A New Mission for Church School in Mexico
Contributed By By Barbara Morgan, Church News contributor
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
The final class of approximately 650 students graduated from Benemerito de las Americas, a Church-owned high school in Mexico City, on June 14. At the graduation ceremony, Elder Alfredo Miron, the school’s final director and an Area Seventy, symbolically handed a large wooden “key to the campus” over to the new MTC president, Carl Pratt. On the key was written the name of the school with the dates 1963–2013, indicating its “fifty years of teaching the youth of the Latter-day Saints.” Under these dates was written “2013—Missionary Training Center” and the scripture “Behold, I will hasten my work in its time” (D&C 88:73).
On June 26, President Pratt and his wife, Sister Karen Pratt, welcomed their first group of about 100 newly set-apart missionaries, some of whom had graduated as high school students only a week and a half earlier from the same campus. “I cannot believe it’s only been 10 days since I graduated from this school,” said one elder as he was entering the new MTC. “It’s quite a special experience to be able to see the way in which the Lord transforms things in order to fulfill His work.
“I can see now,” he continued, “how this campus as a missionary training center will be used to bless even more people than it already has. It’s worth every sacrifice. This is going to be an incredible work, and I’m looking forward to being able to serve the Lord as soon as I can.”
Fifty years ago, on November 4, 1963, Elder Marion G. Romney of the Quorum of the Twelve broke ground for the school, named Benemerito de las Americas after the Mexican national hero Benito Juarez. Elder Romney stated, “This school for which we are breaking ground today is destined to become a great Spanish-speaking cultural center. Its influence will reach far beyond the valley of Mexico. … It will be felt in all of Latin America, including South America. Hundreds of thousands of people will come here. Going out from here, they will help the nation build up its education, its culture, and its spirituality. This school will prepare men for a better future here on the earth and for eternal life in the world to come. … Those who attend will learn of the pre-earth life and of principles and practices which will prepare them for the life to come. … It is my prayer,” he continued, “that our Father in Heaven will bless … the Mexican people that they may come to an understanding of the real purpose of this institution.” He then prayed that the Lord would “turn all that is here done to the furtherance of Thy purposes, the salvation and exaltation of Thy children.”
Nearly 23,000 students have attended Benemerito since its inception nearly a half-century ago. Over the years the school has provided education from elementary through high school. Beyond academics, the school became well known for a variety of its extracurricular activities including soccer, American football, karate, choir, band, basketball, and, most especially, its folk dance team that traveled throughout Mexico and other countries. From this school have come political leaders, attorneys, doctors, teachers, businessmen, missionaries, mothers and fathers, bishops, Relief Society leaders, stake presidents, and even General Authorities.
In fact, of the current stake presidents serving in Mexico, 25 percent are alumni of Benemerito. Approximately 90 percent of the young men who have graduated from Benemerito over the last five years have served or are currently serving as missionaries. When asked how Benemerito has impacted his life, Abraham Martinez, the seminary and institute area director for Mexico and an Area Seventy, replied, “Benemerito is my home. Benemerito is where I raised my family. Benemerito is my family.”
On January 29, Elder Daniel Johnson, President of the Mexico Area, announced to students and faculty at Benemerito, and to those watching via satellite at chapels throughout Mexico, the upcoming transition of the school into an MTC. To the emotional students, teachers, administrators, and Church members present, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve gently taught, “Tears are the price we pay for love.” He then testified, “This is a dramatic moment in Church history. You have lived to see your role in one of the most historic moments in the Church.”
Although the closing of their beloved school comes at a great sacrifice to these Mexican Saints, the majority are pressing forward humbly, obediently, and with great faith. Two weeks after the announcement, nearly 15,000 alumni joined together on the Benemerito campus in celebration of the school and to reunite as a family. “Benemerito to us here in Mexico is what BYU is to those in the United States,” one alumnus explained. “All the members in Mexico know about this school. Most members in Mexico either attended Benemerito or have family members or close friends who did. Benemerito has raised the level of education, the economic standard, the leadership of its members and helped us become true disciples of Christ. Benemerito as a school has accomplished its role. Now we are ready for another role, and we welcome the missionaries from all over the world.”
One student who will be returning to her family and needs to find a new school said faithfully, “I will happily give up my seat for a missionary and return home to be a light to my community.” Another stated, “It’s so humbling to know that the Lord trusts us enough to build an MTC here. I’m so grateful that I was ever given the opportunity to attend this school, even though it was only for a year, and I can’t wait to come back as a missionary.” With tears streaming down her face, another young woman declared, “I always thought I’d be a part of the chosen generation, the generation of students who would graduate at the 50th anniversary. Now I realize I have been chosen for something greater; I am part of the generation chosen to sacrifice what I love for something even better for the Lord.”
Along with the closing of the school, the Mexico City Mexico Zarahemla Stake, which had served the campus for nearly 45 years, was officially disbanded at its final conference on June 2. The following week in the individual wards, bishoprics, auxiliary leaders, and workers were all released. There were many tears shed as high school students and their leaders expressed their testimonies and commitment to follow the prophet.
At the announcement of the new MTC, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “Instead of a few hundred being educated here at Benemerito, many thousands will be trained. Many of them will come from other countries. They will not only receive training, they will develop a love for Mexico, its language, and its people. They will be pioneers in their missions. They will be leaders throughout the entire world.”
He continued, “This hallowed ground where we sit tonight will become more sacred with each passing year. Better, higher, and holier purposes will be served in the future more than they’ve ever been before. Now, I don’t know what the future will bring. I don’t know when this story will end. Perhaps it will never end. It will continue on and on, more and more, higher and higher to bless the lives of generations yet unborn. This sacred place will help the country of Mexico to become all that God intends it to become. With that sanctification, it will be a blessing to the entire world.”
This great impact will not only be seen through the missionaries who come to the MTC, but the growth will be seen in all involved in the missionary work in Mexico. Perhaps greatest of all will be the impact on the teachers. Currently there are 50 Mexican returned missionaries hired to train these new missionaries, with many more to come. Leaders are being called from neighboring stakes to serve in the MTC district and branch presidencies. Local members have been and will continue to be hired to serve in other capacities as needed. The plan is for this MTC to be staffed fully by the Latin American Saints. As Mexico Area President Daniel Johnson of the Seventy said, “Mexico has matured, and the Mexican Saints are ready.”
•Barbara Morgan is a professor of Church history at Brigham Young University.