Julio Enrique Davila was born May 23, 1932 in Bucarmanga, Colombia. He lived there only a short time before his parents moved to the resort city of Cartagena, where he grew up. He graduated from high school and then moved to Bogota to study typography, graphic arts, and journalism. After graduation, he worked nights as a typesetter and eventually married "the girl next door," Mary Zapata. The young couple lived in Bogota where Julio later started his own printing business. They had two daughters and struggled with economic stress and other problems.
In 1968, Elder Boyd K. Packer's son, Alan Packer, and his missionary companion knocked on Julio E. Davila's home in Bogota, Colombia. This was Brother Davila's first contact with the Church. He recalled: "My wife was very impressed by them, but I was not at home. So the missionaries tried to make an appointment with me. I was not interested in religion. They were willing to meet with me in the morning or the evening, I tried to forget them, but they persisted."
He further explained: "At the time the missionaries came to teach us, I was going through some trials and had many sorrows and concerns, and I needed to make some important decisions in my life. However, at the beginning, I was not aware that their message of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and of his church was the answer and solution to my needs. I didn't realize that those young messengers were sent to me by my Heavenly Father."
After four months, Julio finally agreed to take the missionary discussions. "During that time, I felt their love. When they began to teach us, we felt good about the teachings." After many visits, he was touched by the Spirit and agreed to be baptized along with his wife. They were baptized August 4, 1968.
Brother Davila said, "But I established some 'don'ts' or conditions: Don't call me 'brother,' I will not attend all the meetings, I don't want to be assigned to pray nor to give talks in the meetings, I will not accept any callings, and never ask me to talk to my relatives or friends about the Church, and so forth. . . . I am sure that the missionaries were praying and fasting for the change of my mind, because as soon as we started to attend the meetings, I began criticizing many temporal things at the meetinghouse, such as the crooked pictures on the walls. The branch president, a fine and wise man, appointed me as the 'pictures supervisor,' this being my first calling in the Church. Incidentally, I have never seen that position in the handbooks, but it served me very well to start my involvement in the service of the Lord."
Soon, Brother Davila experienced a taste of missionary work. In a park near his office, he saw a large gathering of people. He went to investigate and saw the missionaries with displays about the Church, handing out copies of the Book of Mormon. He related: "They recognized me and asked me to stand in the middle of the park with a banner saying: 'Be happy; be a Mormon.' I stood for a while in that place; I was a Mormon, but at that moment I was not so happy! But I started to feel better about my ability as a missionary, losing my fear to talk with people about the Church. I let go of my own restrictions, so many 'don'ts,' and realized that this is the church of love and service, of sacrifice and blessings, of happiness and eternal life." (General Conference, October, 1991).
In the years that followed, many of his relatives, including parents, brothers, sisters, and their families also joined the Church. Three years after his baptism, he and his wife, Mary Zapata Davila, were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple and during the following year they were sealed in the Los Angeles Temple to their two daughters.
He was soon called to be the president of the Bogota 1st Branch. "There were three branches in Colombia at the time. I remember this period with deep feeling. I remember especially the great spirit of sacrifice and dedication of the members. In this period, we had to travel twice each Sunday to the chapel, and none of the members lived nearby. Yet the members arrived on time."
In 1972, he sold the business and went to work with the Church Education System, helping establish seminary and institute classes. A year later, he was hired as the full-time coordinator of seminaries and institutes in Colombia and Ecuador. He later was the first CES supervisor in all of northern South America. By 1976, some 900 youth in Colombia were enrolled in seminary or institute. In 1977, he was called as the president over the first stake in Colombia, the Bogota Colombia Stake. He later served as a regional representative and then as the president of the Colombia Cali Mission from 1981-84.
In 1991, Julio E. Davila was called as the first General Authority from Colombia, as a member of the Seventy. "This calling came as a surprise, said Elder Davila. "We had no idea." Elder Loren C. Dunn spoke highly of Elder Davila: "While Colombia is undergoing great tensions, Brother Davila portrays the calmness and maturity of outstanding priesthood leaders. Because of these characteristics, he is well-respected among the members of the Church [in Colombia]. He has a demeanor that truly allows him to represent the Church in a most effective way to both members and non-members."
A few months after his call, he participate in a regional conference in Quito, Ecuador, presided over by President Gordon B. Hinckley and attended by 4,900 Saints. Elder Davila was serving as a counselor in the South America North Area. Elder William R. Bradford, the area president said, "What also made this conference interesting was that the first General Authority from this area, Elder Davila, participated."
In August, 1993, he was also blessed to be able to participate in the "first shovelful" ceremony of the long-awaited Bogota Colombia Temple. During the service he spoke. "I think of the great number of people and the many years that have been necessary for the arrival of this moment." He said that as construction begins, both passersby and neighbors will be curious about what is to be built. "Some will tell them that a hole for a foundation is being dug. Others will say a wall is being erected. A few may say that a building is under construction. But we have an obligation to share the good news that here will be a temple, a place of adoration, a house of order, a house of faith, and that those worthy members who pass through its doors are on the path of salvation and exaltation and eternal life. . . . It has been 174 years since Colombia was declared a free nation, and thus it has remained for all these years, a pathway prepared for the preaching of the gospel. Colombia has been chosen among many nations of the world to have the blessing of a temple. ("Colombia Temple Groundbreaking." Church News, July 10, 1993)
In 1996, after his five years of service, Elder Davila was released from the Seventy. Before his release that year, he created nine stakes in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Venezuela. During his service as a General Authority, he created at least 21 stakes in South America.
Talking about his native land, Elder Davia once said: "In Colombia, the Church has to gain much more importance to bring about the changes our country needs. It needs to grow also for the expansion of the restored gospel, and the subsequent redemption of the principles of morality." ("Colombian Convert Calm Amid Tensions." Church News, April 20, 1991)