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In the Book Episode 11: "I am a Daughter of God: Amanda Barrios McPeek"

Episode Transcript

“I am a Daughter of God” with Amanda Barrios McPeek

[00:00:00] Rebecca: Guatemala is a third world country nestled in the heart of Central America. Parramos is a small, somewhat hidden country town, and it was in the middle of a civil war that lasted 36 years; from 1960 to 1996.

The conflict raged between guerilla groups and the state, and Parramos happened to be one of the towns where they chose to exchange battles.

[00:00:27] Amanda: We had curfews which meant that everybody had to be in their houses by 6:00 PM and if anybody was caught outside of that, either we didn't see them again, or we saw them shot in the town's football field. I grew up in the middle of that, which made me very scared, you know, as a little girl. I remember thinking, “How wonderful would it be if I [00:01:00] could just play ball outside, or if we heard fireworks without thinking they were gunshots?”

[00:01:06] Rebecca: Carmen Amanda Barrios McPeek was born and raised in Parramos, Guatemala. She received a degree in translation and interpretation from Brigham Young University and is a certified interpreter and program manager for the Office of Translation and Interpretation for Clinical Research at the University of Utah. She also does voiceover and language coaching productions in Spanish for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

[00:01:36] Amanda: But I literally grew up not knowing who I was or not knowing that God was aware of me. Or sometimes I thought, “Maybe God doesn't even know I exist.”

[00:01:48] Rebecca: Can you talk about that a little bit more? Like why you felt that way?

[00:01:51] Amanda: I think it started with the rejection that I went through in different areas of my life, and so I grew up [00:02:00] very shy. And, uh, I never spoke a word unless I had to. 

But reading the Book of Mormon, I learned that God knows me. ​

Rebecca: I'm Rebecca Devonas and this is In The Book.

[00:02:19] This is a podcast where we flood the earth with testimonies of the Book of Mormon.

[00:02:35] Amanda: There was a period of time where they were coming into the houses and we didn't know who they were looking for.

One day, I remember my mom just woke us up at three in the morning and she said, “Get under the bed.” She just grabbed us and put us under the bed. And then we heard screams of someone calling my mom saying, “Take my baby, please! Take my baby!”[00:03:00] And uh, my mom was very brave. I was just shaking. I still remember the emotions. She went and came back with a baby - a newborn baby.

And it was my godfather's daughter who had recently given birth. And then the daughter said, “They're killing my dad.”

You know, the next day, unfortunately, we went to see the house when everything had calmed down. Very quiet. And unfortunately, they had shot my godfather in the head, and we don't know why.

[00:03:33] Rebecca: If you were involved in any kind of political environment, you could be taken either by the guerrillas or the Army.

So what was at the core of the conflict anyway?

[00:03:45] Amanda: It started with ethnic cleansing. Guatemala is mainly indigenous - Mayan indigenous and one political leader thought that indigenous people just held the country back.[00:04:00]

Racism is still very dominant in Guatemala, meaning if you look indigenous, if you look Mayan in any way, which I do, they look down on you because you're not smart enough or because you're not beautiful or because you are second class or maybe the lowest of classes in society. And so for some reason, there was this ideology that indigenous people were holding the country back and there were genocides in those years.

[00:04:32] Rebecca: For example, the Guatemalan Genocide or the Silent Holocaust, as it's also known, was the massacre of Maya civilians by the Guatemalan government from 1981 to 1983 and roughly 166,000 Maya were killed and 200,000 Guatemalans total during the more than 30 year war.

So why the anti-Maya sentiment?

[00:04:57] Amanda: I think it comes from [00:05:00] colonialism. I think if you look back in history and go back and read the books, when the Spaniards came, according to history, they were looked upon as gods. But I think it came from there that if you were a hundred percent Spaniard, you were like high class. And then they started mixing with the indigenous women. And then the children from that were like a lower class. And then of course if you are indigenous, then you are the lowest class.

And my family was mixed. My mom was light skinned, brown hair. My dad was the mix as well. Both of them were born of an indigenous mother with a European dad. And so they looked different, and I look like my grandmothers, which made me indigenous looking, which wasn't well looked at either in my own family or [00:06:00] the town.

[00:06:00] Rebecca: Her family wasn’t pleased with how she looked, and not only that, but also not pleased because she was not a boy.

[00:06:05] Amanda: I was supposed to be a boy, or at least they expected a boy, but I was a girl and indigenous looking, very small.

My dad used to say, “You will never amount to anything,” and of course as a little girl, that hurt, right?

I used to think, why was I born in this family? Or why was I born in this place where there's not much going on?

But at the same time, I remember having ideas, having dreams, just dreaming. Day dreaming, you know? And I was like, “One day I want to speak English.” I would never tell anybody because they would make fun of me. But it was that concept that if you look a certain way, then you shouldn't have access to certain things like education, you know?

And I could picture myself with groups of people and me in the middle helping them communicate. [00:07:00] I don't know where I got that idea because I didn't know what a translator was!

[00:07:06] Rebecca: Whether or not he was actually listening, she didn't know, but God was someone she could talk to about her dreams. And so she decided to go to the local Catholic church and pray every day after school.

[00:07:19] Amanda: I would stop by the church and I would just sit in the back and just talk to him, you know? And I would just tell him about my day and tell him, “You know, I’m very sad today. It was a hard day.” And I would just sit in the back and people were there and there were all the saints, you know, around. But I was just there talking to him in my mind, and I was like, Maybe he listens to me. I don't know. And I was just imagining him, and of course I never heard him, but I would just tell him about my life and those dreams and visions that I had about what I wanted to do.

I remember feeling kind of like midyear of that year [00:08:00] thinking, “God, I don't know if you have anything for me,” I said, “but whatever it is that you want me to do, just help me find it.” And I remember praying for that every day.

Of course, deep inside I was like, “Well, I'm nobody; nobody likes me. And probably he's not even aware of me.”

[00:08:20] Rebecca: But Amanda would later read something that would challenge that thought forever.

[00:08:25] Amanda: We didn't have any money to go to a private school or barely to any school because my dad didn't believe in women going to school beyond elementary school. So I didn't go to school after elementary school. I couldn't go to school for two years. So I did odd jobs working with the nuns; cleaning and mopping and sweeping the convent.

So I decided that after middle school I wanted to go to a private school where they taught English.

[00:08:51] Rebecca: She found a part-time job at a rose plantation, and for three years worked to earn money to support her private school studies. During the second year of school, she [00:09:00] started an internship in the touristic city of Antigua. She saw foreigners from all over the world, but there were two in particular with white shirts and ties and name tags that kept walking by every morning.

They would walk by and say, good morning, and then come back later. This brief exchange went on for about a month. Amanda was growing more and more curious about who they were.

[00:09:23] Amanda: I actually am asked them if they could teach me, and so they started teaching me. The first time was at this friend's house, and the second time they came to my house. So I gathered everybody that I knew; my friends, my family, my neighbors, and everybody was there.

I was very excited and I was very surprised when my mom and my siblings said, “Oh, that's not for me.” And then my classmate said the same thing. “That’s not for me. We're Catholic. We're fine.” I was like, are you serious? But did you hear what they said about God? That he's our father and we are his children? [00:10:00]

[00:10:00] Rebecca: What the missionaries taught her about God as a father during that first lesson, was monumental for Amanda.

[00:10:08] Amanda: So the first time changed my life. And when I say it changed my life, it really did.

And they said, “Because we believe in God, we know that he's our father and we are his children. That means that he's your father and you're his daughter.” And, uh, those words we're like, “Oh, what are you talking about? Are you saying like, he's my father as my dad? Like he knows who I am?” and they are like, “Yeah, he knows who you are and he has a plan for you.”

“Are you saying that God knows me and that I'm his daughter? That means like I'm the daughter of God…” And those words, “God” and “daughter” and “father” were just completely life changing because I was like, “So I'm not just this ugly and insignificant [00:11:00] creature that nobody wants around, but I am the daughter of God and he's my father.”

It was like being chained up, and at that moment someone broke those chains and I just felt like, “I am a daughter of God.” And I just kept repeating that. And was like, “He's my dad.”

And you have to understand that word “dad,” for me was difficult because I didn't feel like I was accepted by my own dad. And all of a sudden learning the God of Gods, the king of kings, the king of the universe, the creator of all things, all of a sudden was my dad.

[00:11:47] Rebecca: She felt a new budding confidence start to grow within her.

[00:11:52] Amanda: and then I thought, “If he's my dad, I can do anything. I can learn anything. I [00:12:00] can do anything. I can pretty much achieve anything if I'm his daughter.”

I was just like, fearless. And you know, and it was just this excitement to just keep learning about the Book of Mormon! I started reading it and I took it to heart.

[00:12:22] Rebecca: One day while she was reading the Book of Mormon, she came to 2 Nephi 26:33 that taught her something especially important about this father - her father. She said when she read it, she thought about her Heavenly Father and mused, “Maybe he would like me.”

[00:12:40] Amanda: It says, “…and he invited them all to come to him and partake of his goodness. And he denieth none that come unto him,” and this is the part that I loved; it says, “black and white, bond and free, male and female. And he remembers the heathen… all are [00:13:00] alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

And that's where my journey with the Book of Mormon started; thinking, “Oh, here he says that it's for everybody. He invites everybody to come into him, and I so wanted to do what he wanted me to do.

[00:13:19] Rebecca: Amanda went on to do what she felt he wanted her to do, though the path wasn't an easy one. While she felt accepted by God, she felt even stronger rejection from her community.

[00:13:30] Amanda: It was a small town. All of sudden I was like this unwanted, even more unwanted person because I betrayed my religion and I betrayed my family.

It was one of those situations that I share it with a lot of excitement because the knowledge brought me a lot of power, but it was a lot of pain too, and the road hasn't been easy, you know? And in those moments of loneliness, when nobody cares, when nobody [00:14:00] knows what you're going through, the hope and the knowledge that he does know what you're going through is life changing and it brings you hope.

That knowledge of God and you and your relationship with him changes everything and it gives you the power to do anything pretty much that you want to.

[00:14:21] Rebecca: After entering the waters of baptism, Amanda went on to not only learn how to speak, read and write in English, which was her dream, she eventually went off to college in the United States and now works as that translator she dreamed of becoming.

[00:14:39] Amanda: I remember every time I read the Book of Mormon, I just felt peace. He would just give me the strength, he would give me the peace to keep going.

Peace in your heart and in your mind is the greatest gift that we can have on this earth that is so polluted with so many emotions, with hatred, with disappointment, with [00:15:00] rejection.

I just remember the Book of Mormon was like my book of stories that were written about someone else, but at the same time they were talking to me.

[00:15:12] Rebecca: of all the prophets and other people mentioned in the Book of Mormon, there seems to be at least one for every person on earth to relate to at some point.

[00:15:21] Amanda: I remember reading about Nephi and his siblings not being very nice to him. And then he was very patient and he would go to God for strength and for wisdom. He was commanded to build a ship, which was a humongous task. And his siblings said, “You can't do that,” and I remember my siblings said I couldn’t learn English. They said I wasn’t smart enough to do all these things. And I was like, “bBt God helped Nephi to build a ship.”

My testimony of the Book of Mormon is [00:16:00] that it doesn't matter who you are; it doesn't matter where you grew up, what skin color you have, or your economical situation or what your professional background is or your status in society, it doesn't matter any of that. There is always something for you in the Book of Mormon when you read it.

[00:16:23] Rebecca: Not only are the people mentioned in the Book of Mormon relatable, but Amanda found One most relatable of them all, especially years later after going through a devastating disappointment.

[00:16:34] Amanda: And I remember just feeling so broken and I was on the ground crying and I thought he was never rejected. How could he understand me? And it just clicked. And I was like, “He understands what he feels like to be rejected…”

[00:16:48] Rebecca: Christ is the epitome of someone who experienced rejection. He didn't exactly look like what many people expected; they were expecting a king and a political leader. [00:17:00] During his ministry, he didn't gather up an army to fight a war, but taught a sermon on a hillside about loving the very people you consider your enemies, the people who despitefully use you or persecute you. While received by some, the Pharisees and Sadducees considered his teachings blasphemous. He was betrayed by a friend, and when it came time to defend himself against spurious charges, he said nothing and was crucified at the crowd's request.

In his final hour, he addressed the Father -  the Father who was aware of his Only Begotten Son.

[00:17:42] Amanda: How grateful I am for a God knows his children. And I learned that he was very aware of me

There are so many experiences in my life looking back that that he was telling me he was there, and that he was aware [00:18:00] of the insignificant little indigenous girl that nobody else wanted.

I can picture him being so busy taking care of the world and the universe, and yet being the coolest dad in the whole universe to take time to spend with this little girl. When we call him Heavenly Father, he is that, and he's the best dad anybody could ask for.

And I'm grateful because he was there for me as my dad and as my father.

[00:18:43] Rebecca: The Apostle Boyd K. Packer once noted, “…of all the other titles that he could have used, he chose to be called Father.”

Everyone has a father to be sure, but they don't all look alike.

No matter what kind of an earthly father each [00:19:00] person on the earth may have, it's a daunting thought that we not only have a heavenly being who is literally our spirit father, but who has made it clear that he loves us. I find it comforting that we do not have to earn that love and that it's constant.

We can speak to him, and Christ has shown us how. We can ask him questions and discuss things with him. We can pour out our hearts to him, and most importantly, we can ask him how he feels about us.

Has the Book of Mormon changed your life? Send your story to inthebook@scripturecentral.org. This is a Scripture Central podcast directed by Dalrymple, and I produced this episode. I'm Rebecca Devonas, and this is In The Book.