The Church had only been organized for 21 years when Elder Parley P. Pratt, his wife, Phebe Soper, and Elder Rufus Allen arrived in Valparaíso, Chile, in 1851, as the first missionaries in South America. Their work was especially challenging, since none of the three spoke Spanish, and no Church literature had been translated into Spanish. Adding to these difficulties was the fact that the country was preoccupied with a civil war.
Although no permanent mission was established, it is significant that an apostle labored in this area so early in Church history. Elder Pratt never lost his concern for the South American people. When the work got its real and second start, his grandson, Rey L. Pratt, who did speak Spanish, was one of the first laborers.
This second effort came in 1925, nearly 75 years after the first. The First Presidency had assigned Andrew Jenson and Thomas S. Page to tour South America and review the possibility of opening it to missionary work. They reported that conditions seemed favorable and the Council of the Twelve gave unanimous approval to organize a mission.
At almost the same time, Wilhelm Friedrichs and Emil Hoppe, the fathers of two German families who had moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, also requested missionaries. The two families had been holding regular meetings and had several friends desiring baptism, but Brother Friedrichs was a deacon and Brother Hoppe a teacher—without authority to baptize or lead a branch.
These German converts were waiting anxiously when Melvin J. Ballard of the Council of the Twelve and Rulon S. Wells and Rey L. Pratt of the First Council of the Seventy arrived in Buenos Aires December 6, 1925, under assignment from the First Presidency. On December 19, six converts were baptized—friends of the Friedrichs and Hoppe families.
Early that Christmas morning, Elder Ballard, Elder Wells, and Elder Pratt met in a park called “Third of February” to dedicate the land for missionary work. Elder Ballard offered the prayer, saying, in part, “And now, O Father, in virtue of the authority of the blessing and calling of thy servant, the President of the Church, and by virtue of the authority of the Holy Apostleship which I hold, I turn the key and open the door to the preaching of the gospel in all of these South American nations; and do rebuke and command to be stayed every power that would oppose the preaching of the gospel in these lands.”
These missionaries had challenges quite different from those of their early predecessors. Elder Wells spoke German and Elder Pratt spoke Spanish, eliminating language difficulties. But the weather was so hot and humid that Elder Wells was forced to sail for home after just a few weeks, on January 14, due to ill health.
The missionary effort was to be successful, however, as Elder Ballard prophesied a few weeks before ending an eight-month effort: “The work of the Lord will grow slowly for a time just as an oak grows slowly from an acorn. It will not shoot up in a day as does the sunflower that grows quickly and then dies. But thousands will join the Church here. It will be divided into more than one mission, and will be one of the strongest in the Church. The work here is the smallest it will ever be. The South American Mission will become a power in the Church.” (Sermons and Missionary Service of Melvin Joseph Ballard, ed. Briant S. Hinckley, Deseret Book Co., 1949, p. 100.)
Reinhold Stoof was assigned to preside over the new mission, and arrived with his wife July 15, 1926. Two years later he sent missionaries into Brazil, and when he was released in 1935, after nine years of service, the mission was ready to be divided into the Argentine and Brazilian Missions.