In 1851 Elder Parley P. Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, his wife Phoebe Soper Pratt, and another missionary named Rufus C. Allen came to Chile to evaluate the prospects for missionary work. “As soon as I could talk a little broken Spanish,” Pratt recalled, “I found [that] people in [the] middle class never tired of talking.” As he discussed religion with Chileans, Pratt sought to distinguish the restored Church from Protestant faiths and show common ground with some Catholic teachings. Despite his diligence, he was hampered by his “imperfect tongue” and limitations on press freedom and left the country after four months. After returning to Utah, Pratt hoped to study Spanish “until [he was] prepared to translate the Book of Mormon” to facilitate further missionary work. Pratt was killed in 1857, however, and a complete Spanish translation of the Book of Mormon was not published until 1886.
It took longer for the Church to return to South America. On December 25, 1925, Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated South America for missionary work. Missionaries from Argentina did some proselytizing in Chile in the early years of the South American Mission, but a lasting Church presence was not established until the 1950s, when an American member named Billie F. Fotheringham moved with his family to Santiago and became a tireless advocate for starting full-time missionary work in Chile. He wrote letters to Church leaders and even went so far as to obtain governmental assurances that missionaries would be allowed in the country.
Finally, Chile was added to the Argentine Mission in 1955, and on June 23, 1956, missionaries Verle M. Allred and Joseph C. Bentley arrived in Santiago. Lee B. Valentine, their mission president, predicted that the seeds Allred and Bentley planted in Chile “would multiply and multiply and the Church would become a great force in Chile.” Two months later, the Santiago Branch was organized. On November 25, the branch witnessed the baptisms of Ricardo García and eight others, who were the first Chilean Saints. This hallmark day was the beginning of an era of explosive growth in Chilean membership.
Five years later, when the Chile Mission was organized, the country had just over 600 members. In less than two decades, there were four missions and nearly 100,000 members. By the year 2000, there were over half a million Latter-day Saints in Chile, more than 3 percent of Chile’s population. This was the highest proportion anywhere in Latin America.