I suppose my natural affection for the countries and peoples south of the border is due in large part to the fact that I am somewhat acquainted with them and, to a degree, familiar with their past and the promise of their future.
To begin with, I am grateful to Mexico because she proved to be a refuge for my forebears in the day of their extremity—that was in the 1880s—when, as a result of their loyalty to the principles and practices of their faith, they were no longer welcome in the United States. The mortal remains of all four of my grandparents lie buried in that then-friendly haven.
A further reason for my affection for Mexico is that it is the land of my birth. My parents, as children, accompanied their folks into Mexico. There they met, grew up, and were married. There I spent the first fifteen years of my life. All my childhood memories are centered there. And, in the words of Samuel Woodworth, I can truthfully say, “How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood,/When fond recollection presents them to view!” (“The Old Oaken Bucket.”) The cattle in the fields and on the hills; the river where we fished and learned to swim; the golden sunsets; the gentle summer rains, bringing to our tired, bare feet the comfort of the cooling sandy soil; the ringing of the bell, the village timepiece, summoning us to school and church; the soothing strains of the Spanish guitars, played by the Mexicans at the close of day. These and many more recollections bind me to Mexico.
I have always been, and still am, grateful that in that pioneer environment I learned, in my youth, the two fundamental principles of faith and works, the implementation of which has sustained me through life.
Faith in God and his Son Jesus Christ was the ruling principle and sustaining power in the lives of the colonists among whom we lived. I never heard that faith questioned in all the days of my youth.
Acceptance and exercise of it came to me as naturally as breathing.
As to work, it was as necessary as breathing. Everyone in the community, from childhood to old age, had to work in order to live. We had no money. Practically everything we consumed and wore, we produced in the colonies. We knew we must plant, cultivate, and harvest before we could eat. And this we did.
Our acquaintance with the people of Mexico and Central America was greatly expanded and our love for them increased during the years we supervised the work of the Church among them. For nearly ten years, Sister Romney and I periodically visited with them in city, town, and countryside—from the Rio Grande to the Panama Canal; from Baja California, to Yucatan; in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, we met and mingled with the people. Their struggles against incredible odds invoked our love and sympathy. We were deeply moved by the affection they showed to their children and by their respect for family life.
We rejoiced then, and we rejoice now, in the glow that lightens their countenances and the progress they make as they hear, accept, and begin to live the gospel.
In a meeting with a stake presidency and high council soon after a stake organization, members of the high council were asked to express their feelings concerning their new assignments. One of them arose and told of his great joy and gratitude. His report went something like this:
“Six years ago I lived with my family in a shack leaning against a stone wall. I earned but a meager income as a janitor of a police station. Life was very grim. Then I heard the gospel, believed it, joined the Church. A new light came into my life, a new vision, a new hope. I went to night school. In three years I earned a secondary school diploma. Now I have a good job. We have moved into a better home. I am a high priest and a member of this high council. I do not have the words to express my joy and gratitude.” As he sat down, he, and every other man in the room, was drying his eyes.
Perhaps what I have said is enough to account for my feelings toward the people of Mexico and Central America. I desire now to comment on the beauty and resources of their countries and say a few words about their ancestors, and finally to call attention to their promised future.
From the tropics, through the active and inactive volcanoes, including majestic Orizaba, Popocatepetl, Ixtaccihuatl, and many more in the Sierra Madre chain, the grandeur of their mountains is inspiring.
Their oil and mineral resources are among the richest in the world.
Their fertile soils and varied climates produce almost everything that grows, from tropical fruits and vegetables to finest apples.
Their archaeological sites are world famous. At such places as Tula, Teotihuacan, Monte Alban, Palenque, and Chichén Itzá, one’s thoughts turn to the forefathers of the present indigenous inhabitants of Mexico and Central America.
The sadness induced by a comparison of the enlightened society in which those forefathers lived, as revealed in the Book of Mormon, with the conditions in which their present descendants live, is somewhat assuaged by the promises for the future of those descendants, which is also recorded in the Book of Mormon.
We therefore love the Mexican and Central American people not only for what they now are but for what they once were and for what they are yet to be.
As to what they once were, the Book of Mormon reveals the fact that Jesus, following his post-resurrection ministry among his disciples in the land of Jerusalem, came to America and ministered among them. It is highly probable that his visit was within the boundaries of Mexico and/or Central America.
Jesus taught them his gospel, which they accepted. So well did they live it that for more than a hundred years they maintained an almost perfect society. Of them, the record says:
“… the people were all converted unto the Lord, … and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.
“And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
“… and did multiply exceedingly fast, and became an exceedingly fair and delightsome people.
“And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
“And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.” (4 Ne. 1:2, 3, 10, 15, 16.)
Jesus and certain Book of Mormon prophets foresaw and foretold the decline of that enlightened society and the present state of its descendants.
They also foresaw and foretold of their reenlightenment and their return to the blessed condition of their forefathers. For example, to those among whom he then so ministered, Jesus said:
“And the Father hath commanded me that I should give unto you this land, for your inheritance.
“And I say unto you, …
“… this people will I establish in this land, unto the fulfilling of the covenant which I made with your father Jacob; and it shall be a New Jerusalem. And the powers of heaven shall be in the midst of this people; yea, even I will be in the midst of you.” (3 Ne. 20:14, 15, 22.)
Such is the promise now on the way to fulfillment.