Church History
The Church Arrives in Colombia

“The Church Arrives in Colombia,” Global Histories: Colombia (2022)

“The Church Arrives in Colombia,” Global Histories: Colombia

The Church Arrives in Colombia

Beginning in 1963, Church leaders began exploring the potential for preaching the restored gospel in Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. After the Mormon Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair gathered more than 90 referrals from the region—31 from Colombia alone—Church leaders felt the time was right.

On May 11, 1966, Elder Spencer W. Kimball of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gathered members, missionaries, and others at Enrique Olaya Herrera National Park in Bogotá. A light rain fell as the group huddled in a small pavilion. Kimball asked some members of the group to share testimonies, and, after the group sang a hymn, he offered a dedicatory prayer blessing the nation of Colombia and opening the land for the preaching of the gospel. That evening, Kimball organized the Colombia Branch in Bogotá, with Harold M. Rex as president, and, in the following days, missionaries Randall Harmsen and Jerry Broome began searching out the referrals from the World’s Fair. In July, Harmsen and Broome began teaching the Mendoza and Hernandez families, who had visited the Fair, and within weeks Medardo Antonio Vela Hernandez was baptized, becoming the first member of the Church in Colombia.

Word soon reached the Andes Mission office that a new member named Enrique Castillo from Costa Rica had recently relocated to Cali, Colombia. Two missionaries were dispatched to Cali in June 1966 to find the Castillo family. Within hours of their arrival, the missionaries located the Castillos, and the first Church meetings in Cali were held at the Castillo home the following Sunday. The Castillos and the missionaries began inviting others to join them at their meetings, and the branch began to grow. Aura Ivars, who was hired to cook for the missionaries, became a regular participant in the branch but still felt some reservations about joining the Church. However, when she finished reading the Book of Mormon, she gave her copy to the missionaries and said, “Baptize me.” In November, Ivars became one of the first members of the Church to be baptized in Cali.

The Castillo family soon moved to Bucaramanga, a city 475 miles (764 kilometers) northeast of Cali. Within a year, the Bucaramanga Branch rivaled the branches in Bogotá and Cali in size and activity. When the Colombia-Venezuela Mission was created in July 1968, little more than two years after Elder Kimball dedicated the country, 12 branches in Bogotá, Cali, Bucaramanga, Medellín, and Pereira had been organized, and nearly 800 people had been baptized.