South America’s Southern Lands Remain a Power in the Church
Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
A trio of General Authorities recently traveled together to visit the southern nations of South America.
For each of those visiting Church leaders—Elder Russell M. Nelson and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy—the trip offered moments of personal nostalgia and glimpses into the region’s promising Church future.
The three men were assigned to preside November 14 over an annual review of the South America South Area. Also included in their varied itineraries were several meetings with missionaries and members—including priesthood leadership trainings, stake conferences, and a devotional for married couples that was broadcast to meetinghouses across the area.
Their wives—Sister Wendy Nelson, Sister Katherine Christofferson, and Sister Debbie Christensen—joined the Brethren in their travels.
The South America South Area could aptly be called a Latter-day Saint stronghold. Consisting of four nations—Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay—the area is made up of dozens of missions and over 1,600 wards or branches.
Elder Nelson said his assignment in the South America South Area left him uplifted and hopeful for the years ahead.
“These are very faithful, handsome, and dedicated people,” he said. “Their children are adorable, and it’s so inspiring to be among them.”
The centerpiece of the South America visit was a thorough review of the area. Once a year, one or two members of the Twelve and a member of the Presidency of the Seventy review each area of the Church.
“We turn over every rock and see how they are doing,” said Elder Nelson. “We found things to be in very good order in the South America South Area.”
The visiting Brethren were especially impressed with the local leadership called to direct the dynamic region. Area President Elder Walter F. Gonzalez and his two counselors, Elder Jorge F. Zeballos and Elder Francisco J. Viñas, can be aptly called “sons of southern South America.” Elder Gonzalez is a native of Uruguay, Elder Zeballos is from Chile, and Elder Viñas, while born in Spain, was raised in Uruguay.
Beyond their local ties, each man is also a veteran General Authority and has served in a variety of callings and assignments.
“They deserve all the credit for the leadership,” noted Elder Nelson. “They are inspired leaders and the people love them.”
Elder Christofferson said that each Area Presidency in the Church develops an annual plan to chart a course for local growth and development. “A good part of our area review is spent going over the implementation of that plan. We can see what’s happening.”
Elder Nelson, Elder Christofferson, and Elder Christensen spent much of their South American trip apart so they could meet with a wide range of missionaries and members.
“We were able to interact with over 60,000 members and missionaries, … including almost every Area Seventy,” said Elder Christensen.
The three men presided over a variety of missionary meetings. They noted the diversity of elders and sisters serving in the many missions. The vast majority hail from nations outside the area, including one missionary from as far away as Nigeria.
“Each of the missionary meetings was almost like the United Nations—and the missionaries are all united and working as one,” Elder Christensen observed.
At each missionary meeting, the visiting Church leaders reserved time to allow for a personal moment with each elder and sister. “We met and shook hands with every missionary,” said Elder Nelson.
None of these visiting Brethren are strangers to South America—and each holds special love for this area of the world renowned for its beautiful cities and friendly people. Elder Nelson’s ecclesiastical duties have brought him to South America 16 times. Meanwhile, Elder Christofferson and Elder Christensen served missions to Argentina and Chile, respectively.
Each leader enjoyed a moment of personal nostalgia during their recent assignment.
While presiding at the San Nicolás Argentina Stake Conference, Elder Nelson spotted an elderly, white-haired man that he was certain he knew from a previous visit long ago.
“I called him up to the pulpit. His name was Hugo Gassoni. I asked him how long it had been since we met. He said 40 years. I was the Sunday School general president at that time, and he was a leader of the Church in Argentina. He’s now 85.”
When Elder Christofferson was a young missionary in Argentina his mission included the city of Mendoza. The district president at that time was a faithful man named Jaime Moltó. Now, decades later, Elder Christofferson was reunited with President Moltó. The district he once presided over has grown into several stakes and a mission.
Elder Christensen served his mission to Chile 37 years ago and had not been back prior to his recent trip. He participated in a priesthood leadership conference that included four areas where he had served as a missionary.
“In our several meetings in Chile, seven individuals and families whom we taught as young missionaries came and found me,” he said with a broad smile.
The recent South America South Area visit also included a moment of Church history. Elder Christofferson made what’s believed to be the first visit by an Apostle to the town of Ushuaia, the capital of the so-called “Fin del Mundo” (end of the world) region located at the southernmost tip of Argentina.
The Church in Ushuaia is both stable and well regarded. There is a district with four branches, along with strong leaders who represent the Church well in the community, said Elder Christofferson.
The missionaries serving in the “Fin del Mundo” region enjoy reciting the Savior’s words recorded in Matthew 28:19-20:
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
“Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
The Church has assisted in humanitarian projects in the region “and has a great name and reputation there,” said Elder Christofferson.
Another highlight of the visit was a devotional for married couples that originated at a meetinghouse in Buenos Aires and was broadcast live to meetinghouses across the South America South Area.
Elder Nelson spoke of the importance of families and the eternal blessing of having children. To drive home his teaching, he spoke of his own family, which includes 10 children, 57 grandchildren, and 81 great-grandchildren.
“The challenges facing these people are the same as anywhere else,” Elder Nelson told the Church News. “They are trying to raise a family in righteousness in a world that is becoming increasingly secular and not religiously inclined or family inclined.”
Elder Christofferson spoke of the importance of a marriage being a “council”—a unified body where a husband and wife can counsel with one another and make decisions together.
Elder Christensen said the devotional was anchored by timeless themes “such as praying together and communicating with each other.”
The wives of the visiting General Authorities also participated in the training. “They reached out with their unique abilities to strengthen the families and particularly inspire those sisters in attendance,” said Elder Nelson.
Area reviews also give the visiting Brethren an essential opportunity to meet with local leaders in priesthood leadership conferences. Elder Nelson, Elder Christofferson, and Elder Christensen enjoyed meeting and offering direction to scores of stake presidents, district presidents, bishops, and branch presidents in multiple priesthood gatherings.
The Brethren, explained Elder Nelson, have two objectives at the priesthood leadership conferences:
“One is to increase their faith in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His Church. The other objective is to strengthen their families so they can qualify for all the blessings that God has in store for them in our holy temples.”
Besides offering counsel on shepherding both Church units and their own families, the General Authorities also responded to several queries during question-and-answer sessions.
During the priesthood meetings, the wives of the Brethren participated in sister auxiliary meetings in nearby meetinghouses.
“The sisters came in large number and were greatly inspired by the messages that our wives gave,” said Elder Nelson.