The Church shapes the lives of thousands of Latter-day Saints in South America. To learn more about continuing growth in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, the magazine editors talked with Elder Lynn A. Mickelsen of the Seventy, South America South Area president, and Elders Horacio A. Tenorio and John B. Dickson of the Seventy, counselors in the area presidency.
Question: What do you see as particular challenges for Church members in your area?
Answer: The challenges are the same as those for members everywhere—to live the gospel and to come unto Christ. But we see in our members special attributes that help them meet their challenges.
Q: In what ways are they especially strong?
A: They have great faith. They listen to every word of the prophet. They revere him and express their love for him continually. They study the scriptures and the Church magazines. Their level of knowledge and their eagerness to learn are impressive. We see over and over in the members this simple, strong, firm faith.
Q: How many members are there in the South America South Area?
A: We count more than 610,000 now, but the number changes rapidly. In the four countries, we now have eighteen missions and more than one hundred stakes. In Chile and Uruguay, the proportion of Latter-day Saints among the general population is higher than in the United States.
Q: What makes the missionary work go so well?
A: There are several factors. One is the dedication of the missionaries and their leaders. They are very willing to open their mouths and teach wherever they are. As an example, two of our young missionaries had a goal to teach seven discussions one day, and when they were headed home on their bicycles that night, they had completed only six. Then a young man rode by them on his bicycle. They looked at each other, then pulled up next to him, one on each side, and introduced him to the Church. Then they said, “Now what we have to teach you is so sacred we need to stop.” They stopped, taught him about Joseph Smith, bore witness of the Restoration, and today that young man is preparing to go on a mission.
Like that young man, people in our area are very ready to hear the gospel, very willing to listen to testimony and to act on the witness they feel. Our members are eager to share what they have. The Church is well respected, so it is not difficult to converse with people about it.
It is important that members in other parts of the world see the true picture of the Church in these countries. These are not third-world areas. We are able to use all the missionary tools and approaches used anywhere else. We have had some successes, for example, through public affairs media programs. The Church attracts people from all walks of life. We have many highly educated and professional people among our membership.
Q: What is the effect of this varied membership on Church growth?
A: The voices of Latter-day Saints are being heard, and the results of their actions are being felt at every level of society.
In Montevideo, Uruguay, some months ago, the president of the country spoke to a group of 480 LDS seminary and institute students. Luis Alberto Ferrizo, who is one of our regional representatives and also a member of the national congress, told the president, “You often speak of the future of Uruguay. I want you to see the future of Uruguay.” Brother Ferrizo arranged for him to meet those wonderful young people.
Some Church members have become known as examples of integrity. One of our regional representatives, Jaime Gonzales of Valparaiso, Chile, owes much of his success in the laundry business to his reputation for honesty. He has won major contracts with the military and with private companies because of the way he runs his company.
Latter-day Saints are often sought after as employees because of the standards they live. One young doctor is much in demand with patients who visit the clinic where he works; they know him as “the doctor who doesn’t smoke.”
We have many members and leaders who are widely known for the service they give to their communities, their countries, and their families. One of the counselors in the mission presidency in Paraguay, for example, is a respected military leader in his country. [See “Pioneers in Paraguay,” page 10, this issue.] In another area, one stake president and his wife are both medical doctors. They have six children, and they are fine parents; but she stands out additionally to those who know them because she puts her primary focus right now on building her family, not her medical practice.
The Church frequently is spotlighted because of members’ service. During a youth conference in Buenos Aires, the young people had the opportunity to take on a work project. The superintendent of the park where they met was pleasantly surprised after he gave them a big job to do and they finished it in just one day. In Córdoba, Argentina, several LDS stakes were among the first groups to offer assistance after severe flooding. They did it on their own, without any direction from us.
Q: The gospel can change people in many ways. What is the greatest change that you see in peoples’ lives?
A: The most significant change is that the gospel gives them as individuals a new spiritual orientation in everything they do. But we also see it solidifying families. Members follow the counsel of Church leaders to do everything they can to strengthen their families. The temple is a sacred place to them. They want to get to the temple with their families to unite them for eternity.
Q: Does Church growth pose special challenges for leaders?
A: One of the biggest challenges we have is facilitating members’ involvement in the Church—giving people opportunities to serve. We are meeting this challenge by emphasizing that every member has a right to have an assignment in the Church, to have a calling. Doctrine and Covenants 84:109–10 [D&C 84:109–10] makes it clear that everyone has need to serve in the Church, and the Church has need of every member’s service in order for the organization to be perfect.
We not only encourage leaders to give people callings, but we are also organizing smaller local branches where necessary, taking the Church to the people in order to provide them with all the blessings of participation. The service of members is the life of the Church, and it is the members’ way to the life Jesus Christ promised.