“President Hinckley Focuses on New Converts and Families in South American Visits,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 105–9
President Gordon B. Hinckley is keeping up a busy pace as he counsels and meets with Church members and media representatives worldwide. During August President Hinckley met with priesthood leaders, members, missionaries, and news reporters in Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela. He was accompanied on that trip by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. During September he participated in the celebration of the Church’s 100th anniversary in Denver, Colorado; addressed U.S. religion writers at the Religion Newswriters Association’s annual convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico; spoke to members of the Navajo Nation at Window Rock, Arizona; and rededicated the Papago Ward meetinghouse near Mesa, Arizona, home to the Church’s oldest Native American ward.
Accompanied by Elder John B. Dickson of the Seventy, then serving as President of the South America South Area, President Hinckley began his activities in Montevideo, Uruguay, on Saturday, 9 August, by being interviewed for a television program called Focus. “I am very optimistic about the people of the world,” he told the reporter. “People everywhere have many serious problems, but people are good. Most of them desire to do that which is good.”
Later that day President Hinckley met with about 250 missionaries from the two Uruguay missions, and that evening he spoke at a priesthood leadership meeting attended by more than 1,200 brethren from southern Uruguay stakes and districts. “Each convert is valuable, each convert is a precious soul,” President Hinckley remarked. “The Lord has clearly said that He would leave the ninety and nine for the life of one. And this is now our responsibility as leaders in this area.”
Speaking to more than 11,000 members in a regional conference held the following morning in an enclosed stadium, President Hinckley spoke about how parents can help their children understand Heavenly Father and the Savior, prepare for full-time missions, keep the Word of Wisdom, pay tithing, and prepare to go through the temple. “Guide them to love their native land, obey the laws, and get all the education they can,” President Hinckley added.
On Sunday, 10 August, President Hinckley traveled to Asunción, Paraguay, to speak to some 7,000 members gathered in an enclosed stadium. He and Elder Nelson were accompanied in Asunción by Elder Carlos H. Amado of the Seventy, then serving as First Counselor in the South America South Area Presidency and now serving as President. Speaking of new converts, President Hinckley said, “They need a friend, someone they can talk to, someone who will answer their questions.”
Expressing his love for the members, President Hinckley said: “You should be the best people in the world, and I believe that you are. You pray, you kneel down and speak to our Father in Heaven. … You ask Him to forgive your sins. You stand up and try to be better. That is something wonderful.”
At a priesthood leadership meeting held Sunday evening at a Church meetinghouse in downtown Asunción, President Hinckley repeated his urgent invitation for priesthood leaders to watch over and care for new converts. He said that was the most important thing he needed to tell them at that time.
President Hinckley and Elder Nelson were met in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on Monday, 11 August, by Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Seventy, who was serving at the time as President of the South America North Area. Donning hard hats, the brethren visited the construction site of the Guayaquil Ecuador Temple, the emerging structure of which was visible above a nearby rocky elevation. President Hinckley then hurried to a stake center to speak to more than 400 full-time missionaries. Next he held a press conference for several television and newspaper reporters, to whom he said, “If families are strong, societies are strong; on the other hand, if families are weak, then societies will also be weak.”
That evening President Hinckley spoke to about 15,000 members who gathered in a coliseum despite a strike that made travel difficult. Centering his remarks on the family, President Hinckley told parents if they would have their children’s love, they must earn it: “You cannot abuse your children. You cannot beat them. You cannot mistreat them and have their love and respect. I am grateful to have had a father and mother who reared their children without beating them or abusing them in any way. If we did something that was wrong, they would sit down with us and talk with us about it in a reasonable way and tell us what they expected of us, and it had a wonderful result.”
President Hinckley’s first activity in Quito, Ecuador, on Tuesday, 12 August, was meeting with about 250 full-time missionaries. Pulling a fresh rose from a nearby arrangement, President Hinckley observed that, although the rose was beautiful and alive, it had no roots and would soon die. He then likened the rose to new converts, saying that if other members don’t help them put down roots in the Church, many will soon leave and die. He encouraged missionaries to keep in contact with new converts by letter after they have gone home.
Next, a television journalist interviewed President Hinckley for footage to be included in a feature about the Church’s recent pioneer sesquicentennial celebrations. Later, President Hinckley addressed about 9,000 members gathered in a coliseum, where he and Elder Nelson were joined by Elder Jensen and by Elder Francisco J. Viñas of the Seventy, at the time serving as a Counselor in the South America North Area Presidency and currently serving as Area President. A political protest had closed Ecuador’s national freeway on the day of the conference, so many members had to make unusual efforts to attend.
“When we finish this trip,” President Hinckley observed, “we will have been in all the large nations of South America and in all the nations of Central America.” Returning again to his theme of the importance of new converts, he said: “When you bring someone into this Church, when you help him and nurture him, when you encourage him and bring him along, you bring in not only an individual but you bring in generations. For faithful men and women have faithful children, and those children grow to be faithful fathers and mothers, and so the marvelous process goes on.”
More than 10,000 members came to hear President Hinckley in Valencia, Venezuela, on Wednesday evening, 13 August. Earlier that day President Hinckley spoke to missionaries in Caracas, Venezuela, and prior to the main conference he met with missionaries serving in Valencia. President Hinckley and Elder Nelson were accompanied by Elder Viñas in Venezuela.
President Hinckley recalled that when he visited Venezuela 30 years before, there had been perhaps 100 members of the Church in the entire nation. He also recalled helping form the first stake in Valencia 15 years previously. “In October  the Church will reach a membership of 10 million people in 160 nations across the world,” he said. “With all of that great growth, we must never lose sight of the fact that we are all individuals, that we all have tender feelings, that we must treat one another with kindness. I hope and pray the time will never come when we will not be concerned with one another and reach down to help one another and lift and strengthen one another,” he said as he closed this visit to the members in South America.
More than 20,000 Church members and dignitaries joined President Hinckley and Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy, President of the North America Central Area, in Denver’s McNichols Arena on Saturday, 13 September, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Church’s missionary work in Denver. A program of music, dance, and narrative featuring original material produced by local Church members portrayed the history of the Church from early times to the present. With the theme of “How Beautiful upon the Mountains” (Isa. 52:7), the celebration also marked the sesquicentennial of the pioneers’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley.
“The coming to Pueblo of the Mississippi converts, the gathering to Pueblo of the sick of the Mormon Battalion, the planting of Mormon settlements in the San Luis Valley, and the opening of the mission here a century ago all have been part of a grand process in the unfolding of the work of the Lord and the establishment and strengthening of His kingdom in these latter days,” President Hinckley remarked. “Today there is scarcely a community in Colorado that does not have a Mormon congregation.”
Religious Newswriters Convention
“You do not often make page A-1, and that, I imagine, becomes a little discouraging at times,” said President Hinckley to reporters from around the U.S. gathered at the annual Religion Newswriters Association convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on the morning of Sunday, 14 September. “But you render a great service. When all is said and done, religion affects the lives of uncounted millions throughout the nation.”
In his address, President Hinckley candidly provided many facts, details, and insights about Church history, doctrine, demographics, and programs. “We are a part of the great community of Christians,” he said. “And yet we are a peculiar people, in some respects difficult for you to understand and write about. Our history is unique. Our doctrine is somewhat different. Our way of financing our work is somewhat peculiar to us. Our system of charity is singular.”
Quoting Matthew 7:16—“Ye shall know them by their fruits”—President Hinckley said: “That is the only standard by which we wish to be judged. We have become old enough now, we have become large enough to provide a basis to test the efficacy of our programs. Our people have become leaders in the business world, occupying top executive positions. They are in the Congress of the United States. They are in the professions and in every worthy endeavor.” After his prepared address, President Hinckley answered reporters’ questions.
Window Rock, Arizona
More than 5,000 Native American members gathered on Sunday, 14 September, to welcome President Hinckley to Window Rock, Arizona, capital of the 25,000-square-mile Navajo Indian reservation that spreads across northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and southeastern Utah. Speaking inside a civic center decorated with Navajo rugs, including the largest such rug ever woven, President Hinckley focused his remarks on building strong families and seeking educational opportunities.
“Hold your families close to you,” he said to parents. “Your sons and daughters are very precious to you. Treat your children as a great blessing from the Lord. Hold family home evenings. Sit down once a week and study the scriptures. Pray together and be together as families.” To young people, President Hinckley said: “The Church of which you are a member has a mandate from the Lord that we educate ourselves, our hands, our hearts, and our minds in the things of the world and the things of God. Make something of your lives. That is the wave of the future.”
Later on the same busy Sunday, 14 September, President Hinckley rededicated the extensively renovated Papago Ward meetinghouse near Mesa, Arizona. Created in 1884, the Papago Ward is attended mainly by people from the Pima and Maricopa Indian communities in the Salt River Valley. The ward is considered the Church’s oldest Native American ward.
Speaking to about 1,000 members and visitors, President Hinckley said: “You have a new building—this beautiful structure. Renew your lives. If you do, the Lord will bless you.” President Hinckley related that his great-uncle, Arza E. Hinckley, was the Papago Ward’s first bishop while serving as a missionary in the area.