“Conversation: The Church in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay,” Ensign, Oct. 1998, 79–80
With a total population of about 45 million people, the South American countries of Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay together have about 394,000 members of the Church. To learn about the progress of the Church in the South America South Area, the Ensign spoke with Elder Carlos H. Amado of the Seventy, President of the South America South Area, and his counselors, Elder Richard D. Allred of the Seventy and Elder Hugo A. Catrón, an Area Authority Seventy.
Question: Please give an overview of the Church in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
Response: In December 1925 Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles established a mission in South America, with headquarters in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Elder Ballard predicted: “The work of the Lord will grow slowly for a time here just as an oak grows slowly from an acorn. It will not shoot up in a day as does the sunflower that grows quickly and then dies. But thousands will join the Church here. … The South American Mission will be a power in the Church” (quoted in Melvin J. Ballard: Crusader for Righteousness , 84).
In accordance with that prophetic statement, during the early years the work went slowly in this area, but in recent years baptisms have accelerated. The Church in Argentina has grown from 800 members in 1946 to 40,000 members in 1978 to 171,000 members in 1990. With a total population of about 35 million people, Argentina today has 282,273 members organized into 63 stakes, 386 wards, 430 branches, 10 missions, and 39 districts. The South America South Area offices are based in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, and a temple was dedicated in Buenos Aires in 1986.
Landlocked in the center of South America, Paraguay is populated by about 5.4 million people, most of whom are descendants of Guaraní Indians and Spanish settlers and who speak both Guaraní and Spanish. Full-time missionaries reached Paraguay in 1950, and the Paraguay Asunción Mission was established in 1977. Membership has grown from 2,000 members in 1977 to 12,000 members in 1990 to 40,037 members today. The Church is well established in Asunción and other population centers, and recent increases in membership have resulted from missionary work in the rural interior. The Church currently has 6 stakes, 34 wards, 94 branches, and 2 missions in Paraguay.
Judging by the number of members as a percentage of total population, the Church has been most successful in Uruguay, which has a population of about 3.3 million people. Most of the nation’s citizens live in cities along the Atlantic Coast. The Uruguay Mission was opened in 1947, and membership has grown from 15,000 members in 1967 to 26,000 members in 1979, to 52,000 members in 1990, to 71,752 members today. The Church in Uruguay has 15 stakes, 91 wards, 88 branches, 2 missions, and 6 districts.
Q: What are some areas of gospel effort and progress in these nations?
R: The Church is strongest and runs most smoothly in places where there are mission headquarters or more than one stake, as opposed to places that have only districts or isolated stakes. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Montevideo, Uruguay, most Church leaders are second-generation or third-generation members who are well prepared and well trained, who understand and know the gospel and how to manage Church programs. Because of the gospel’s influence, such members learn the importance of education and make a constant effort to grow and be well educated, with better vocational opportunities and higher salaries.
Outside of well-established areas, leaders are generally much newer in the Church, so the main challenge is to teach them constantly by example. Besides the annual area training held with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the area presidency conducts other training meetings during the year about how to apply the programs of the Church, with particular emphasis on retaining new converts. Other topics have included how to plan and conduct sacrament meetings, how to hold appropriate interviews, and how to help members live worthy to receive temple recommends.
With ongoing economic changes of globalization and privatization, many people throughout the area are finding it difficult to secure employment. But because of the welfare program of the Church and the application of principles of the gospel, members generally have a good attitude about their economic situation. The gospel not only strengthens families but helps individuals establish habits and principles that make them stronger. Church members are helping each other improve education and employment through five employment-resource centers that recently have been organized throughout the area.
Members in the area are better understanding the meaning and blessings of the temple. In January 1998 the Buenos Aires temple reached the highest number of endowments performed monthly since the temple was dedicated. That peak was reached with fewer full-time temple workers and a new temple presidency. Elder Amado recently visited the Melo Uruguay Stake, located near the border of Brazil. He was impressed that in a stake of mostly farmers who do not possess much financially, trips were organized to the Buenos Aires temple two times a year. The San Luis and Mercedes Districts in the Argentina Mendoza Mission are two more examples of members’ dedication to visit the temple. Trips are organized every two months though members live some 835 kilometers from the temple.
The youth of the area are a chosen generation. They face problems and challenges, of course, but the majority are obedient. Recently, with only two weeks of advance notice, 900 excited youth congregated in Buenos Aires to listen to Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The area’s high number of local mission calls demonstrates how well the youth are doing. More than 1,000 native missionaries from the South America South Area are now serving around the world, and parents are participating more in supporting their missionary sons and daughters. Many full-time missionaries called from the area have been members of the Church for only one or two years.
These nations are full of wonderful examples of faith. For instance, recently northern Argentina was flooded when rivers overflowed, and many people had to abandon their houses. It was inspiring to witness the faith of the Latter-day Saints. One member said, “I lost my home, my clothes, my personal belongings, but I found my real family, all the members of the Church who helped me. Even though I lost all my physical things, I have all my spiritual possessions.”