“Latin America Area Conferences Report,” Ensign, May 1977, 107–9
That quiet word, accompanied by a hand on my shoulder a few hours before the opening session of the Mexico City Area Conference, conveyed the atmosphere we met everywhere during our month-long 22,222-air mile journey through Latin America.
The word amigo, Spanish for “friend,” sums up what happened from February 11 until March 11. In that time there were:
Eight area conferences in seven nations for Church members and guests invited from thirteen nations;
Six one-hour radio broadcasts of conference sessions over forty-two stations and into fourteen countries;
Visits with presidents of It’s a Young Church in … Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, Bolivia, and the United States;
The cornerstone ceremony at the São Paulo Temple; and
Six news conferences and nine exclusive newspaper, television, radio, and magazine interviews attended by President Kimball, President Marion G. Romney, and others of the official party.
Our amigos were brothers and sisters in the gospel.
In Mexico City and Monterrey, Mexico; Guatemala City, Guatemala; San José, Costa Rica; Lima, Peru; Santiago, Chile; La Paz, Bolivia; and Bogotá, Colombia, amigos gathered at the conference in order to worship God and be taught by his servants. Those who attended are among 300,000 Saints residing in fifty-five stakes and twenty missions in those seven countries plus El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela, and Ecuador.
The general sessions at Mexico City were the largest since area conferences began in Manchester, England, in 1971: 24,237 Saints attended.
Later, thousands of miles to the south, some 3,000 members and friends gathered on Wednesday afternoon, March 9, as President Marion G. Romney placed the cornerstone of the São Paulo Temple. When completed, the temple will make temple work much, much easier for thousands of Latin American Saints.
President Kimball, Sister Camilla Kimball, and President Marion G. Romney made the complete circuit from the opening conference in Monterrey to the laying of the temple cornerstone.
Joining them for all of the area conferences were Elder L. Tom Perry of the Council of the Twelve and Eider Robert D. Hales of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
With them in It’s a Young Church in … Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica was Elder J. Thomas Fyans of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy, supervisor of the Mexico-Central America area.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Council of the Twelve, the South America area advisor, and Elder A. Theodore Tuttle of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Andes area supervisor, attended the conferences in the southern hemisphere. And participating in the Santiago conference were Elder Robert E. Wells of, the First Quorum of the Seventy, supervisor for the Chile-Argentina area, and Elder William R. Bradford, also of the First Quorum of the Seventy and president of the Santiago Chile South Mission.
Elder James E. Faust of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy, supervisor of the Brazil-Uruguay area, conducted the groundbreaking ceremony and a special leadership meeting in São Paulo, Brazil.
The central themes and challenges of the conferences resounded in the declarations of President Kimball:
“We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” [A of F 1:1] Christ is our master, the center of our lives, he taught, explaining that the restored Church is organized anew as Christ himself had established it in the meridian of time, endowed with the same organization, power, authority, and doctrine. “This is truly the kingdom of God on the earth,” the president testified.
President Kimball also shared what he described as “my vision for the people of the Lamanites.” He had been assigned to visit Mexico in 1946, three years after being sustained as an apostle and the same year he was appointed chairman of the Church Indian Committee by President George Albert Smith.
“I was dreaming for the people of Mexico,” he said, “and I had a dream of your progress and development. This is precisely what I dreamed. I got up and wrote my dream. Maybe it was a vision: ‘As I look into the future, I see other Lamanites from the isles of the sea and the American continents rise to a great destiny. …
“‘I see you children of Lehi with flocks on thousands of hills. Instead of seeing you work for others, I see you managing; the owners of farms, ranches, homes and gardens. …
“‘I see you as the masters of banks and businesses; engineers, builders, building lofty bridges and great edifices.
“‘I see you in great political positions and functioning as administrators over the land. I see many of you as heads of governments [and] in legislatures. …’”
He described how many of the Lamanites would become attorneys; administrators and teachers in schools and universities; doctors; great lecturers; publishers; artists; moviemakers; and playwrights.
“You have already arrived in many ways to make dreams real,” the prophet said, challenging parents to make the required sacrifices to provide educational opportunities for their sons and daughters.
In his remarks, President Marion G. Romney urged all to pray, study the scriptures, and obey the commandments of God in order to strengthen their faith. He explained that faith in Jesus Christ, the first principle of the gospel, is more than simply believing; it is conviction and confidence in the Lord’s redeeming mission that motivates us to action.
With faith comes a realization of sorrow for sins, he continued, which prepares one for the cleansing fire of forgiveness by prompting a desire to confess and forsake those sins, pardoning others, and complying with gospel teachings.
The true mark of conversion, President Romney said, is that we are healed and experience a change in understanding, thought, and conduct, with no more disposition to do evil.
Conversion and forgiveness, he said, should be accompanied by thanksgiving and gratitude, the signs of a noble soul. Gratitude is best expressed, he said, in loving the Lord with all our heart, mind, might and strength; loving our neighbor; and thanking the Lord in all things, with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that these steps, leading to life eternal, are possible because of the atonement of Jesus Christ. The Savior came to earth to undergo mortality in order to die upon the cross, to conquer death in the resurrection, and to allow all mankind to be raised in immortality.
Only Christ could do these things, Elder McConkie declared. But some things he did, we can also do:
First, Christ was obedient to every commandment and true to every trust, so perfectly doing the will of the Father that he could say to us all, “Come and follow me.” (Matt. 19:21.)
Second, Christ preached the gospel. “We are under covenant to preach the gospel and stand as witnesses of Christ in all things, even unto death. We are expected to invite all men to come to Christ,” Elder McConkie said.
Third, Jesus performed the ordinances of God by virtue of his eternal priesthood, a power without comparison in heaven or earth. And though Jesus Christ no longer administers personally on earth, he has given faithful men this power that they might perform the saving ordinances of the gospel.
Fourth, Jesus performed great miracles and promised, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do.” (John 14:12.)
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Council of the Twelve emphasized the value of studying the scriptures, both to strengthen one’s faith and to resolve the problems of life.
“The scriptures contain the word of the Lord,” he testified. “To follow them is to follow the Lord; to ignore them is to wander in the wilderness.”
He challenged all to read the scriptures in a consistent and organized manner. He particularly urged husbands and wives to study the scriptures together daily.
One benefit of scripture study, he said, is a rejection of man’s ways of solving problems—which too often mean leaving things to chance or trying to buy solutions.
Elder Perry told how following King Benjamin’s counsel on teaching and governing children (see Mosiah 4:14, 15) solved a crisis in his family, after professional advice had only served to aggravate the ill feelings between his two young children as they quarreled over toys.
The ultimate blessing, Elder Perry said, comes when we arrive at the same conclusion that the apostle Peter expressed to the Savior: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68.)
Further stressing scriptures, President Kimball told how as a nine-year-old, he would type out scriptures on a card, which he placed on the ground and studied as he leaned his head into the side of the cow he was milking.
“I memorized the Articles of Faith and the ten commandments and could repeat them now,” he said, evoking laughter when he smiled, “but I don’t have the time.”
From homes which inspire scripture study, obedience, service, and love, will come the faithful Latter-day Saints needed for the vital work of the Church, conference speakers explained.
Elder J. Thomas Fyans issued specific challenges to members to engage in the three great responsibilities of the Church—missionary work, genealogy and temple work, and perfecting the Saints. Without personal involvement in each phase, he said, one’s life becomes precariously unbalanced, as if one were sitting on a three-legged stool that lacked one leg.
Each family, each year, Elder Fyans said, should prepare at east one other family to receive he gospel. This ambitious project is necessary if we are to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world, he said.
The work of perfecting the Saints is especially a call to perfect our families, he continued. Family home evening is an instrument of teaching the virtues of faith, honesty, fidelity, virtue, kindness and patience, he noted.
President Marion G. Romney also underscored the importance of family home evening and teaching children in the home.
He recounted how one busy mother taught her child the principle of tithing. While busily engaged in preparing for guests, the mother was interrupted by her small son who brought to her his “tithing box.” But he didn’t know how to determine his tithing on money received for doing odd jobs and as birthday gifts.
After the mother completed her explanation to the boy’s satisfaction, a guest remarked, “You amaze me; not many mothers would stop their chores to answer a child’s question.”
“Don’t ever forget her answer,” President Romney counseled:
“I expect to be polishing silver the rest of my life. But perhaps never again will I be asked to explain the law of tithing to my son.”
Parents have the great duty, according to Elder A. Theodore Tuttle, of preparing their children for missionary service.
One of the most impressive moments of all the conferences came in Santiago, Chile, when 250 young Chileans, newly called as full-time missionaries, were asked to stand.
Elder Tuttle noted that they represented the highest number of missionaries called from any nation outside of the United States, It’s a Young Church in … Mexico, and Canada.
He called for many more of their contemporaries to join them as the work of the Church expands, both in Chile and elsewhere in the world. The immediate aim is to have one local missionary by the side of each North American missionary.
“Work missionaries are also critically needed in these countries,” Elder Tuttle said. Approximately 100 chapels are under construction or in the planning stages in the six nations of western South America. Work missionaries would be assigned for up to two years to assist in the construction.
“Fathers, teach your sons to save and serve. Join the missionary force that earlier included Book of Mormon giants such as Nephi, Alma, Omner, Samuel, Mormon and Moroni,” he counseled.
The mother’s role in missionary preparation is one of the most vital elements of all, President Kimball added. He told of his frequent meetings with missionaries for more than thirty years.
“One thing I noted most was these young missionaries almost invariably spoke of their mothers. Mothers can keep their sons close to the Lord.”
He also recalled meeting Church members behind the Iron Curtain after World War II. In view of atheistic teachings in the schools, President Kimball asked parents how they trained their children.
“Every day we take out what the teachers put in. Teachers feed them lies; nightly we teach them the truth. And our children are growing up faithful,” was the answer.
Elder Fyans recommended that fathers interview their sons and daughters regularly in order to teach them to follow the commandments and live worthily.
President Romney said parents must remember the advice of a forester who returned a lost child to parents who had built a fence to keep the child in the yard: “You can’t fence children in; you must teach them the dangers of the forest and to look for landmarks,” These landmarks, President Romney said, are “the principles of the gospel which guide us all back to our Heavenly Father.”
One of the landmarks that must be in view of all Church members is the temple, Elder Robert D. Hales counseled.
Living a life worthy of the blessings of the temple, he said, constitutes what Nephi of old described as living “after the manner of happiness.” (2 Ne. 5:27.) There is no happiness except in obedience to the principles of the gospel, he said.
Quoting President Brigham Young, he said the endowment is “to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father. …”
Temple marriage, he said, ensures that the family will be eternal, for neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
You are the children of God, he declared, come to earth to live by faith, prove yourselves, and take the steps necessary to return to your Maker.
These steps begin with faith, repentance, baptism and confirmation, receiving the temple ordinances and endowment and being sealed for time and eternity.
Noting that South American Saints can prepare now to go to the São Paulo Temple, which is expected to be completed in 1978, President Kimball said, “If conditions go well, we expect someday there might be a temple in Lima. The prophets have predicted there would be hundreds of temples.”
He explained, however, that first there must be hundreds of people prepared to keep a temple functioning and millions of names, gathered through genealogical research, ready for ordinance work.
“You have to work now to prepare for a temple in the future,” the president said.
Later, Elder Bruce R. McConkie described what lies ahead for the Church in Chile, declaring, “The day will come when there will be a temple in Chile. I do not say when, but it surely will be.”
He also spoke of the time when the seven stakes in Chile “will be seven times seventy,” and the “250 native Chilean missionaries will be increased by the thousands.”
Elder Robert E. Wells said that the Church has a wealth of information about Jesus Christ which the world should know. He explained that the Book of Mormon abounds with hundreds of references to the Savior.
From ancient and modern revelations, he said, we learn of the true nature of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ as separate beings; that Jesus is Jehovah, and that he visited the Americas after his resurrection.
“I’ll Do It,” proclaimed the badges worn by Chilean members at the Santiago conference. The motto provided the theme for Elder William R. Bradford’s remarks.
Think of the many times that the Eternal Father spoke, and Jesus answered, I will do it, counseled Elder Bradford. Because of that willingness to do, mankind has received the promise of eternal life.
Each of us must likewise be prepared to follow that example and that of a modern prophet. When we’re taught what is right and then live a chaste and virtuous life, the Holy Spirit will dwell within us, he assured.
The women of the Church in It’s a Young Church in … Mexico, Central America, and South America got a special treat at the conference, when Sister Camilla E. Kimball, wife of the president, addressed each of the eight mothers and daughters meetings. She spoke in Spanish, the language of It’s a Young Church in … Mexico, where she was born and lived the first seventeen years of her life.
In her opening sentence, she declared, “Os amamos”—“we love you”—and the response was electric. Tears came to the eyes of many mothers and their daughters as Sister Kimball said, “Nothing has been more pleasant than my association with my mother and now with my own daughter.”
She spoke of the special missions reserved for women and noted that each sister is responsible for her own happiness and must prepare herself for accomplishment in and out of the home.
The area conferences also had displays from the rich cultures of the nations represented.
In Lima, La Paz, and Bogota, the programs included tableaux from the Book of Mormon depicting the journey of Lehi and his family from Jerusalem; the visions and prophecies of Nephi; Samuel the Lamanite; Christ in America; Moroni’s farewell to his people; and the coming forth of the sacred record during the ministry of Joseph Smith.
The programs also featured music and dancing. And in Guatemala City, the evening was enlivened with Roman candles and other fireworks—coming from a young man costumed as a bull in the “Fiesta of Panchimilco,” presented by members from El Salvador.
Among the ancient dances was one performed to the haunting music of flutes and dried gourds by Kuna Indians from San Bias. The principal young dancer wore golden rings dangling from her nose and ears.
In Mexico City and Monterrey the music and dances reflected the influence of Indians, Moors, and Christians.
In Santiago handsome faces lent elegance to rich costumes of both folk and formal dances.
The hymns of the Latter-day Saints were also performed—by 1,000 Primary children in Mexico City; by a similar though smaller group in Bogotá; in a duet by President and Sister Waldo Pratt Call of Colonia Juarez Stake during the Monterrey conference; and by five hundred missionaries in Santiago, who sang “Ye Elders of Israel” at the special request of President Kimball.
And emotions were high in Lima, when one glorious anthem after another filled the immense Amauta auditorium, beginning with a parents-and-children choir singing “I Am a Child of God” and climaxing with the soul-stirring “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah.
Although Spanish was the principal language in each country, numerous native Indian languages were also represented. Ninety Saints from the high Andean plateaus sang “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” in their native Aymara language, and sixty Otavaloan Indians from Ecuador sang “I Am a Child of God” in Quechua.
At the close of the last of the conferences, President Kimball solemnly declared: “The conference is complete. We leave you with great affection. We are delighted with the progress you have made.
“Carry forward. Give time and service to the Lord.
“We love you with all our hearts and bear testimony that you have found the truth. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Until the final scene is wound up, Jesus Christ will continue to reveal his will to his prophet whom he chooses. This is true. Please remember that always. God bless you.”
The testimony of an amigo—a true friend to the Lord’s people in all lands.