The valley a carpet of flowers behind him, Parley P. Pratt climbed upward through the rich grass and fruitful trees. The town beneath him lay peaceful in the evening sun. Taking off his hat, he knelt to pray.
The year was 1851. The town was Quillota, Chile. Elder Pratt, his wife Phoebe, and Elder Rufus Allen had arrived in the port city of Valparaiso in September, and after a brief stay there had come inland to the fertile valley of Quillota. In the middle of the city was a beautiful hill called Mayaca. Every day Elder Pratt climbed to the top of it to pray and meditate.
One hundred and twenty-six years later a group of young Latter-day Saints came toiling up the same hill on a zigzag path, raising no dust because the earth was hard-packed. The pastoral beauty of the hill was sadly diminished by urban encroachment, but the view from the top was much the same as when Elder Pratt described in his journal “farms, orchards, vineyards, town, streets, river, and water ditches, fertile as Eden and stretching away till lost in the dim distance; or bounded by lofty hills and mountain chains, whose lower swells are checkered with fences and houses, and covered with flocks and herds, while their bosoms are rugged with rocky precipices, and checkered by dark ravines, or mantled with clouds; while the rugged summits repose in solemn grandeur in the bosom of the clear blue sky.”
The young members from Quillota found a patch of grass and flowers recalling the hill’s original charm and sat down to share their testimonies.
“The gospel is the most important thing ever to come to Chile,” 15-year-old Roberto said, looking out toward the valley-rimming hills and the pale afternoon moon. “It is the most important influence in my life. It is the true word of God and the only thing on earth that will lead to true happiness. Every young person in the world can know that the gospel is true and that the Father and Jesus Christ live.”
Seventeen-year-old Oscar agreed. “I know that if we continue to progress we can be with our Heavenly Father again. I know that by working hard here in our beautiful Quillota and all of Chile we can achieve anything we truly have faith that we can.”
Brother Pratt and his companions left Chile shortly after coming to Quillota, and the Church did not return until more than a century later in 1956 when missionaries from the Argentine Mission organized a branch there. But since then the Church has grown rapidly and now has five missions in Chile.
Fifteen years ago almost all the LDS missionaries in South America were from North America. Today half are South Americans, and it is hoped that within a few years South America will be a self-sufficient source of missionaries.
These South American missionaries with no language or cultural barrier to overcome, should accelerate even more the phenomenal growth of the Church in this part of the world.
Not far outside of Santiago, on the road to Valparaiso, is the town of Peñaflor. It is a leafy green world totally removed from the big city bustle of Santiago. Although it is the residence of about 40,000 people, it is so well insulated with trees and shrubbery, that no matter where you go you feel you are in a village. This is the working area of Elder Delgado from Arica, Chile, and Elder Holyoak, from the United States. They are zone leaders in the Chile Santiago South Mission. Every day they walk through these streets—moving through the leaf-colored sunlight that filters through the trees—going about the business of the Lord.
One morning after breakfast, study, and prayer, the two elders walked out of their apartment, neat and handsome in their dark suits, their white shirts brilliant in the morning sun. They went down a long, dirt road with a canal on one side. The sun ignited the trees, turning every branch into a gold and green torch. The canal ran silver. A lingering morning chill fell like mist on the quiet street. The clink of a milk can against a ladle preceded the milkman’s donkey down the street.
“My mission is something very special to me,” Elder Delgado said. “I’ve always wanted to understand people and help them, and that’s what I’m doing. feel that anyone can realize his potential in life without the gospel. I have seen many changes in people’s lives. I have seen homes where conditions were very bad economically and morally, and these homes have progressed tremendously when family members accepted the gospel. I also see my mission as a way of bettering my country. I love Chile, and want it to be the best possible place to live. The best way to achieve this is to increase the number of faithful members of the Church in Chile. As more Chileans are baptized, the country will progress in many other ways, too.”
In one of the poorer neighborhoods of town, they walked past makeshift dwellings and beautiful children whose moon-sized chocolate eyes reflected spring sunflowers and blue sky. “There are so many people who don’t understand the things that we understand. They don’t realize that they are really important people with great potential. I have seen great changes here in Chile because of the gospel.”
In another part of town, whitewashed walls and ironwork fences fronted the homes of well-to-do families all along a shady street. As Elders Delgado and Holyoak knocked on doors they usually found themselves talking to a maid. Occasionally they were invited in through the carefully landscaped gardens to talk to the owners. Coming out of one of these homes, they met two other missionaries, both Chilean. They saluted each other and passed on.
“The most important thing on a mission is feeling oneself growing closer to God,” Elder Delgado said. “It is feeling oneself a servant of Christ. It is a good feeling to find others who want to leave the evil ways of the world behind them. The Lord will need missionaries until he comes with earthquakes and signs in the heavens. I am grateful for this opportunity to prepare for something really important—the coming of Christ.”
By late morning the two were tired and a little thirsty, so they stopped for a soft drink at a corner store. Relaxing under a tree in front of the graffiti-rich store, they took a moment to catch up with themselves.
Afterwards they walked down a long, arbored lane to a house with a fresco painted on the plaster. No one was home, so they walked back. Surrounded by green they seemed to be in the countryside. “I feel close to the Lord when we teach people,” Elder Delgado commented. “Each day I have the wonderful experience of knowing that the Lord is approving the things I am saying and that this is the place where I should be right now. I know that the Lord has great things in store for me and all his children. Our only obligation is to search for those things and work for them.”
They walked to the home of a member to harvest referrals. “I love the people of Chile,” Elder Holyoak said. “They are very open and want to be friends with everybody. Even when they reject your message, they will usually invite you in for a snack. They are so open that they are able to change and progress. Many times people with no interest progress till they get testimonies and afterwards are a great help to their neighbors in accepting the gospel. Many people here are ready. They are looking. They only need someone who has the truth.”
Elder Delgado agreed and added, “Unfortunately, many people have strange ideas about the Church, and in a small town like this there can be quite a bit of social pressure against listening to the missionaries. But if someone has enough courage to overcome this pressure and the weight of tradition and let the missionaries in, that person is almost ready for baptism.”
Not far from Peñaflor is the town of Talagante. It seems to be a newer town than Peñaflor, with less time for trees to have grown old and gracious. It has more the feeling of a sun-rich central Mexican pueblo, blessed with sunny plazas, sunny courtyards, and sunny streets down which Mormon elders go each day seeking the pure in heart. Two of the elders are Elder Valenzuela and Elder Arancibia. They are both Chileans, and they are good examples of why the future of missionary work in Chile is bright.
Today they headed for the central plaza to do some street contacting. “I was converted to the Church three years ago,” Elder Valenzuela said. “I have a strong desire to try to imitate the Savior, even though it be in a very small way. I have a strong testimony of the Church. I know that it is really the Church of Jesus Christ and that the authorities are directed by revelation, which comforts me. It is a living Church because it has the priesthood. And now, as the scriptures say, I must learn wisdom in my youth and try to follow from the beginning the steps and precepts that the Church has taught so that someday with much effort, I may achieve exaltation.”
Elder Arancibia said, “Belonging to the Church has meant a very great change in my life, and as I progressed, a desire was born in my heart that all the world should have the satisfaction and joy that comes from living the principles that He taught us and be able to work through his authority, the priesthood. This was basically what gave birth in me to this desire to share the gospel. I feel strongly in my heart that Jesus Christ is our Savior. In truth, I owe to him everything that I am. It is his life and his acts that have given me the opportunity of becoming clean and helping my brothers and sisters so that they can arrive at a knowledge like mine and share my joy.”
Elder Arancibia added. “I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the Lord. Studying his life and understanding his works and teachings, I have felt in my own person the power of the Spirit of the Lord testifying to me of his divine mission. I could feel it too when the president of the Church came. I know that he too is a prophet of the Lord. The authority is still found on the earth.”
In the plaza they introduced themselves to passersby and set up appointments for later. The work was a little dusty, so they took time out for a shoeshine. Naturally they set up a visit with the shoeshine man.
Their shoes gleaming, the elders left the plaza to knock on some doors. Afterwards they went to the branch president’s house to discuss member-missionary work.
Then they had to go to the meetinghouse because the baptismal font needed cleaning out. With brooms in hand they got it ready for the next day’s baptismal service.
“When a person joins the Church a chain of consequences begins,” Elder Valenzuela explained. “His manner of living changes. His neighbors sense it. The whole neighborhood is influenced. The same thing happens throughout the whole community. Thus, the whole of Chile is going to become more righteous and the standard of living is going to rise because the gospel influences every aspect of life including the social, emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual. Everybody asks: ‘Where will inflation end?’ ‘How can war be abolished?’ But the thing that must happen before these problems can be solved isn’t a human thing. The only solution is to apply the gospel of Jesus Christ, to repent and live the principles of the gospel.”
Is it an advantage for a missionary in Chile to be Chilean? Both elders agreed that it is, because of greater cultural understanding and language facility. “But it isn’t really a large advantage,” Elder Arancibia said. “The power that really converts people is the power of the Spirit. If a missionary is true to his calling, he can communicate by the Spirit regardless of his language or nationality. We have found that when everything is right with us, when our part is done right, an investigator can feel the Spirit. There is a communication that is not only the words that come from our lips. God speaks with our voices, and his Spirit testifies to the truth of our words. When we rely on the power of the flesh, things often don’t work out as we would like.”
The font was soon ready for the service. Elder Valenzuela whisked off one last speck of dirt and looked at his handiwork with pride. “Many Chilean missionaries will soon be returning to their homes,” he said. “They are going to establish new Latter-day Saint homes, and the gospel will become even more deeply and firmly rooted in Chilean soil. And as this happens, the number of missionaries will keep growing. There’s no reason why the majority of Chile shouldn’t someday be LDS.”
The next day in nearby Peñaflor a group of Saints gathered at another font to savor the fruits of missionary labors. Cool leaf-shadows from a neighbor’s fig tree patterned the white baptismal clothing and the bottom of the font. Patterns of light and dark lay on the wall behind them. The service was being held beneath the sky in the backyard of the branch president’s home, but no gleaming new chapel was ever filled with more solemn joy and reverence.
All in white, missionaries and converts stood side by side as the opening hymn was sung and the meaning of the baptismal ordinance explained in talks. A fresh breeze ruffled the leafy vegetables in the backyard garden and whispered through the trees. The shadows in the font shattered into facets of light as a wind ruffled the surface. Elder Sanchez conducted the meeting with quiet dignity. Elder Gonzales told of a bright new life on the other side of the baptismal waters. One by one candidates entered the water and were baptized. Sometimes the words of the ordinance were spoken in easy Chilean Spanish, and sometimes they carried a strong English accent, but always they were spoken clearly and with authority.
While the shadows grew quiet again in the font, the congregation sang gospel hymns until the officiators and candidates returned in their Sunday clothes. Now Elder Holbrook spoke humbly of the gift of the Holy Ghost. Firm, strong hands were laid on heads while words of confirmation were spoken. Afterwards there were hugs and handclasps. Some of the hands that clasped that day will remain to build up Chile. Others, in their proper time, will labor in vineyards far north, but the shadows of fig leaves, the wavering pattern on the baptismal waters, the cool, leafsweet breeze, the clouds mounting from the sea, the smell of spring flowers, the love written on faces and in hearts—these will go with everyone there although years and oceans and mountain ranges, and even death itself, may lie between them.
All over Chile the Peñaflor story is repeated, and all over Chile the work goes on. In Viña del Mar missionaries walk down steep streets with the beautiful blue sea and pastel sky spread before them like a dream. Others walk the wind-lashed streets of Punta Arenas, the bustling streets of Concepción, the desert streets of Antofagasta, the rain-drenched streets of Valdivia—thousands of streets to thousands of doors behind which future Latter-day Saints are waiting. The missionaries keep walking because they love the work. Because they love the Lord. Because they love the people of Chile.
And a growing number of people in Chile love the missionaries too. Because in Chile, as in all the world, they represent the best hope for a bright tomorrow.