researching his own roots. He’s aided by a book his grandfather put together listing family members. Garcia believes his grandfather, though he wasn’t a believer, was guided by the spirit of God to document the family’s roots.

“It’s very cool,” he said. “You’re doing service, and you feel good because you know that you’re helping somebody you’ve never even met.”

Jim Brunson, director of public affairs for the church and Progress Times publisher, said baptisms are held almost weekly.

The church was dedicated in a worship service Sunday, Nov. 10, and will fully be open for services Sunday, Nov. 17. It features space for men and women to meet separately and 17 classrooms for all ages to break out into groups.

Collectively, the women of the Mormon church form the Relief Society, with the motto that charity never fails.

“When we need service, we turn to our sisters,” Nelson said. “A big part of the church is self-reliance, and our leaders have taught us to store up foods and things in case of emergencies or hard times.

As part of that, Brunson added, the women get together regularly not only to study God’s word but also to teach each other crafts, canning, gardening and other skills.

For years, Nelson watched his mother bake loaves of bread for those who were sick or grieving. When his dad died years later, many women returned the favor, bringing bread to the family.

“It’s not about bread,” he said. “It’s the thought. It’s a natural thing to bless, to comfort.”

Janelle Billings, a member of the church, manned a booth detailing her technique for long-term storage.

“I grew up with the storage because we’ve been told and told and told for generation now: Have a two-year storage,” Billings said. “Be prepared.”

Billings gave out tips on how to start, suggesting families start stocking up with just $5 a week. She also displayed backpacks with 72 hours worth of supplies in case of an emergency. The packs included non-perishable foods, toiletries and snacks she replaces once a year along with copies of identification and immunization records.

A lot of people, she said, may overlook the stress an emergency can put on children. Simple things like lollipops or their favorite candy bar can calm them down.

Meanwhile, dozens of missionaries were onhand to answer questions and talk about their beliefs. Until last year, men in the church left home at 19 to go on a two-year mission anywhere in the world. Now the teens are sent out at 18.

Missionaries must fill out an application and it’s sent in to a man believed to be a prophet who decides where each will go through revelation and prophecy, Nelson said. Nelson went to Chile when he was 19—that’s where he learned to speak Spanish. Brunson’s sons went to Italy and Spain.

Elder Hill, a missionary from Utah, has six months left in his mission before he goes back to Brigham Young University, where he plays football and is majoring in economics. The title “Elder” indicates Hill is a missionary. He declined to give his first name.

“For two years they forget about themselves and just serve others,” Nelson explained. “When you forget yourself for two years, and all you do is service other people and not worry about yourself, it really is a remarkable thing.”

For his part, Hill said he’s never been happier than he’s been in the past 18 months.

“I really love the people down here,” Hill said. “The past 18 months here, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. More than anything, I’ve been able to learn a lot about Jesus Christ and how he can help anyone anywhere.”

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