Their friends and neighbors call them los Mormones—the Mormons. But to us, their fellow members around the world, the Latter-day Saints of Mexico and Central America are known as nuestros hermanos y hermanas—our brothers and sisters.
Brothers and sisters they truly are. And, like members everywhere, they have special stories to tell. Stories of great faith. Stories of remarkable devotion to gospel principles. Stories of sacrifice that bring tears to the eyes of all who hear them. Marvelous, inspiring stories of conversion. Stirring stories of courage in the face of odds that might turn back lesser persons.
Certainly a most thrilling aspect of the gospel is the meaning it holds in the lives of people—the life-styles it changes, the marriages it strengthens, the families it welds together, the direction and peace it gives to personal lives, and the abundant, overflowing joy that it showers on all who accept its teachings and join its communities of believers.
These kinds of stories and testimonies are found wherever Saints gather, each reflecting the brilliances and hues of the cultures involved.
What is the special nature of the 120,000 Saints in Mexico and Central America? What and how is the Church doing in the eight nations in which they live? How are the programs of the Church doing in the more than 330 branches and wards that dot the areas? And how do these warm, gracious people feel about the gospel?
The following feature helps paint a picture of answers. Photographs of the Saints, Church sites, and activities of the gospel were sought throughout the length and breadth of these beautiful lands. Comments and feelings about the gospel and its programs were shared by representative Saints.
One cannot look into their faces—even in photographs—nor hear their testimonies—even on paper—without loving them and knowing of our Father’s goodness to them and all others like them who follow his ways.
—Jay M. Todd
“Except for a short interruption during the revolution, the Mexico Mission has had missionaries since 1875. As a result, we now have third- and fourth-generation Mormons in numerous small branches within an hour’s drive of Mexico City. Where once there was one mission, now there are six. Where once the annual baptism count was less than 500, it now ranges toward 15,000 annually. Where once there were 5,000 members, there are today about 120,000! Need we say more to show what has happened in twenty years? Today, our mission covers the most populous area of Mexico, having a total population of 24,000,000. And we’re still growing. In some of our branches, there is an attendance at Sunday School of from 60 to 120 Saints in a meeting hall with only one or two classrooms. Many of our classes are held under a tree or just out in the open air. But this is all part of the spirit of the Church in Mexico. It is something so remarkable and inspirational that you almost have to experience it to understand.”—President Eran Call, Mexico Mission
“A remarkable part of the Church’s growth in our area is characterized by the youth who hold important positions in the Church. The average age of our high council is 24 years, and among bishops and branch presidents it is 25 years. Can anyone imagine the inspirational and leadership power these same men will have fifty years from now? Great things are happening and about to happen among our people!
“We are especially proud of our very strong MIA program, with its many activities, excursions, and spiritual nights. To accomplish this, we called three of our strongest priesthood holders to preside as the presidency of the stake MIA. This decision has proved to be the right one a thousand times over, and we have learned valuable lessons about building up Zion.”—Agricol Lozano, Mexico City East Stake
“I am seven years old. They asked me to say what I think of Primary. I think it is so beautiful. They teach me about Jesus. I learn how to be a good boy.”—Raymundo Paredes Vasque, San Luis Potosi Branch, Mexico North Central Mission
“Family prayer always makes me feel so very happy. For a father to see his five children and wife around him is a beautiful feeling. Then, as I hear my children sing the hymns of the Church with such enthusiasm and strength, I feel great joy. When our children, now only seven and eight, testify of the gospel, I know that we have not lived in vain. Since my work requires that I travel, I carry all of these feelings inside myself wherever I go. They bless me, and because of them, I give thanks to God.”—Bishop Carlos Walter Trevino, Central Ward, Monterrey Stake
“The day on which my husband and I and five of our children were baptized in 1967 was a cold day, but nevertheless, when I submerged into the water and came out again, I felt a warmth go through my whole body. When I was confirmed a member of the Church shortly thereafter, my eyes were filled with tears. I was filled with peace, tranquillity, and joy that has continued with me until this present time. How beautiful to be forgiven of our past sins and to receive the Holy Ghost as our companion. How can any member of the Church sufficiently thank our Savior!”—Maria del Carmen de la G. de Velasco, Mitras Ward, Monterrey Stake
“I know what it means to lose one’s husband in death. Perhaps because of that, I derive great satisfaction in seeing how the gospel blesses and strengthens new converts in their hour of need. Our members show an entirely different attitude toward death than Mexican people generally. How many times I have seen our members confident in being reunited with their loved ones! The joy true doctrine gives is almost unexplainable to so many others—yet was never needed more than today.”—Nelva Mortensen Torres, Chihuahua, Mexico
“When I was released from my three-year prison term, I decided that it was time for me to search for the true meaning of life. My former actions had bothered my conscience. But it was hard. One day I found myself torn apart by contrasting desires. Strangely, I went into my room and knelt in real, personal prayer for the first time in my life. That same day, two young missionaries knocked on my door. No one except the Lord knows how truly happy I have been since that day.”—Carlos Garcia Martin, San Jose, Costa Rica
“For me, the Relief Society has been the best school I ever attended. It has helped develop my talents, and I have learned to appreciate others through service, to appreciate human values, and to discipline myself so that I may be a better mother and wife.”—Maria Teresa P. de Pardes, Relief Society president, Mexico North Central Mission
“It is a thrill to see how adult converts come into our wards, some with little spiritual preparation, broken down by the vicissitudes of life, but still anxious to comply with the covenants they have made with the Lord. Their desire to learn motivates them to progress, gives them confidence, and renews in them the certainty that they are worthwhile persons. Soon their talents and abilities are brought out, as they become strengthened through their testimonies. They believe in themselves. They find the happiness of the gospel plan. They find true friends—I mean real true friends. I remember how I wanted to feel the warmth and affection from those who were members when I became a member of the Church. I remember how I felt when they called each other brothers and sisters. I recognize today that we are truly brothers and sisters, both in the spirit and in the community of believers on earth. Through our common assurance of the gospel truths, we are indeed bound by a tie of affection and obedience that motivates us to love and assist all who will come to our doors.” —Bishop R. Velasco, Mitras Ward, Monterrey Stake
“What is more important than to have the security of belonging to the divine lineage of God? Nothing has influenced my actions more than this one great truth.”—Bishop Carlos Colorado, Camarones Ward, Mexico City North Stake
“I will never forget the experience of our bishop’s youth council of a year ago. We organized with twenty-seven young men and women. The activity that brought the greatest result was an assignment to present family home evenings with inactive families and new converts. This reactivated many people, and our attendance at meetings jumped from 10.5 percent to 27 percent within a short period.”—Francisco Segura, Monterrey East Stake
“I have a great testimony of tithing. At one time my income was very irregular, so I decided to prove the promises of the Lord. In fact, I paid a greater amount than what was required, and the Lord responded by giving me a uniform increase in income for a long period of time. The amount corresponded precisely to the amount I would pay extra in tithing.”—Carlos Moreira, Monterrey East Stake
“At our last stake conference our entire services were conducted and presented completely by Guatemalans: organ music, choirs, speakers, prayers, everything. All in our own language, by our own people. Do you know what that means? A great future awaits our people, and we hope we too can help the Lord in speeding the day of his return.”—President Enrique Rittscher, Guatemala City Stake
“Many years ago, while investigating the Church, I was taught to believe in prayer. What a joy when we learn that our Father in heaven is interested in our well-being to continue to guide our lives by this method. It has been said that no amount of logic or intelligence can produce a testimony. The only way to know that God lives is to receive that knowledge directly from him in the form of revelation. How tragic for those who have to assume that there is no God. We really do have a great truth to share with others, but our job is to prepare them to experience their own testimony and their own revelation from God.”—John F. Frensley, Pacific Branch, Panama Canal Zone
“Maybe it is because I have been healed from some serious illnesses, or maybe it is because I have seen what a change the priesthood has made in my home; but whatever it is, I want it to be known that when I received the priesthood I felt and feel now that I have received the greatest gift available to man.”—Gilberto Valenzuela Acosta, Nuevo Casas Grandes Branch, Juarez Stake
“One of my most satisfying experiences as mission president has been my association with our ‘local’ missionaries—Saints who seek among their own countrymen those interested in the gospel. Within a six-month period, they strive to reach at least 100 hours in tracting. Once we receive new members, youth from the bishop’s youth committee present a family home evening, and often numerous people in the neighborhood are invited in. At the conclusion of the evening, the family is presented with a family home evening manual. Assisting with this first home evening experience are also the family’s new home teachers. I can tell you that this extra mile in fellowship, which is just the beginning, really has been useful in cementing ties with the ‘new Church and new acquaintances’ for our choice new converts.”—President John Marlan Walker, Mexico North Mission
“I remember how I felt after coming up from the waters of baptism. Everything seemed more brilliant to me. It seemed that there was a light around all of the members’ faces. I felt immense joy. The sun seemed brighter. Everything seemed more beautiful. But what has been so consuming to me is that I could appreciate and love my fellowmen more. And especially my family—my love for my parents and brothers and sisters seemed to just leap upward. All the principles and practices of the gospel have brought me great joy and satisfaction. For example, as I have paid my tithing, I have seen that I have been producing more work. How beautiful that everything in the gospel is designed for the heightening of our happiness!” —Elder Eleazar Valenzuela Gonzales, San Esteban Branch, Mexico North Central Mission
“I always wanted to serve a mission, and this was made possible after a few years in the Church. The same can be said for my goal of visiting the House of the Lord. I can give credit to this for the interest of my family in the Church, and now one by one they have obtained a testimony of the gospel and have become members. I don’t think there is any way in the world for me to tell you what that means to me.”—Jorge Arturo Solano, San Jose, Costa Rica
“I think we feel here in Honduras like other members in other parts of the world would feel if they knew the prophet of God was coming to their conference. For no reason on earth would I miss the conference in Mexico. What a great blessing it will be to see and hear a prophet of God. The thought alone has caused me to weep.”—Milagro Alfaro, San Pedro Sula, Honduras
“To me, the Church is like pure water to one who is thirsty after a hard journey. It is the reservoir of peace that we all need in our lives. Positions within the Church have let me share these convictions with others, and above all to share their sufferings. Thanks be to a God who would provide ways for all this to be.”—M. Conny R. de Cuestas, Monclova Fourth Ward, Monterrey Stake