I served as a young missionary for several months in the central areas of Lima, Peru. As a result, I crossed Lima’s Plaza de Armas many times. The Government Palace, the official residence and office of Peru’s president, faces the plaza. My companions and I invited people in the plaza to hear the restored gospel. I often wondered then what it would be like to enter the palace, but the thought of ever doing so seemed wildly remote.
Last year, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a few others, and I met with Alan García, then the president of Peru, in the Government Palace. We were shown its beautiful rooms and cordially received by President García. My young missionary wonderings about the palace were fulfilled in a way that I would never have dreamed possible in 1970.
Things have changed in Peru since I was a missionary, especially for the Church. There were about 11,000 members of the Church there then and just one stake. Today there are more than 500,000 members and almost 100 stakes. In towns where there were just little groups of members, vibrant stakes and attractive meetinghouses now grace the land. The same thing has happened in many other countries around the world.
This remarkable Church growth deserves explanation. We begin with a prophecy from the Old Testament.
Daniel was a Hebrew slave in Babylon. He was given the opportunity to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Daniel asked God to reveal to him the dream and its interpretation, and his prayer was answered. He told Nebuchadnezzar, “There is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. … The visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these.” Daniel said the king had seen a frightening image with a head, torso, arms, legs, and feet. A stone was cut out of a mountain without hands and rolled forth, gradually growing in size. That stone collided with the image, breaking it into pieces, “and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.”
Daniel explained that the image represented future political kingdoms and that “in the days of [those future] kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: … but it shall break” these kingdoms into pieces and consume them. “And it shall stand for ever.”1
We now go to more recent times. The angel Moroni first appeared to Joseph Smith in 1823 and told him “that God had a work for [him] to do; and that [his] name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues.”2 Moroni’s message surely must have astonished Joseph, who was just 17.
In 1831, the Lord told Joseph that the keys of the kingdom of God had again been “committed unto man on the earth.” He said the “gospel [would] roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands … , until it has filled the whole earth,”3 just as Daniel had told Nebuchadnezzar.
In 1898, President Wilford Woodruff recounted an experience he had as a new member in 1834 at a priesthood meeting in Kirtland. He related: “The Prophet called on all who held the Priesthood to gather into the little log school house they had there. It was a small house, perhaps 14 feet [4.3 m] square. … When we got together the Prophet called upon the Elders of Israel … to bear testimony of this work. … When they got through the Prophet said, ‘Brethren I have been very much edified and instructed in your testimonies here tonight, but I want to say to you before the Lord, that you know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap. You don’t comprehend it. … It is only a little handfull of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world.’”4
These prophecies that:
the kingdom of God like a stone cut out of a mountain would fill the earth;
the name of Joseph Smith would be known throughout the world; and
the Church would fill the Americas and fill the world
might have seemed laughable 170 years ago. The little band of believers, eking out a living on the American frontier and moving to escape persecution, didn’t look like the foundation of a faith that would cross international borders and penetrate hearts everywhere.
But that is just what has happened. Let me give an example.
On Christmas Day 1925 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Elder Melvin J. Ballard dedicated the entire continent of South America for the preaching of the gospel. By August 1926 a handful of converts had been baptized. They were the first members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints baptized in all of South America. That was 85 years ago, within the life span of many who are listening to conference today.
There are 23 stakes of Zion in Buenos Aires today, with dozens of stakes and tens of thousands of Church members in cities and towns across Argentina. Now there are well over 600 stakes and several million Church members throughout South America. While we watch, the kingdom of God is filling the continent, and the name of Joseph Smith is being published both by us and by his detractors in countries he may never even have heard of during his lifetime.
There are nearly 3,000 stakes in the worldwide Church today, from Boston to Bangkok and from Mexico City to Moscow. We are approaching 29,000 wards and branches. In many countries there are mature stakes, with members whose ancestors were converts. In others, small groups of new members meet as tiny Church branches in rented houses. Every year the Church spreads farther and farther across the globe.
These prophecies about filling the world and being known world over: Preposterous? Perhaps. Unlikely? Undoubtedly. Impossible? Emphatically no. It is happening before our eyes.
President Gordon B. Hinckley observed:
“It was said that at one time the sun never set on the British Empire. That empire has now been diminished. But it is true that the sun never sets on this work of the Lord as it is touching the lives of people across the earth.
“And this is only the beginning. We have scarcely scratched the surface. … Our work knows no boundaries. … Those nations now closed to us will someday be open.”5
Today we can see that the fulfillment of a Book of Mormon prophecy draws close:
“And … it shall come to pass that kings shall shut their mouths; for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
“For in that day, for my sake shall the Father work a work, which shall be a great and a marvelous work among them.”6
This work of the Lord is indeed great and marvelous, but it moves forward essentially unnoticed by many of mankind’s political, cultural, and academic leaders. It progresses one heart and one family at a time, silently and unobtrusively, its sacred message blessing people everywhere.
A verse in the Book of Mormon provides a key to the miraculous growth of the Church today: “And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.”7
Our most important message, which we are both divinely commissioned and commanded to take everywhere in the world, is that there is a Savior. He lived in the meridian of time. He atoned for our sins, was crucified, and was resurrected. That matchless message, which we proclaim with authority from God, is the real reason this Church grows as it does.
I testify that He appeared with His Father to Joseph Smith. Under the direction of the Father, He established His gospel anew upon the earth. He sent apostles, prophets, and priesthood keys to the earth again. He leads His Church through a living prophet, President Thomas S. Monson. His Church is that stone cut out of the mountain without hands that rolls forward across the globe.
We are grateful for Joseph Smith and watch with wonder as his name is revered and, yes, even reviled ever more widely across the earth. But we recognize that this mighty latter-day work is not about him. It is the work of Almighty God and His Son, the Prince of Peace. I testify that Jesus Christ is the Savior, and with you, I stand in awe as this work moves forward miraculously, marvelously, and irresistibly. Indeed, “the time [has] come when the knowledge of a Savior … spread[s] throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.” I bear testimony of Him, the Savior of all mankind, and of this work in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff (2004), 25–26.
Gordon B. Hinckley, “The State of the Church,” Liahona and Ensign, Nov. 2003, 7.