Speak Up, Latin America


In 1901 the total membership of the Church was 278,645. Seventy years later a count was taken of the number of members in the Church who have some Lamanite blood and the total was 282,536. This sum, 4,000 greater than the total Church membership in 1901, includes Lamanite members from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, and the islands of the seas.

To help meet the spiritual needs of many of these Saints, the Church held an area general conference in Mexico City in August. Attended by thousands of Saints from Mexico and Central America, representing the Lamanite as well as Anglo members there, the conference provided them with firsthand spiritual food from the General Authorities.

In an effort to discover more about Latin American youth in the Church, the New Era asked Frank Bradshaw, assistant administrator for seminaries and institutes, to interview some of the young people he met in his travels in Latin America. He asked them questions about education in their countries, goals for the future, experiences in the Church, and special concerns in their homelands. Here are some of their comments.

“The youth here need a way to be strengthened against bad influences. Latter-day Saints at the university need to discover that they have a special culture and way of living. We not only go to church on Sunday, but we also live differently every day.

“I am in dental school and have had three years training. I have one year left, but students of my school have been on strike for three years, and it looks like they will strike for at least one more year. I have taken classes in other colleges, but it doesn’t help in my field of dentistry. It looks like I’ll have to change my occupation if this strike isn’t over soon.

“Three years ago the government called youth in to listen to what they had to say. They called representatives from the young people’s organizations. I was the representative of the youth of the Church. The government wanted to listen to us, but some of the kids fouled up and started to strike. The government called off the meetings.

“I wish all the world would participate in our happy way of life. Our motto is ‘Be a Mormon and Be Happy.’ What a beautiful home life we can have if we live the gospel.”

Ruben Milton Guilhot, 23 Montevideo, Uruguay

“I want to become a medical doctor, fill a mission for the Church, and then get married. I put them in that order because once you start school in Argentina, you have to complete it. If you drop out and come back you have to start all over again. I have a friend who is now the stake mission president who finished his medical training and then went on a mission. I plan to do the same.

“As for the military, we have a lottery system, and I’ll know soon what my status will be. If my number is called, I will be able to finish school and then go in the service as a medical doctor and a first lieutenant. If I go into the army or air force, I go for one year. If I go into the navy, I have to go for two years.

“When the elders tracted in our area, my mother let them in. My mother, sister, and I joined the Church, so I have really grown up in the Church. I guess the most impressive part of my activity was when I was ordained to the priesthood. That helped my testimony to grow. Every day I have experiences that help my faith to become stronger. In the university the people know what I believe, and they respect me for it.”

Patricio Hortal, 19 Buenos Aires, Argentina

“Since I joined the Church, I have found the gospel has not only helped me in my personal life but in my relationships with my family.

“We have had institute here for a couple of months. We have a home study program. I study with my friends, and we have found so many things in the scriptures we didn’t know about before. I love the scriptures. Once a week we get together with our teacher to discuss our lessons—it is tremendous!”

Matilde Sheridan, 20 Buenos Aires, Argentina

“I’m in my last year of secondary school. Secondary school here in Brazil is like junior high in the United States. We have public and private school systems. The public schools are free, but you have to pay for books and supplies. High schools and colleges are sometimes difficult to get into because we don’t have enough space. We have to take a test covering all of our years of schooling in order to gain entrance. Only those with the highest grades on the test get to go on to school.

“As for my social life, I don’t date. Most girls in the Church don’t start dating until they are sixteen. The girls out of the Church start earlier—at about thirteen. Mainly dates are just friendly—for company and companionship. Couples go to movies or Church things and talk about what they will do in the future.

“Usually Brazilian girls only go out with one boy at a time for an extended period. If a girl goes with a lot of different boys at the same time, it isn’t socially acceptable. You go with a fellow until you find you don’t like him, and then you go with someone else.

“Here girls are twenty to twenty-three when they marry, and boys are twenty-five to thirty or older. I have a brother who is over thirty, and he isn’t married. He isn’t shy, but he just likes to date. That’s the way a lot of men are.

“I was born in the Church and I love it. My relatives give me a bad time, but my friends are used to my wearing skirts to my knee, and the styles are changing now and that helps. I think it’s fun to be different.”

Marta Marinho Figueira, 14 Sorocaba, Brazil

“I became interested in the Church when my grandmother was visited by the missionaries seven years ago. She invited our family to come and listen to them. All my family except my father joined the Church after studying with the missionaries. My grandmother and aunt also joined.

“Now I am teaching English at the university even though I don’t have a regular college degree. I studied four years of normal school and prepared to teach English in secondary schools, but circumstances made it possible for me to get my job at the university.

“When I first finished normal school, I got a job teaching in one of the best secondary schools. It was an air force school. But when the supervisor found out I was a Mormon, he said I wasn’t good for the students and fired me. That experience was one of the things that led to getting my position at the university. Here I have a better job, and I am accepted for what I am, and I accept others for what they are.”

Miriam Schumperli, 20 Lima, Peru

“Many of the South American countries think revolution is the answer to our problems, and that feeling is here in Peru. But I think the answer is to learn, prepare, and develop our people and resources. Learn now, sacrifice now, and prepare—then work.

“I have been in the Church for two years. A friend invited me to his home to meet the missionaries. I studied the gospel and joined the true church. Now I am a counselor in the stake MIA presidency.”

Juan Jorge Stromsdorfer, 18 Lima, Peru

“I teach a Sunday School class made up of thirteen-to eighteen-year-olds. That is a little strange since I’m only sixteen, but I like teaching. I have many friends who are Catholic. They don’t give me any problem. I am able to defend the Church to them. I find that the members of the Church who have the most problems are the ones who are inactive in the Church. The pressure of their friends really gets to them.

“Missionaries here have the same problem as in the rest of Latin America. People think the missionaries are spies sent from the United States. Every chance I get I explain who they are and that they are here to help the people. I also tell them they receive no pay for the work they are doing. When President McKay encouraged every member to be a missionary, I accepted the assignment and worked with a family and four other people. Our family has ten children, all members of the Church, We have been in the Church for nine years, and we enjoy the missionaries and the missionary spirit.

“By the way, if you see the Prophet of the Church, please give him our love. Our whole family knows that he is a prophet, and we eagerly await his counsel and guidance. We support him as the head of our church.”

Marisol Nabos, 16 Santa Ana, El Salvador

“I am fifteen years old and have been a member of the Church for four years. I was contacted by the lady missionaries and joined the Church. I was the only member of my family who joined, and at first my father wouldn’t let me attend church. But when I missed church, the members, leaders, and missionaries would come to my home to find out why I wasn’t there. This impressed my father, and finally he started letting me go to church. I am happy to say that three months ago the rest of my family joined the Church. It is so good to go to meetings together. Now my father is in the branch presidency.”

Jose Ricardo Martinez, 15 Santa Ana, El Salvador

“I feel members of the Church should become more interested in our political situation. The government here in Guatemala is not stable. Many guerillas come in from Cuba, which is only about two hours away by air. As a result of infiltration, we have much death and destruction.

“Guatemala is a beautiful country. I would like the people of the Church to know that to be a member of the Church here is great. We get pressures from the kids we associate with, but we get by; and if we are good examples, we can convert many.

“I have a brother on a mission and two preparing to go, and I want to go too.”

Rolando Fallabela, 18 Guatemala City, Guatemala

“To me the Church represents the most valuable possession that the Lord could give me. In the Church I have found a steady and a sure light to illuminate my path, strengthen my spirit, and direct everything I do in life.”

Sonia Lucero Lau Guatemala City, Guatemala

“I moved to Mexico City when I was a small child. Here I completed all my schooling and entered into the first technical teacher training school initiated in the city. I graduated in a field very unusual for women. I became a teacher of electronics when I was eighteen years old. Since that time I have been working for the secretary of public education in secondary schools.

“In 1966 the best possible thing happened to me—I was introduced to the Church and was baptized. Since that time I feel that my life has been filled with constant progress. I have always been active and have filled various callings in the ward. I am just finishing the requirements for my Golden Gleaner.”

Amada Celia Vera Cabra, 23 Mexico City, Mexico

“The classes I have taken in seminary have totally changed my life. They have made me a faithful Church member and have taught me of God’s love for his worthy children.”

Aaron Roberto Contreras Martinez Durango, Mexico

[illustrations] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch

[photo] Marisol Nabos, Santa Ana, El Salvador