President Hunter Creates Church’s 2,000th Stake
In a major milestone marking the accelerating growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Howard W. Hunter presided over the creation of the Church’s two thousandth stake on 11 December 1994 in bustling Mexico City.
Warm skies and more than four thousand grateful Mexican Latter-day Saints welcomed President Hunter to the historic multistake conference. Members, thrilled with the first visit to their country by a Church President since the mid-1970s, spontaneously sang in Spanish “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” (Hymns, 1985, no. 19) as President Hunter entered the chapel of the Churubusco stake center in south Mexico City.
Hundreds of chairs were set up outside the chapel under large canopies to accommodate the overflow conference crowd, which began gathering the night before. Some Saints traveled from outlying states to attend the conference; others slept on sidewalks in front of the stake center in hopes of finding a seat in the chapel the next morning.
President Hunter interviewed and called Victor Manuel Salinas Gonzalez to preside over the newly created Mexico City Mexico Contreras Stake, Mexico’s 129th. As part of the stake’s creation, the boundaries of four adjacent stakes were realigned, and three other new stake presidencies were called.
Echoing the feelings of many members, Bishop Andres Flores of the Azteca Ward, Churubusco stake, said, “It has been a very special experience for us to have the Lord’s representative on earth here with us and to witness the creation of the Church’s two thousandth stake. Feeling President Hunter’s spirit has strengthened our testimonies.”
Sunday evening following the conference, more than eleven thousand Latter-day Saints squeezed into the Mexico City Temple parking lot to hear President Hunter speak at an outdoor Christmas lighting ceremony on the temple grounds. Ten thousand chairs set up for the ceremony were quickly filled, but the standing-room-only crowd waited reverently to hear President Hunter’s remarks.
Earlier that evening, President and Sister Hunter met with religious leaders and other guests in the temple visitors’ center. Elder Russell M. Nelson (accompanied by Sister Nelson) and Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (on assignment elsewhere in the morning) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also attended, as did Elders Lino Alvarez, Angel Abrea, and D. Todd Christofferson of the Seventy.
President Hunter, who has visited Mexico many times since his call to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1959, told members at the conference that “the events of this weekend are further evidence that the Lord is watching over and directing his kingdom on earth. May this day remain in your memory as one of great significance where another milestone of the Church was reached.”
President Hunter said the Lord’s work will go forward in Mexico with strength and vitality. “The promises made to Father Lehi and his children about their posterity have been and are continuing to be fulfilled in Mexico,” he said.
Church members entered Mexico in 1875, but the first Mexican stake was not organized until 1961 when membership was about twenty-five thousand. Growth has been rapid since then. The Mexico City Temple was dedicated in 1983, and membership is now approximately seven hundred thousand—the largest of any nation outside the United States. Ninety thousand Latter-day Saints live in Mexico City.
“Those of you gathered here today, in many cases, are descendants of those [in ancient America] who were taught by the Lord himself,” President Hunter told the Mexican Saints. He encouraged them to live lives that reflect the Savior’s gospel. “All that we do and say should be patterned after the example of the one sinless person to walk the earth, even the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said.
President Hunter told members to pay an honest tithe, observe the Word of Wisdom, and strive for unity. In his remarks at the temple lighting ceremony, he spoke of the importance of having lives illuminated by “an acceptance of him who is the light of the world. Truly we should hold him up as our guide and exemplar.”
President Hunter, joined at the conference by Elder Nelson and Elder Alvarez, who conducted the conference, also asked members to attend their church meetings, pray, attend the temple as often as possible, and study the scriptures daily, especially the Book of Mormon.
In his remarks, spoken in Spanish, Elder Nelson told the Mexican Saints that their faith and devotion made possible the historic creation of the two thousandth stake in their country. He testified of the truthfulness of the gospel, Christ’s atonement, and President Hunter’s calling.
“I know that President Howard W. Hunter is God’s prophet,” he said. “I support him with all my heart.”
Members wept openly during and after the memorable conference—an event they had eagerly anticipated and for which they had spent two months preparing. Hundreds waited in the stake center parking lot to catch a last glimpse of President Hunter and to wave adios as his car pulled away. “Te amamos” (“We love you”), they called out, many with tears in their eyes.
For Mexican Latter-day Saints, the conference and lighting ceremony ended too quickly. Members were slow to leave the stake center and temple, choosing instead to savor the spiritual moment and rejoice as long as possible in President Hunter’s visit.
President Salinas, the first stake president that President Hunter has called since succeeding President Ezra Taft Benson in June 1994, is a thirty-year-old administrative assistant for the Mexico City municipal government.
“I feel very honored, blessed, and committed because of this calling and the way in which it was extended to me from President Hunter,” President Salinas said following the conference. He called President Hunter’s three-day visit to Mexico a blessing for all Mexicans, not just for Church members.
“Our nation has been experiencing many political, social, and economic problems,” he said. “But the Lord can bless Mexico as members of the Church live righteously and faithfully. President Hunter’s visit reminds us of our responsibilities—we can be the salt of the earth.”
President Salinas and other local leaders, including full-time missionaries, expect President Hunter’s visit and the outpouring of the Spirit that accompanied it to invigorate missionary efforts.
“It is a great blessing to be serving now as a missionary,” said Sister Dorina Hernandez, a full-time missionary in the Mexico City South mission from Tijuana, Baja California Norte state. “President Hunter’s visit has increased our desire to move the Lord’s work forward.”
Elder Alvarez, president of the Mexico South Area, said President Hunter’s decision to visit Mexico to create the two thousandth stake also will motivate the Saints to improve their lives and to increase their temple work.
“A visit by a Church President is always a source of renewed inspiration for the members to carry out the Church’s mission,” he said. “The prophet’s visit is a blessing that none of us in Mexico imagined could have happened. This has been a wonderful Christmas present for all Mexican Latter-day Saints. We are very happy, thankful, and humbled to have been able to sit at the feet of a latter-day prophet of God.”
Milestones in Church Growth
Nine months after the Lord told the Saints to “commence a work of laying out and preparing a beginning and foundation of the city of the stake of Zion” (D&C 94:1), the Prophet Joseph Smith organized the Church’s first stake in Kirtland, Ohio, on 17 February 1834. Over the next ten years, another eleven stakes were organized, including the large Nauvoo Stake, with up to twenty thousand members.
Although membership growth accelerated after the turn of the century, the Church did not have a hundred stakes until it was nearly one hundred years old. Membership more than doubled between 1900 and 1928, when the one hundredth stake was organized in Lehi, Utah. Over the next half century, more than nine hundred more stakes were created.
On 18 January 1970, President Howard W. Hunter, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, supervised the creation of the Church’s five hundredth stake in Fallon, Nevada. That event marked the beginning of a decade of growth in which nearly six hundred new stakes were formed to accommodate a membership that jumped from 2.9 million to 4.4 million during the same period.
Less than ten years after the creation of the five hundredth stake, and 145 years and a day after the creation of the first stake, Church growth reached a significant milestone. On 18 February 1979, President Ezra Taft Benson, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, created the Church’s one thousandth stake in Nauvoo, Illinois. The Nauvoo Illinois Stake was the second stake to be created in Nauvoo; the first stake there had been disbanded in 1846.
“I have the impression that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor are close and are taking an interest in what we do today,” President Benson told Saints gathered in Nauvoo for the stake’s formation” (Frank C. Davis, “1,000th Stake Is Created,” Church News, 24 Feb. 1979, pp. 3, 9).
While it took nearly 150 years before the Church had one thousand stakes, the creation of the second thousand stakes, many organized outside the United States, took only fifteen years! In fact, as a precursor to the creation of the two thousandth stake, the Church’s fifteen hundredth stake was created in Mexico on 28 October 1984 in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora state. That stake was one of 104 organized in Mexico during the 1970s and 1980s.
During a weekend visit to Mexico in November 1975, President Hunter felt impressed to realign and divide five existing stakes into fifteen stakes. Nineteen years later, with President Hunter’s return to Mexico City, two of those stakes were realigned again as part of the creation of the Church’s two thousandth stake on 11 December 1994.
First Presidency Extols Meaning of Christmas
Christmas is a time for following the Savior and giving as he gave, said President Howard W. Hunter during the annual First Presidency Christmas devotional. “The Savior dedicated his life to blessing other people,” President Hunter said. “As expressed by his chief Apostle, Peter, ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good’” (Acts 10:38).
President Hunter’s counselors, President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson, also addressed the thousands gathered in the Tabernacle and Assembly Hall on Temple Square at the December 4 service. The devotional was broadcast over the Church satellite system and KBYU.
“Never did the Savior give in expectation of receiving,” President Hunter observed. “He gave freely and lovingly, and his gifts were of inestimable value. He gave eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, and legs to the lame; cleanliness to the unclean, wholeness to the infirm, and breath to the lifeless. His gifts were opportunity to the downtrodden, freedom to the oppressed, forgiveness to the repentant, hope to the despairing, and light in the darkness. He gave us his love, his service, his life. And most important, he gave us and all mortals resurrection, salvation, and eternal life.”
President Hunter shared a story of a man who couldn’t think of any gifts to give for Christmas. The next day he received an anonymous list in the mail.
“This Christmas, mend a quarrel,” President Hunter suggested. “Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again. Christmas is a celebration, and there is no celebration that compares with the realization of its true meaning—with the sudden stirring of the heart that has extended itself unselfishly in the things that matter most (see McCall’s Magazine, Dec. 1959, pp. 82–83).
“A life filled with unselfish service will also be filled with peace that surpasses understanding,” President Hunter continued. “This peace can come only through living the principles of the gospel. These principles constitute the program of the Prince of Peace, who is also the Prince of Glory and the Prince of Eternal Progress,” he said.
“May we find our spiritual thirst quenched by the living water of the Savior,” President Hunter concluded. “May he become our focal point at this Christmas season, and always in the future. I testify that he lives today, the Babe of Bethlehem—now the risen Lord. He and his Eternal Father love and care for each of us in a sacred and personal way.”
“What a glorious season is this time of Christmas,” President Hinckley said in his address. “Hearts are softened. Voices are raised in worship. Kindness and mercy are reenthroned as elements in our lives. There is an accelerated reaching out to those in distress. There is an aura of peace that comes into our homes. There is a measure of love that is not felt to the same extent at any other time of the year. …
“Marvelous is the chronicle that began with the singing of angels at Bethlehem and ended on Golgotha’s cruel cross. There is no other life to compare with His life. He was the one perfect man to walk the earth, the paragon of excellence, the singular example of perfection.
“I sense in a measure the meaning of his atonement. I cannot comprehend it all. It is so vast in its reach and yet so intimate in its effect that it defies comprehension.”
President Hinckley noted that earlier in the week he had spoken at the funeral of a friend “whose goodness caused me to reach a little higher.”
“I looked at his weeping widow and children,” he continued. “They knew, as I knew, that never again in mortality would they hear his voice. But a tender sweetness, indescribable in nature, brought peace and reassurance. It seemed to say: ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Ps. 46:10).
“It seemed to further say, ‘Don’t worry. All of this is part of my plan. None can escape death. Even my Beloved Son died upon the cross. But through so doing he became the glorious first fruits of the Resurrection. He took from death its sting and from the grave its victory.’ …
“When all is said and done,” President Hinckley concluded, “when all of history is examined, when the deepest depths of the human mind have been explored, there is nothing so wonderful, so majestic, so tremendous as this act of grace when the Son of the Almighty, the Prince of his Father’s royal household, he who had once spoken as Jehovah, he who had condescended to come to earth as a babe born in Bethlehem, gave his life in ignominy and pain so that all of the sons and daughters of God, of all generations of time, every one of whom must die, might walk again and live eternally.
“This is the wondrous and true story of Christmas. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea is preface. The three-year ministry of the Master is prologue. The magnificent substance of the story is his sacrifice, the totally selfless act of dying in pain and dishonor on the cross of Calvary to atone for the sins of all of us.
“The epilogue is the miracle of the Resurrection, bringing the assurance that ‘as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Cor. 15:22).
“There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter,” concluded President Hinckley. “The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another babe without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant face of the Resurrection.”
President Monson related a touching story of a young man from Idaho. “Gene was ten years old; World War II was raging, and times were difficult,” he began. “His mother would go each year into the potato fields in Jerome, Idaho, to make extra money so that her children might have a Christmas—not an extravagant one, but one where each of her three children could have one special gift.”
Also an annual tradition, explained President Monson, was the drawing of names in the local school for gift giving. “That year, as the names were drawn as usual, Gene knew he would be happy with any name as long as it wasn’t Charlotte’s. No one wanted to draw her name. She was not as cute as the other girls, and her clothes were torn and dirty. All of the children tried to avoid her.
“As Gene walked to the front of the room to pick a name, his heart was full of anticipation. However, as he reached in and pulled out the slip of paper, his heart sank and he couldn’t believe what he saw. The name Charlotte was written there in big, bold letters.”
Mortified, Gene determined not to tell anyone whose name he had drawn. Later that evening during supper, it took urging from his mother before he grudgingly whispered the truth. “A hush fell around the table,” President Monson said. “Then with great enthusiasm, Gene’s mother said, ‘How wonderful!’
“Gene’s mother knew everyone in Jerome and knew of Charlotte’s family. They lived in a very humble home with no indoor plumbing, and life was difficult for them. Gene’s mother also knew that this year, as in years past, Charlotte would have no Christmas at all. She knew as well that year after year, as the children of the school would pick her name, Charlotte never once received a present.”
Gene’s mother worked extra hard in the potato fields that year so that Charlotte could have a special present. Anger filled his heart when his mother showed him the beautiful porcelain doll she had purchased. “He knew that even his own sister had never received anything quite so special. This was surely too good for Charlotte!” President Monson continued.
“The following day the children took their gifts to school and placed them carefully under the tree. Gene went early so no one would see that his gift was for Charlotte. The hour approached, and the children were called to sit around the tree. Each one came except for Charlotte, who knew that once again she would receive no gift. She sat silently at her desk.”
Each of the gifts was opened until only Charlotte’s was left. The teacher picked up the gift and took it to Charlotte. “As she carefully began to open the present, Charlotte’s hands shook.
All eyes were on her. As she reached into the box and carefully lifted out the doll, tears began to fall from her eyes. She held the porcelain doll to her heart and caressed it and rocked back and forth, back and forth. Charlotte felt loved! Gene had to choke back the tears, as did everyone else in the class that day. Each one felt the true Christmas spirit,” said President Monson.
“There is no better time than now, this very Christmas season, for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by the Savior,” concluded President Monson. “It is the time to love the Lord with all our heart and our neighbors as ourselves. We must make Christmas real.”
President Hunter Installs New BYU—Hawaii President
In a day also marked by flowers and song, President Howard W. Hunter presided over the inauguration of Eric B. Shumway, the eighth president of Brigham Young University’s Hawaii campus, on 18 November 1994 in Laie, Hawaii. President Hunter charged the new university leader to “build faith in … the great principles which lead to eternal life which come to us from the prophets of God, both anciently and in our own time,” and to do it as “a central part of your educational purpose, not as an addendum to it.”
President Hunter was accompanied by his wife, Inis, and the Board of Trustees of the university, including Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Seventy; and Sister Elaine L. Jack, general president of the Relief Society. Some six thousand guests from academia, business, government, and the community attended the event, which was a celebration of love and support for both President Hunter and the new college president.
President Hunter noted that it was only three years after the first settlers entered the Salt Lake Valley when missionaries were sent to Hawaii. “The pioneers had scarcely had time to build a shelter and break ground for planting,” he recalled, when ten missionaries were called “to open the work of the Lord in these Sandwich Islands.
“Laie has since been crowned with a magnificent temple which flanks this campus on the one hand. The campus is flanked on the other by the beautiful and unique Polynesian Cultural Center.” Calling the three institutions a “triad of learning,” President Hunter noted that they “have a significant place in the plan of the Lord to further the work of his kingdom.”
Surrounded by hundreds of students from more than sixty countries, President Hunter asked President Shumway “to find ever better ways to allow the diversity of cultures from which students come and to which they will go to be an effective and important part of the educational resources of this campus.”
President Shumway began his association with BYU—Hawaii in 1966 as an instructor in the English department. In 1975 he became the chairman of the Communications and Language Arts Division, and he was named vice president for academics in 1980. He served as mission president in Tonga from 1986 to 1989 and was acting president of the Polynesian Cultural Center in 1991. Fluent in the Tongan language, President Shumway holds the high chief title of Faivaola, is the author of An Intensive Course in Tongan, and is the translator and editor of Tongan Saints: Legacy of Faith.
While in Hawaii, President Hunter attended a session in the Hawaii Temple and toured the community of Laie. On Sunday morning he attended sacrament meeting at the Laie Fifth Ward and shook hands with every member following the meeting. His warmth, ready humor, and quick recall of names, faces, and meetings from years earlier touched the hearts of the members. “His presence brought a different spirit among us,” observed Bishop Alan Oleole. “It was so strong you could almost touch it in the air, and he was so loving and gracious. We will never forget his visit with us!”
Tennessee Temple Announced
The First Presidency has announced plans to build a temple in the Nashville, Tennessee, area of southeastern United States. In a letter to stake presidents in the Nashville area, the First Presidency said the temple will be completed “following the appropriate land acquisition and construction timetables.”
There are forty-six temples now in operation. The one in Nashville will be the seventh temple in the United States east of the Mississippi River. Other temples east of the Mississippi are in Atlanta, Georgia; Washington, D.C.; Chicago, Illinois; and Orlando, Florida. A temple is under construction in St. Louis, Missouri, and another is planned for Hartford, Connecticut.
Family History Centennial
For the past century, the Genealogical Society of Utah and those associated with the organization have focused on identifying and helping redeem the dead. The society, now the Church’s Family History Department, commemorated its centennial anniversary recently in the Tabernacle on Temple Square with a program that also celebrated President Howard W. Hunter’s eighty-seventh birthday. The President’s actual birthday was a day later.
The November 13 family history celebration was also fitting inasmuch as President Hunter served as president of the society from 21 January 1964 to 25 May 1972.
The program included addresses by all three members of the First Presidency and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as well as numbers by the Tabernacle Choir and a videotaped presentation. The program was later broadcast over KBYU-TV. All four addresses will be printed in full in the March Ensign.
The evening’s presentation identified four “transcendent” events in the nineteenth century that positioned stepping stones upon which the great latter-day genealogical work is founded. Those four are the 1823 appearance of Moroni to Joseph Smith, foretelling the coming of Elijah; the 1836 appearance of Elijah in the Kirtland Temple; the commandment from the Lord in January 1841 for the Saints to build a temple in Nauvoo; and President Wilford Woodruff’s instruction in the April 1894 general conference that Church members were to trace their family histories as far as they could and be sealed to their ancestors.
In response to President Woodruff’s teachings on family history, the Genealogical Society of Utah was organized 13 November 1894. From its modest beginnings of three hundred books in an upstairs room of the Church Historian’s Office, the collection has grown to great proportions. Currently a five-story building houses some two million reels of microfilmed genealogical records, more than two hundred thousand books, and more than three hundred thousand microfiches. It is the largest library of its kind in the world.
Parent’s Guide Translated
Teaching children about physical intimacy and procreative powers is the responsibility of parents and can be a challenging matter. A guidebook to help parents with this important responsibility was prepared by the Church some time ago. Recently it has been translated into fifteen different languages to help parents throughout the world successfully teach their children.
A Parent’s Guide (no. 31125) was created as supplementary information to the Family Home Evening Resource Book. It outlines basic principles on the purposes of families and offers suggestions on how to teach children righteous intimacy throughout all the stages of their childhood and adolescence. The fifty-two-page booklet includes specifics on teaching infants and toddlers, children ages four to eleven, adolescents and teenagers, and young adults as they enter the courtship and marriage years. The booklet has been prepared to help parents teach their children about physical intimacies and to prepare them to follow the Lord’s plan in expressing their own intimacy.
“However, this guide is about more than intimacy,” says Wayne Lynn, manager of basic curriculum planning and development for the Church. “It’s about strengthening family values and relationships.”
The guide points out that there are many different kinds of intimacy and that intimacy is intended to occur in righteousness with the intent to strengthen relationships and convey genuine love and concern.
In addition to the English edition, the guide is available in Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Spanish. It is also available for individuals who are blind.