“Temple Will Bless Saints in Guatemala,” Ensign, Jan. 1985, 75–76
Guatemala City is a pleasant place, with its delightful blend of European and Indian heritage and a tropical climate tempered by its elevation, nearly 5,000 feet (1,493 meters) above sea level.
Guatemaltecos will tell you proudly that it is a fine place to live. But for Guatemalan Latter-day Saints, it will seem a truly blessed place with the dedication of the temple there in December.
Many members have waited a generation for this blessing. Some are early converts, now in their later years; some are their children, baptized as youngsters and now parents themselves. For them, the temple will mean the opportunity at last to partake of eternal blessings.
The first missionaries to labor in Guatemala in modern times were sent in September of 1947. Their coming was a result in part of the efforts of John F. O’Donnal, a United States government agricultural employee who had been sent to Central America in 1942 in an effort to find sources for rubber. The nation’s rubber supply had been cut off by World War II fighting in Asia. In Guatemala, Brother O’Donnal, formerly a resident of the LDS colonies in Mexico and fluent in Spanish, found a people ready to accept the gospel.
Arwell L. Pierce, president of the Mexico Mission, visited Central America in September of 1946 to investigate the possibility of sending missionaries there. In December that year, Brother O’Donnal visited President George Albert Smith in Salt Lake City, requesting that missionaries be sent to Central America. The First Presidency approved. The first four missionaries were sent to Guatemala in September of 1947. President Pierce accompanied them, dedicating the land for missionary work.
The Central American Mission, with headquarters in Guatemala City, was organized 16 November 1952, with Gordon M. Romney as president and John F. O’Donnal as first counselor. The mission included Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
In prayer as the mission presidency was installed, Elder Spencer W. Kimball of the Council of the Twelve asked a “special blessing upon the Lamanite cause and … that the seed of Lehi in these Central American countries, and the gentiles among them, may see and hear and understand and have the courage and fortitude to accept and to live the exalting program of thy divine gospel.”
The Church-built Guatemala City chapel was dedicated early in 1955 by Elder LeGrand Richards of the Council of the Twelve. Planned when there were fewer than one hundred members in the capital city, it had been built to hold one thousand five hundred.
By the mid-1960s, district conferences were filling that chapel regularly. In 1965, when the mission was divided, Terrence L. Hansen remained as president of the Guatemala–El Salvador mission, with approximately fourteen thousand members, and Canadian Ted E. Brewerton took over as president of the Central America Mission, with 4,200 members in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
In the mid-1960s, missionaries began teaching Guatemalan Indians in two of the major Mayan dialects, Quiche and Cakchiquel. Through the years, many of them have accepted the gospel readily after receiving spiritual witnesses that the Book of Mormon is a record of their ancestors and that the gospel is true. Daniel Mich of Patzicia, for example, was baptized after seeing President David O. McKay in a dream—before the missionaries had ever shown him a picture of the prophet.
The first stake in Guatemala was organized in the capital city in May of 1967. That stake was split in 1975, and, in the same year, the first stake was organized in Quezaltenango.
The Guatemala City Temple’s first president is one who has watched Church progress in Guatemala from the beginning—John F. O’Donnal. The temple district will include 54,500 members, from nineteen stakes and four missions in Central America.
The dedication of the temple in Guatemala means that many more Latter-day Saints in that country will be able to receive their temple blessings. Wages for a Guatemalan laborer average $3 to $5 (U.S. currency) per day. Until the dedication of the Mexico City Temple last year, only a relatively few privileged Guatemalan members could afford the $400 to $500 cost of bus fare and food for the round trip to the temple in Mesa, Arizona. Even the trip to Mexico City cost nearly $100. Now, the round trip bus fare from Quezaltenango to the temple in Guatemala City—$5 to $6—will cost only two or three days’ wages.
Eriberto Israel Perez, president of the Quezaltenango Stake, says the Guatemala City Temple, a blessing of “immense” significance, began to make a difference in the lives of members from the day it was announced. Many faithful Saints have worked especially hard to prepare to enter the house of the Lord, and many who were struggling have changed their lives. One father, for example, conquered a drinking problem when he was challenged by his bishop and realized he would be the only one in his family unworthy to enter the temple.
Many more Guatemalan young people are serving missions, President Perez reports, and more are preparing to serve as a result of the temple.
Ana Julia Chew Pena, who completed a full-time mission in November of 1983, commented, “I feel a great urgency to work on my personal preparation,” and to be always worthy of the opportunity to help provide eternal blessings for her ancestors. While she plans to continue her activity in genealogy, “Now my greatest desire is to help my living family” so they may realize the blessings of the gospel. “And I know that if I am faithful, soon they will be able to be members, and we will be able to be sealed as an eternal family.”
Carlos Gustavo Quiroa Meza, who completed a full-time mission in his home country in July of 1983, speaks of the blessing of seeing the Lord’s promises to the Lamanites being fulfilled. “I know how much responsibility we have, and how blessed we are here, in Guatemala and Central America. This says to me that we are acceptable before the Lord and that he is pleased with this people.”
“Now it is up to us to faithfully follow the words of Jesus Christ when he said, ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments.’”
Correspondent: Rudy Lopez, second counselor in the Guatemala City Stake presidency.