“The Church in Spain and Gibraltar,” Friend, May 1975, 32
President Marion G. Romney opened the Spain Mission in July of 1970, and R. Raymond Barnes was called to be mission president. The new mission, which had been part of the France Mission, also included the Mediterranean District, the Kenitra Branch in Morocco, Africa, and a branch at Lajes in the Azores (islands).
When the Spain Mission was organized, with headquarters in Madrid, 36 missionaries were transferred from the France Mission to serve there. Now there are about 130 missionaries in the Spain Mission. And there are over 1,000 members in the mission’s three districts and twenty-five branches.
Missionaries had been sent to the land of Spain, however, 116 years before. At a special conference held in Great Salt Lake City on August 28, 1852, Elders Edward Stevenson and Nathan T. Porter were called to the Gibraltar Mission, the place of Elder Stevenson’s birth.
Gibraltar is a rocky peninsula that juts out into the Alboran Sea on the southern coast of Spain, where it forms part of a gateway to the larger Mediterranean Sea. Ruled by the Moors until the 1400s, when it was conquered by Spain, Gibraltar was later occupied by the British in 1704, and in 1830 it became a crown colony of the British Empire. After a half year’s journey from Salt Lake, Elders Stevenson and Porter arrived there aboard the steamship Iberia.
A short time later it was necessary for Elder Porter to return to England, but Elder Stevenson stayed on to tell all the people he could about the gospel. While most of the inhabitants of Gibraltar were of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Maltese descent, the British were in control and they had strict rules about holding public meetings.
One day Elder Stevenson was arrested for preaching, and marched off to jail. However, when it was later discovered that he was teaching the guards and had almost converted the man who was in charge of him, he was released. Later he baptized two more people into the Church, and on January 23, 1854, a branch of the Church was organized with ten members in this British outpost with a Spanish heritage.
By July of the same year there were eighteen members in the little branch, in spite of the fact that six members had left to serve with the British army in Asia. Of the eighteen members, the priesthood was represented by one seventy, one elder, one priest, and one teacher.
A great help for missionaries and for Spanish-speaking people everywhere is the translation of the Book of Mormon into Spanish. Meliton Gonzalez Trejo is the man who is most responsible for its first translation. The son of a nobleman, Meliton was born in Garganta la Olla, Spain, in 1843. Well educated as a boy and young man, he was always interested in religion. But nothing he read about various churches satisfied him.
One day, however, he heard a friend mention a group of people, called “saints,” who had been led over the Rocky Mountains in America by a prophet. These people, Meliton was told, were living in the Salt Lake Valley. He was so anxious to find out more about them that he asked for and was given permission by the queen to join a military expedition to the Philippine Islands, as he thought this would be a help toward his going to America.
During his stay in the Philippines, Meliton became seriously ill. While recovering, he had time to think more about religion and the “saints” in the Salt Lake Valley. One night after a fervent prayer for guidance, he was directed in a dream to leave the army and journey to Utah. This dream was so sacred to Meliton that he never told the details of it to anyone but President Brigham Young whom he met soon after arriving in Utah. In order to leave the Philippines the young soldier needed money. In time, he was able to secure two thousand dollars in bills that he sewed inside the lining of his vest before he left.
Arriving in Salt Lake, Meliton investigated the Church and soon became a member. He was one of the first missionaries to go to Mexico, and was asked by the General Authorities to translate the Book of Mormon into Spanish. With some help from another man, Meliton Trejo finished the translation in 1886.