Inspired by the Book of Mormon, early Church leaders looked to spread the gospel among descendants of indigenous Americans. In 1851 Elder Parley P. Pratt traveled to Chile, hoping to establish a mission in South America, but his limited Spanish and government restrictions on press and religious freedom hampered the work. Church leaders later focused on Mexico, which passed reforms in the 1870s. The restored gospel was not preached in South America until Church members immigrated to Argentina and Brazil in the 1920s.
At a 1926 conference in Buenos Aires, Apostle and mission president Melvin J. Ballard predicted that Church growth would begin gradually, “just as an oak grows slowly from an acorn.” But, he promised, “the day will come when the South American Mission will be a power in the Church.” Over the next 25 years, as missionary work expanded from Argentina to Brazil and Uruguay, the Church grew slowly. In 1950 there were fewer than 2,500 Saints on the continent. Beginning in the late 1940s, however, Church leaders visited South American nations and reported spiritual impressions that the “day of the Lamanites” had come. Missions were opened across South America, and millions have since joined the Church. From its roots in Elder Parley P. Pratt’s first visit to Chile, the oak has grown strong.