Chapter Forty-Seven: Continued Growth during the Early 1990s

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“Chapter Forty-Seven: Continued Growth during the Early 1990s,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 616–27

“Chapter Forty-Seven,” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 616–27

Chapter Forty-Seven

Continued Growth during the Early 1990s

The closing decade1 of the twentieth century was marked by flourishing growth amid change to accommodate the ever increasing needs of the Lord’s Church. Challenges that threatened the expansion of the kingdom often turned to benefit the work of the Lord as the Church reached beyond the borders of its membership to provide humanitarian aid, education, and goodwill to all people. The Savior said of his kingdom, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14). This light was becoming more and more apparent as the century drew to a close.

The Church in West Africa

During the late 1980s and early 1990s one area of tremendous growth for the Church was Black west Africa. The first stake in the region was organized in 1988 in Aba, Nigeria. Over a thousand people attended the historic conference at which the stake was organized.2 It was the first time a stake in the Church had all Black priesthood leaders. Three years later, the Church received legal recognition in the Ivory Coast.3

Elder Neal A. Maxwell speaking in west Africa

The Church experienced a temporary setback, however, in Ghana, another country of west Africa. On 14 June 1989, after the Church had had an official presence in Ghana for over a decade, the government of Ghana unexpectedly announced that the twelve foreign Latter-day Saint missionaries, as well as those from three other groups, were being expelled from the country, and that these churches were being banned for “conducting themselves in a manner that undermines the sovereignty of Ghana.” The Church was forced to release its seventy-two native Ghanaian missionaries. A year and a half later, following patient negotiations with the government, the Church was permitted to resume its activity in Ghana.4

Although the ban halted many Church activities in Ghana, it actually strengthened the Saints there. Less than four months after the ban was lifted, stakes were organized at Accra and Cape Coast. When the mission reopened, the seventy-two local missionaries were contacted to see if they wished to resume their missions. Three were out of the country, but all of the remaining missionaries chose to complete their missions. One of the elders, Ebenezer Owusu, had fasted and prayed during the interim that he might be worthy to resume his mission if the opportunity arose. He also read Jesus the Christ, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Gospel Principles twice, the Book of Mormon institute of religion manual twice, and the Book of Mormon twenty times.5

Jerusalem Center Opens

In 1968 Brigham Young University began conducting travel study programs to the Holy Land. Students were housed in hotels and other similar facilities. During the 1980s the Church created its own center for the Jerusalem program. The First Presidency supervised the project and assigned Elders Howard W. Hunter and James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Jeffrey R. Holland, then president of Brigham Young University, to oversee its completion.

The Jerusalem Center is located on a five-acre site on Mount Scopus. The center is used by Brigham Young University for its study abroad programs. The center was first occupied in March 1987. It was dedicated in May 1989 by President Howard W. Hunter.

Opposition to this large educational center arose from orthodox Jewish groups who feared that the Latter-day Saints planned to use the center as a base for proselyting. Members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, as well as President Holland, met repeatedly with government, religious, and educational leaders in Israel and the United States to assure them that the Jerusalem Center would participate only in educational activities and that BYU students would not engage in any form of missionary work during their stay in Israel.

The completed structure included residence facilities for two hundred people plus classrooms and an auditorium with picture windows overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. This magnificent facility was dedicated on 16 May 1989 by President Howard W. Hunter, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

The Middle East

The Gulf War in January 1991 again focused the world’s attention on the Middle East. Many Latter-day Saints were among the military personnel sent to that region. They returned with an increased awareness of the challenges faced by people in that part of the world. The Church’s educational program in nearby Israel continued despite tensions in the region.

On the day after Christmas in 1992, the Tabernacle Choir left for a twelve-day concert tour to the Holy Land. Performances in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv sold out. With the help of Israeli technical crews, the choir’s weekly “Music and the Spoken Word” was broadcast from BYU’s Jerusalem Center, rather than from the “Crossroads of the West” in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Choir officials were delighted to learn that the managing director of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and the head of music at the Israel Broadcast Authority had been fans of the Tabernacle Choir since their youth.6 The Tabernacle Choir’s message of peace made a lasting impression on the turbulent region.

Challenge and Growth in Latin America

The Church grew more rapidly in Latin America than in any other area of the world, but this progress did not come easily. In 1986 five Latter-day Saint chapels in Chile were damaged by bombs; another was destroyed in 1990. These attacks appeared to be linked with anti-American sentiment. In 1989 two missionaries from Utah who were serving in Bolivia were murdered. The following year two Peruvian missionaries serving in their own country were also killed. All four murders appeared to have been perpetrated by revolutionary terrorists.7 Precautions were taken and, despite these tragedies, missionary work went forward in these countries.

After more than a century of activity in Mexico, the Church was officially registered by the government as a religious organization on 29 June 1993. This meant that the Church could enjoy rights (including ownership of property) that it had not been granted under earlier constitutions. Government officials gratefully acknowledged the many contributions that had been made by the Mormon community in Mexico.8

Later that same year the Church published a Spanish edition of the triple combination. It included the Guide to the Scriptures, a 260-page publication that incorporated material from the Topical Guide, the Bible Dictionary, and other helps found in the 1981 English edition of the scriptures. This was the first time these improved study helps became available in a language other than English.

Humanitarian Aid

The Lord commanded Latter-day Saints of all nations to “remember the poor” (D&C 42:30) and care for “the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple” (D&C 52:40). The Saints have a responsibility to “administer to their relief that they shall not suffer” (D&C 38:35). During the Great Depression in the United States in the 1930s, the Church organized a welfare program to help those in need. In addition to the welfare program, the Church organized a humanitarian relief program. In times of disaster and emergency, the Saints provide relief supplies and other needed help. In the closing decades of the twentieth century, the world witnessed an increase in the Church’s involvement in humanitarian aid on a global scale.

During the early 1980s a severe drought that hit much of northeastern Africa was a major cause in the malnutrition of millions and the death of hundreds of thousands in several countries. Elder M. Russell Ballard, of the First Quorum of the Seventy, and Glenn L. Pace, managing director of Welfare Services, went on assignment to Africa in March 1985 to inspect conditions and see what the Church might do to assist the multitudes of hungry people. Members of the Church in the United States participated in a national day of fasting on 24 November 1985 and contributed $3.8 million. When combined with the money donated from a similar fast held the previous January, the contributions totaled more than $10 million. Early in January 1986 President Ezra Taft Benson traveled to Washington, D.C., where he met with President Ronald Reagan and reported on the contributions of the Saints to the stricken people in Africa.9

Early in 1992 the Church sent eighteen hundred boxes of food and vitamins to three newly created branches of the Church in Russia and Estonia. About half of the supplies went to Church members, and the rest went to other needy people in the area. Boxes of supplies were sent to schools, hospitals, senior citizens’ homes, and children’s relief agencies. The project was financed mostly by donations from Latter-day Saints in Europe, but about two and a half tons of milk and a supply of vitamins came from the Church’s welfare program in the United States.10

From 1985 to June of 1995, the Church’s humanitarian efforts involved 2,340 projects in 137 countries at a total value of $162.5 million, including the delivery of 9,800 tons of food, 894 tons of medical supplies, and 20,798 tons of surplus clothing.11

To provide the clothing needed for these relief projects, the First Presidency established the Deseret Industries “sort center” in Salt Lake City. It occupied two stories of a large building and employed 130 workers who otherwise would likely be unemployed. Each day they sorted about forty-five tons of clothing, binding it into 125-pound bales for shipment.

Deseret Industries sort center

For many years experienced organizations not necessarily affiliated with the Church delivered much of this humanitarian aid. Then in 1996 the Church created a charitable, nonprofit agency called Latter-day Saint Charities to help “deliver humanitarian aid to poor and needy people of the world.” This agency could deliver supplies to those in need, although in some cases it still enlisted the help of other agencies to distribute certain items.12 Such “Church-sponsored humanitarian projects are limited to: (1) acute life-threatening emergencies such as those brought about by natural disasters and which require immediate, direct relief; and (2) chronic debilitating conditions brought about by poverty, poor health, or unsafe environments that may be improved by self-help development. Church funding of such projects is limited to the resources donated by members for these purposes.”13 Humanitarian aid provided by the Church fostered self-reliance, focused on strengthening families, and ministered to temporal needs so that spiritual needs could be met.

Gospel Literacy

Another worldwide effort organized by the Church was the gospel literacy program. Pioneered by the Church Educational System in the 1970s, this program was given impetus by the Relief Society in 1992 as part of its 150th anniversary commemoration. The literacy program involved missionaries and other volunteers using the scriptures and other gospel-centered materials to teach basic reading skills. For the first time local leaders in many places around the world could read the manuals and handbooks they needed for their callings and write their own books of remembrance.

The literacy program was adapted to the particular needs of the people in each area of the world. One couple serving a mission in Africa reported that they instructed people “in members’ homes, on patios, in backyards or under trees.” A sister in Chicago hadn’t been able to write letters to her friends until she learned the basics of spelling and grammar from the literacy program. Then she not only gained the ability to write letters, but she also gained self-confidence. One literacy missionary commented, “Every class we taught was a teacher’s payday as class members, individually and collectively, read scriptures and sang hymns and other songs.”14

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building

Other significant changes were taking place at Church headquarters. After seventy-six years of service, the Hotel Utah closed in 1987. During the next six years this landmark building in downtown Salt Lake City was structurally upgraded and completely renovated and refurbished. It was remodeled to include a chapel for two wards and a branch, offices for the Church’s Public Affairs and Family History departments, banquet facilities, two restaurants, and over a hundred family history computers that enabled visitors from around the world to search the Church’s family history databases for information on their families.

The renovated structure was renamed the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. It was dedicated on 27 June 1993, the 149th anniversary of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s martyrdom. President Gordon B. Hinckley felt it was “appropriate that we have on this block a beautiful memorial to the Prophet Joseph Smith, from whose calling and work has sprung all that the Church is today.”15

The main floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building

A unique feature of the building was a state-of-the-art theater that seats five-hundred people. On its thirty-one-foot by sixty-two-foot screen visitors could view Legacy, a 53-minute film dramatizing the trials and triumphs of the early Latter-day Saints as they sought to establish the Church. Produced by Academy Award winner Kieth Merrill, the film focused on the experiences of one Latter-day Saint family to show important events in Church history from 1830 to the placing of the Salt Lake Temple’s capstone in 1892.16 A second film, The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd, released early in the year 2000, depicted the life of the Savior from New Testament and Book of Mormon scriptures.

Important Milestones

During the early 1990s the Church passed several significant milestones. For example, early in May 1991 the 500,000th full-time missionary received his call. The 60,000th full-time missionary had been called in 1950, and the 264,000th in 1980.17

During that time the First Presidency became increasingly concerned about the “great and growing disparity in the cost of missions in various areas of the world”; some missions cost as little as $100 per month while others cost as much as $750 per month. The decision was made that all those supporting a missionary called from the United States or Canada would contribute a fixed amount, then set at $350 per month.18 In like spirit, Church leaders decided in 1989 that local ward or branch budgets would be supported by the general funds of the Church. They expressed gratitude that the Saints’ faithful tithe paying had made this step possible.19 In each case, members were helping one another—those whose missionaries were in less expensive areas helping to subsidize missionaries serving in more costly locales, and tithe payers helping to finance the budgets of less affluent wards and branches.

Another milestone was reached in December 1992 when the 20,000th ward was created. The Church then had local units in 144 nations or territories—67 percent of which were wards and the remainder branches. The 1,000th ward had been organized in 1927, the 5,000th in 1970, and the 10,000th in 1980.20

The Preparation of a Prophet

Howard William Hunter was born in Boise, Idaho, on 14 November 1907, the first Church President to be born in the twentieth century. During his boyhood in the Idaho countryside, Howard gained a love for animals, nature, and hard work. He became involved in Scouting and was the second boy in his area to receive the Eagle award.

As a young man he loved music and learned to play the marimba, drums, saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, piano, and violin. During his junior year of high school he organized his own dance band, called Hunter’s Croonaders. Soon after graduation, he and a few other musician friends formed a five-piece orchestra that played aboard a ship on a two-month cruise to Asia. They performed classical music during dinner, accompanied silent movies, and played for dances.

When twenty-one-year-old Howard W. Hunter returned to Idaho, opportunities for employment were scarce, so he headed for southern California. He found jobs playing music, selling shoes, and working in a bank.

Even though he had been active in the Church during his youth in Idaho, he believed that his spiritual awakening came after his move to California. “I think of this period of my life as the time the truths of the gospel commenced to unfold. I always had a testimony of the gospel, but suddenly I commenced to understand.”21

At a Church young adult activity, Howard W. Hunter met Clara May (Claire) Jeffs, whom he married on 10 June 1931 in the Salt Lake Temple. As his wedding day approached, he decided to give up his career as a professional musician. “It was glamorous in some respects,” Howard commented, “and I made good money, but the association with many of the musicians was not enjoyable because of their drinking and moral standards.”22

Deciding he wanted to enter the legal profession, the young husband entered Southwestern University in Los Angeles to do his undergraduate work and pursue a law degree. He worked full-time, took classes in the evening, and still managed to fulfill his family duties and his ecclesiastical responsibilities as a Scout leader. He completed his law degree in 1939.

Howard W. Hunter was called as bishop of the El Sereno ward in 1940, when many nations were entering World War II. His ward could not build a badly needed chapel during the war, so Bishop Hunter encouraged ward members to participate in fund-raising projects so the money would be ready when construction again became possible.

Bishop Hunter was released in 1946, and then four years later was called as president of the Pasadena stake. His responsibilities were not limited to that stake, however. The General Authorities assigned President Hunter to take the lead in pioneering early-morning seminary, to serve as chairman of the southern California welfare region, to act as priesthood adviser for regional youth activities (including music and dance festivals), and to play a key role in raising funds for the building of the Los Angeles California Temple.23

As stake president, Howard W. Hunter typically attended general conference each April and October in Salt Lake City. Following the opening session of the October 1959 conference, President Hunter received a note asking him to go to President David O. McKay’s office. In his office, the prophet told him: “Sit down, President Hunter, I want to talk with you. The Lord has spoken. You are called to be one of his special witnesses, and tomorrow you will be sustained as a member of the Council of the Twelve.”24

As a special witness of Jesus Christ, Elder Hunter traveled to the ends of the earth delivering his testimony of the Master and was warmly received by the Saints. Elder Hunter also served as Church Historian and Recorder, succeeding Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, who had filled that office for half a century. Elder Hunter took a personal interest in the functioning of the Church Historian’s Office and encouraged efforts to improve the keeping of Church history. Even when members of the Twelve were released from their responsibilities as heads of Church departments in 1972, Elder Hunter continued to serve as an adviser to the newly restructured Historical Department.

Significant Strides in Family History Work

Elder Howard W. Hunter was also closely involved with the Church’s genealogical program. In 1964 he served as president of the Church’s Genealogical Society. It was under his direction that computers were first used to “manage and process names for temple ordinance work.”25

Over a period of several years Elder Hunter was involved in key decisions that helped refine and expedite genealogical procedures. These refinements included the creation of the Pedigree Referral Service and the development of a system of branch genealogical libraries.26

Church leaders recognized that genealogical research was considered difficult by most members. Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained, “We are trying to simplify and demystify the seeking and finding of our ancestors. We are also hoping to make it easier for everyone with little training to find his or her own forefathers and receive the temple ordinances in their behalf.”27 Simpler family group sheets, pedigree charts, and name submission procedures were implemented to further this objective.

Reflecting on the impressive capacity of the computer and related technology to facilitate family history work, Elder Boyd K. Packer declared: “When the servants of the Lord determine to do as He commands, we move ahead. As we proceed, we are joined at the crossroads by those who have been prepared to help us.

“They come with skills and abilities precisely suited to our needs. And, we find provisions; information, inventions, help of various kinds, set along the way waiting for us to take them up.

“It is as though someone knew we would be traveling that way. We see the invisible hand of the Almighty providing for us.”28

With Elder Howard W. Hunter’s help, the family history program of the Church became both more efficient and easier to use.

A New Prophet

Elder Howard W. Hunter was set apart on 5 June 1994 as the fourteenth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints following the death of President Ezra Taft Benson in May of 1994. At the press conference introducing President Hunter as the new prophet, he presented the theme that would become the hallmark of his brief administration. He invited “the members of the Church to establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of their membership and the supernal setting for their most sacred covenants. It would be the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church temple worthy. I would hope that every adult member would be worthy of—and carry—a current temple recommend, even if proximity to a temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it. Let us be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people.”29

President Hunter again sounded this theme at the conclusion of the October general conference that same year: “Let us make the temple, with temple worship and temple covenants and temple marriage, our ultimate earthly goal and the supreme mortal experience.”30

As President of the Church, Howard W. Hunter helped the Saints focus their attention on attending the temple and coming unto Christ.

Temple Construction

President Hunter dedicated temples in Orlando, Florida, and Bountiful, Utah. By the end of his administration eleven more temples had been announced, and construction on a twelfth temple was under way. These new temples included two in Europe and three in Latin America.

Among these temples were two that represented new and distinct concepts in temple design. Because real estate in crowded Hong Kong, China, was so difficult to obtain, the building there had to accommodate temple facilities, residences for temple and mission presidents, offices, and a chapel.

The Hong Kong China Temple was dedicated on 26 May 1996 by President Gordon B. Hinckley.

In Vernal, Utah, for the first time the Church transformed an existing older building into a temple. The exterior of the former stake tabernacle was restored, and temple facilities were constructed inside.

Another important event of President Hunter’s administration occurred on 11 December 1994, when he organized the 2,000th stake of the Church in Mexico City. In 1970, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he organized the five existing Mexico City stakes into fifteen. On no other occasion in Church history had ten new stakes been organized in a single city at the same time. The 1,000th stake in the Church was organized in 1979 in Nauvoo, Illinois. The number of stakes had doubled in just fifteen years. During the early 1990s three stakes were created outside the United States for every one that was created within the nation.31


Stake Organizations

After presiding over the Church for almost nine months, President Howard W. Hunter died on 3 March 1995. His last public appearance had been at the dedication of the Bountiful Utah Temple two months earlier. He had once again been pointing Saints toward the temple, the “symbol of their membership.” The lives of Latter-day Saints around the world were blessed by the example and ministry of President Howard W. Hunter.