Church growth has been strong in the South America North Area, as illustrated by the need for temples in Colombia and Ecuador. To learn more about the Church in Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, and Venezuela, the Ensign talked with Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Seventy, area president, and with Elders Julio E. Dávila and Eduardo Ayala of the Seventy, counselors in the area presidency.
Question: How is missionary work progressing in the South America North Area?
Answer: Currently, we expect about forty-four thousand baptisms per year. There is a high receptivity among the people, partly because of their spiritual heritage as the children of Israel. The blood of Israel among the five countries in our area is rich. The promises to the people are being fulfilled. It’s a remarkable thing. Sometimes those who served missions to South America in the 1960s wonder whether they really did any good. The answer is a resounding yes. We are harvesting a lot of what they did. We’re now moving into an era of second- and even a few third-generation members. Some of the people that earlier missionaries in South America baptized are now patriarchs and temple presidents. And their children are going on missions. One of the great blessings we’re seeing is the large number of Latin American returned missionaries who are rising to the occasion. They are becoming our bishops, our stake presidents, and our mission presidents. In 1993, of seven mission presidents who finished their service in the area, five were replaced by local members. This year we expect more of the same.
Q: How many of the area’s full-time missionaries are from Latin America?
A: Of the 3,244 missionaries in our eighteen missions, more than 1,200 of them are from Latin America. All the missionaries in Peru are Peruvians or are from other Latin American nations. Similarly, there are no North American missionaries in Bolivia. It is amazing how the youth are responding to the challenge to go on missions. They are attending seminaries and institutes, and they are receiving training in the two missionary training centers we have in Bogotá, Colombia, and in Lima, Peru.
Q: What are some of the challenges the Church faces in your area?
A: Even though our greatest challenge is violence and terrorism, with some attacks on buildings in Peru, and similar problems in Bolivia, the Church has not suffered too much. And Church members are helping the people in these nations to change. The principles of prayer and scripture study have helped change the countenance of our people in these countries. For example, we have fifty-two stakes in Peru now, and the change in Colombia has been marvelous. People are anticipating construction of the temples there and in Ecuador, and their feelings about their situation have improved. The local Saints are assuming responsibilities. They are a leavening influence in these nations. There is a new spirit of optimism and a spirit of hope. We’re excited with what we’re seeing. We attribute it to the impact of the gospel and the Church.
Q: What other challenges do you see?
A: The impact political instability has on members’ economical situation—their difficulty in maintaining adequate employment. That’s ever with us. But members are exercising great faith in the Lord through prayer and through scripture study, and the Lord is blessing them. One of the most marvelous things in our area is the attitude of the members. The economic situation may be difficult, but they solve their own problems under the direction of the Lord. The spirit they have is wonderful. They are becoming more and more self-reliant. They are working hard. They are paying their tithes. They are attending sacrament meeting. They are close to each other, and their bishops are close to them. This is a miracle for us. It is the answer to many prayers. We’re confident in the future.
Q: President Ezra Taft Benson has said that the Lord changes people in a way that enables them to change their environment. Are you seeing that among the members?
A: Yes. It’s a pattern. They join the Church, they exercise faith in Christ, and they lift themselves. They want to get an education. They want to improve themselves temporally. They look for better work and they get better work. We see that constantly. We see it in the missionaries especially.
Q: What do you see as the Church’s future in South America?
A: Even more spiritual growth among the members. Our area has almost 600,000 members and 105 stakes now, but we are working for an explosion: more baptisms and more retention. We look for more concentrated efforts in the home, and more homes centered in Christ. For all of us, that is the key. Having a temple in Colombia, a temple in Ecuador, and a temple in Peru will be the wave of the future. As the Saints go to the temple, families are sealed. They then go home and begin to shepherd in their neighborhoods, and the work grows and grows.