“The Church in Mexico,” Ensign, Aug. 1993, 78
Mexico is a land that many outsiders view through lenses of the past. To learn about the present and future of the Church in Mexico, the Ensign talked with Elder F. Burton Howard of the Seventy, president of the Mexico South Area, and Elder Angel Abrea of the Seventy, president of the Mexico North Area.
ENSIGN: Will you discuss some of the challenges faced by Church members in Mexico?
Elder Howard: The challenges are the same as those faced by members in any other industrialized country—and that is a point worth emphasizing. We would like to see people discard the old stereotypes they sometimes think of when they think of Mexico. It is a rapidly developing, progressive nation. This national development is the source of both opportunity and difficulty for its people. The modern, competitive life-style they have been forced to adopt is testing the fabric of Mexican family life, which has traditionally been very strong. Traditional values are being challenged.
Elder Abrea: At the same time, there are increasing opportunities for missionary work. It may be that some of the changes taking place in Mexico are part of the Lord’s way of preparing the people to hear his word. The challenges they are facing should make them more receptive to the gospel. There is a widespread need for its message in Mexico—particularly in families.
ENSIGN: How many members of the Church are there in Mexico?
Elder Howard: Approximately 800,000 in a country of more than 88 million people. We have 126 stakes in Mexico, 18 missions, and 49 districts.
Elder Abrea: Our greatest missionary success has been in urban areas, and Mexico has many of those. Mexico City is by far the largest, with 22 million people, but there are a number of other important urban centers. Monterrey, for example, where the Mexico North Area is headquartered, has 2 million people. The Church is experiencing its greatest growth in areas like these. We could describe the growth of the past few years as “explosive”—much like that in many other Latin American countries.
ENSIGN: Does this pose challenges for local leadership?
Elder Abrea: Yes. Looking at the future of the Church in Mexico, we believe that the greatest challenge will be how well we prepare for the growth. We are confident that new members will continue to come into the Church, and often when we organize a stake to accommodate the growing membership, our first priority is to teach basic principles of leadership to new leaders who have little experience in such roles.
Elder Howard: Mexico is unique among Latin American countries in that the Church has a comparatively long history there. Many members have been well prepared for leadership.
Recently when we reorganized a stake, the new president’s 89-year-old mother, who was born into the Church, told us, “When he was born, I dedicated him to the Lord, and today the Lord has blessed me with a stake president for a son.”
The Church has also had the benefit of leaders developed through its Benemerito School in Mexico City, established in the 1960s. The school’s influence has been enormous.
And yet new growth has outstripped the leadership base we have among our longtime members. We have people among our Church leaders in Mexico who are as capable as those in any area of the Church. They include doctors, lawyers, engineers, and many others who are influential in their communities. Yet we still have much need to train new leaders. But we are seeing good results from the training we are currently giving.
ENSIGN: Our members, then, adapt well to opportunities for growth in the gospel?
Elder Abrea: Yes, because of their spiritual strengths. I would say that the strengths of the members in Mexico are their faith in Jesus Christ, their humility, and their teachability. They have great faith in the prophet and in the leaders of the Church. They want very much to be good members of the Church.