“President Hunter Creates Church’s 2,000th Stake,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 74–75
In a major milestone marking the accelerating growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Howard W. Hunter presided over the creation of the Church’s two thousandth stake on 11 December 1994 in bustling Mexico City.
Warm skies and more than four thousand grateful Mexican Latter-day Saints welcomed President Hunter to the historic multistake conference. Members, thrilled with the first visit to their country by a Church President since the mid-1970s, spontaneously sang in Spanish “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” (Hymns, 1985, no. 19) as President Hunter entered the chapel of the Churubusco stake center in south Mexico City.
Hundreds of chairs were set up outside the chapel under large canopies to accommodate the overflow conference crowd, which began gathering the night before. Some Saints traveled from outlying states to attend the conference; others slept on sidewalks in front of the stake center in hopes of finding a seat in the chapel the next morning.
President Hunter interviewed and called Victor Manuel Salinas Gonzalez to preside over the newly created Mexico City Mexico Contreras Stake, Mexico’s 129th. As part of the stake’s creation, the boundaries of four adjacent stakes were realigned, and three other new stake presidencies were called.
Echoing the feelings of many members, Bishop Andres Flores of the Azteca Ward, Churubusco stake, said, “It has been a very special experience for us to have the Lord’s representative on earth here with us and to witness the creation of the Church’s two thousandth stake. Feeling President Hunter’s spirit has strengthened our testimonies.”
Sunday evening following the conference, more than eleven thousand Latter-day Saints squeezed into the Mexico City Temple parking lot to hear President Hunter speak at an outdoor Christmas lighting ceremony on the temple grounds. Ten thousand chairs set up for the ceremony were quickly filled, but the standing-room-only crowd waited reverently to hear President Hunter’s remarks.
Earlier that evening, President and Sister Hunter met with religious leaders and other guests in the temple visitors’ center. Elder Russell M. Nelson (accompanied by Sister Nelson) and Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (on assignment elsewhere in the morning) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also attended, as did Elders Lino Alvarez, Angel Abrea, and D. Todd Christofferson of the Seventy.
President Hunter, who has visited Mexico many times since his call to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1959, told members at the conference that “the events of this weekend are further evidence that the Lord is watching over and directing his kingdom on earth. May this day remain in your memory as one of great significance where another milestone of the Church was reached.”
President Hunter said the Lord’s work will go forward in Mexico with strength and vitality. “The promises made to Father Lehi and his children about their posterity have been and are continuing to be fulfilled in Mexico,” he said.
Church members entered Mexico in 1875, but the first Mexican stake was not organized until 1961 when membership was about twenty-five thousand. Growth has been rapid since then. The Mexico City Temple was dedicated in 1983, and membership is now approximately seven hundred thousand—the largest of any nation outside the United States. Ninety thousand Latter-day Saints live in Mexico City.
“Those of you gathered here today, in many cases, are descendants of those [in ancient America] who were taught by the Lord himself,” President Hunter told the Mexican Saints. He encouraged them to live lives that reflect the Savior’s gospel. “All that we do and say should be patterned after the example of the one sinless person to walk the earth, even the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said.
President Hunter told members to pay an honest tithe, observe the Word of Wisdom, and strive for unity. In his remarks at the temple lighting ceremony, he spoke of the importance of having lives illuminated by “an acceptance of him who is the light of the world. Truly we should hold him up as our guide and exemplar.”
President Hunter, joined at the conference by Elder Nelson and Elder Alvarez, who conducted the conference, also asked members to attend their church meetings, pray, attend the temple as often as possible, and study the scriptures daily, especially the Book of Mormon.
In his remarks, spoken in Spanish, Elder Nelson told the Mexican Saints that their faith and devotion made possible the historic creation of the two thousandth stake in their country. He testified of the truthfulness of the gospel, Christ’s atonement, and President Hunter’s calling.
“I know that President Howard W. Hunter is God’s prophet,” he said. “I support him with all my heart.”
Members wept openly during and after the memorable conference—an event they had eagerly anticipated and for which they had spent two months preparing. Hundreds waited in the stake center parking lot to catch a last glimpse of President Hunter and to wave adios as his car pulled away. “Te amamos” (“We love you”), they called out, many with tears in their eyes.
For Mexican Latter-day Saints, the conference and lighting ceremony ended too quickly. Members were slow to leave the stake center and temple, choosing instead to savor the spiritual moment and rejoice as long as possible in President Hunter’s visit.
President Salinas, the first stake president that President Hunter has called since succeeding President Ezra Taft Benson in June 1994, is a thirty-year-old administrative assistant for the Mexico City municipal government.
“I feel very honored, blessed, and committed because of this calling and the way in which it was extended to me from President Hunter,” President Salinas said following the conference. He called President Hunter’s three-day visit to Mexico a blessing for all Mexicans, not just for Church members.
“Our nation has been experiencing many political, social, and economic problems,” he said. “But the Lord can bless Mexico as members of the Church live righteously and faithfully. President Hunter’s visit reminds us of our responsibilities—we can be the salt of the earth.”
President Salinas and other local leaders, including full-time missionaries, expect President Hunter’s visit and the outpouring of the Spirit that accompanied it to invigorate missionary efforts.
“It is a great blessing to be serving now as a missionary,” said Sister Dorina Hernandez, a full-time missionary in the Mexico City South mission from Tijuana, Baja California Norte state. “President Hunter’s visit has increased our desire to move the Lord’s work forward.”
Elder Alvarez, president of the Mexico South Area, said President Hunter’s decision to visit Mexico to create the two thousandth stake also will motivate the Saints to improve their lives and to increase their temple work.
“A visit by a Church President is always a source of renewed inspiration for the members to carry out the Church’s mission,” he said. “The prophet’s visit is a blessing that none of us in Mexico imagined could have happened. This has been a wonderful Christmas present for all Mexican Latter-day Saints. We are very happy, thankful, and humbled to have been able to sit at the feet of a latter-day prophet of God.”