Afrodita Reyes was an early member of the Church in the Dominican Republic. She and her husband have chosen to focus their lives on service to others, helping them to see that they are also children of God. (Haz clic aquí para leer la entrevista original en español.)
My name is Afrodita. I have been married for 31 or 32 years now. I have three children. We have two grandchildren, both are a year and a half old, only a few weeks apart, and we’re expecting our third grandson in November. We are a very close family. Two of my children live here in the capital, and one lives in Puerto Plata, in the north. My husband and I have time to dedicate ourselves to the things that we enjoy! We love being outdoors, hiking, and mountain climbing. It’s not that common here, but whenever we can, we like to get out.
How did you learn about the Church?
I encountered the Church when I was about 13 years old. The church was very new in our country. I was a young woman and there wasn’t a lot known about it or these blond Americans, some people thought they were CIA. When we started going to church, a lot of our neighbors and friends said, “You don’t know who those people are, you’d better really think about this!” But little by little, the Church here has grown, and they’ve been involved in a lot of service projects in the community. It helps the government, hospitals, and other agencies, so now it’s better-known.
What was it in the Church that made you feel you had a place there? If, as you said, a lot of people considered it a North American church, how did you come to feel comfortable?
When I was baptized, my whole family was baptized. I came from a home that didn’t function well. As time went on, my family became inactive and restarted some of their bad habits.
I went by myself to church for many years. I’m not sure why. It was so far from my house, I had to walk for two hours to get to church. These were not pretty roads and paths! I always brought two pairs of shoes. One pair of tennis shoes, and then, when I got to the chapel, I changed into church shoes. I don’t know why I continued to go alone, my testimony probably wasn’t that strong, but church became a refuge for me. I felt protected. I felt I had good friends and that I had good teachers that I could talk about my problems while they listened to me without judgment.
I went three times a week – two times in the evening for activities and also the Sunday meetings. Then I started Seminary. I was in the first group to take Seminary in the country. We stayed after our Sunday meetings. I spent almost the whole day at the church. This helped to strengthen me a little more. I’m not sure when happiness was transformed into faith, but I knew what I wanted for my future. Because I came from a home that didn’t represent the way of living that I wanted, I started to identify what kind of home I wanted to create, and what kind of husband and children I wanted at my side.
I had met my husband during this time at church. When he returned from his mission, we got to know each other better through dating and then we got married. We started to build our family in the way we knew we ought to. Not only to our tastes but also after the model of the gospel. So with this in mind, I attended Relief Society. I didn’t know how to cook. I didn’t know how to do anything! But the sisters of the Relief Society taught me. They offered classes to help us learn how to cook, to make desserts, and to sew. I went from not even knowing how to fry an egg to finding I had a real talent with cooking. Now I have a catering business and I own a restaurant.
So not only did you find your spiritual gifts, you found temporal gifts and talents in Relief Society!
Really, everything I know, everything I’ve learned, everything I am, I have learned from the Church. My life revolves around the Church.
What was it like, then, to build this home and family?
In reality, it was easier with the help of the gospel but still difficult. Really, you do your part, but the forces of the world are strong. You have to teach your children to treasure up in their hearts the things you teach them. And half of it is you teaching them, and the other half of it is them accepting what you teach. So I tried to show them things, not just tell them things. I remember, when they were little, when we would leave the restaurant, there would always be extra food. I know it’s not a big problem everywhere, but here there are a lot of homeless children and people who walk the streets. I would ask for take-out boxes for the food we didn’t eat and I would have my kids give them to the people we saw in the streets. At first, they didn’t like it. They were embarrassed, but over time they were excited to give out the food. And today, whenever they go out to eat, they always order extra food and take that food with them to share with homeless people and children in the street. We taught them that way, but one way or another, they had to let it change their hearts because they wanted to.
What a beautiful lesson that can apply to more than just food.
Yes, in fact, that helped them want to serve a mission. My husband and I always said we didn’t want to force them. We decided that if they didn’t want to serve a mission, we weren’t going to be better or worse people. But if they served a mission, they had to do it on their own will, because they were going to have to give it everything. And the beautiful thing was that they didn’t just serve for those two years. Even years after my daughter came home from serving in the Salt Lake City West mission, my daughter still has a missionary spirit. She knows she’s a missionary for life. You can take off your missionary tag, but you have to continue serving and helping others until you die!
Speaking of helping others, how did you come to be involved with Latter-day Saint Charities?
We have served two missions for the church. The first was for a year and a half, but we had to extend it for five years. It was incredible…it was like the mission of Alma! And we just finished our second mission. My husband is a civil engineer, and so whenever the Church wants to build anything, he helps them for free by donating his time.
At the beginning of our first mission, we traveled the country bringing Strengthening the Family and Strengthening Marriage classes to stakes, and they took them to the wards. It was a big job. We traveled every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And then, when the church implemented the programs for addiction, we taught those. That was really difficult. I saw friends of my children and friends of ours…and I didn’t even know they had these problems! It made me more sensitive. How wonderful that the Church has these programs for people looking for help. I saw how people could be reborn. I saw people who arrived with their heads down looking at the floor, and I could see them begin their recovery. Many people told us how much we were blessing the lives of others, but I think we were the ones who were blessed to see how applying the principles of the gospel changed the lives of these people and their families.
Why do you think that the principles of the gospel need to be a part of these classes?
To be happy, we need to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. I saw what Jesus Christ saw in that person who thought everything was over, who thought their marriage was over because they were drowning in bad habits. Those who felt destroyed, like garbage, good for nothing. It’s like a flower, or a plant, that you see as ruined and worthless. But if you take it and put it in the sun and give it water and care, you can see how that plant, which used to be good for nothing, starts to put forth new blossoms and leaves. There comes a moment when it is so glorious you can’t remember it used to be a useless plant. No one can bring that kind of transformation to a human being. For all the academic training you have, you can’t teach that to anyone. That’s something the Lord does working inside out in a person—helping them, supporting them, and nurturing them. And, above all, telling them they are children of our Heavenly Father – in the moment when they realize that they are children of their Heavenly Father, they and their marriages can have a new birth.
What have been your favorite projects?
One of my favorite projects is in the south of Barahona. There, there is a community of children who are deaf. It’s a place that produces beautiful stones called larimar, and the children’s eyes are the same pretty, light color. They could read lips but had no schooling because they couldn’t hear or speak. We began to build a school for them. They are really special children. I see each one of them as my children! I loved that project.
I also remember one time my husband and I were climbing a mountain far from here. We got to a place called Valle de Dios (God’s Valley). It is a beautiful place, but we had to hike for seven hours. On our way back, we got lost. We were scared, but we happened upon a little house and a family that had nine children, the oldest was 13. They were living in the deepest kind of misery, the greatest poverty you can imagine. We stayed to rest a bit while we talked with them. About 20 minutes later we found our path again and we were able to get back.
Well, that Christmas, some friends called and said they wanted to help a family and we immediately thought of this family. We were able to bring them food and gifts. We started helping them to improve their house, but then COVID began and we’ll have to complete it later. But this left me an important lesson. Simply put, we got lost so that the Lord could introduce us to this family so that we could find a way to help them, and we could be blessed alongside them. Not all trials and tribulations are telling us that He wants to punish us. If we realize that, a tribulation can become a blessing. We were lost and sad, but when we realized what our purpose was on that trail, and the purpose was what the Lord wanted, well…our mentality changed.
That’s a strong message. From one moment to the next, you went from feeling you were on the wrong path to feeling like you were on the right one.
Yes. It wasn’t an accident. The Lord wanted us to find them and help them.
What does being Dominican and a member of the Church mean to you and your family?
We Dominicans are a happy people! We love parties, we love talking a lot and we love talking fast. And for us, the Church is a reason for happiness. It’s being able to share that joy, to share that the gospel is another way to live a life of happiness. My country is a lovely country, a precious island filled with mountains, rivers and beaches, and beautiful and friendly people. I know it’s a difficult moment, but I think the gospel can help. That is to say—we can be better people, and we can share what we have with others and recognize that we are children of God. This is a difficult moment for the whole world, but if we somehow face these difficult moments with a smile, I believe it will be much easier. If we try to get through it complaining, with a bad expression, we’re just going to double the weight we carry.
For me, the gospel is everything. I can’t imagine my life without Christ and without knowing my family can be eternal. When a woman knows she’s a daughter of God it’s marvelous. And when you can get your children to see that, especially your daughters, you have marked them forever. Because they will feel special. I know that women are loved by our Heavenly Father. A message that I would like to share with my sisters all around the world is that you are children of God, your life has purpose and direction. We are not left to chance. We have purpose. We just need to search for our individual purposes so we can fulfill them and not get lost in the problems of the day. The problems of the day can mean nothing more than steps to be closer to our goals and to be at the side of our Heavenly Father.
At A Glance
Location: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Convert to the Church: Joined the Church at age 14
Language spoken at home: Spanish
Favorite hymn: Come, Come Ye Saints
Interview produced by: Jenny Willmore and Daniela Mera-Pray