Diligence brought growth in Mexico
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The creation of the Church's 2,000th stake in Mexico, the 129th in this country, comes as a result of many years of faithfulness by the members and efforts by missionaries.
The work began in 1874, three years before the death of President Brigham Young, when he declared that the time had come to preach the gospel to the millions of descendants of Lehi who lived in Mexico.President Young called two men, Daniel W. Jones and Henry W. Brizee, to learn the Spanish language and translate sections of the Book of Mormon. These two were soon joined by Meliton G. Trejo, a non-member Spanish military officer who earlier felt compelled to visit the Mormons. He was soon converted and lent expertise to the initial effort.
Brother Trejo helped translate sections of the Book of Mormon, which were later printed into a booklet of about 100 pages. The booklet, Choice Selections from the Book of Mormon, was printed at the Deseret News printing press in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Called as missionaries were seven men, including Elder Jones, James Z. Stewart, Helaman Pratt, Wiley C. Jones, Robert H. Smith, Ammon Tenney and Anthony W. Ivins. The group left from Salt Lake City, on Sept. 15, 1875, taking with them 2,000 copies of the booklet. They entered Mexico on Jan. 7, 1876, and preached briefly in what is now Ciudad Juarez, but encountered severe opposition. The group departed on March 20 for the interior of Mexico. On April 5, they mailed 500 of the booklets from Chihuahua to prominent men in the major cities of Mexico.
This group of missionaries also preached in other locations, and other groups. The missionaries gathered some converts, but it was one of the 500 mailed booklets that led to the first establishment of the Church in Mexico.
In 1878, President John Taylor received a letter from a Dr. Plotino C. Rhodakanaty of Mexico City, indicating that he had indirectly obtained a copy of the booklet, gained a testimony and had a group of 20 believers. The Mexican Mission was created in 1879, and Elder Moses Thatcher of the Council of the Twelve was appointed to travel to Mexico City to meet with the group.
In Mexico City, Elder Thatcher, who was accompanied by Meliton Trejo, met with and baptized Dr. Rhodakanaty, and soon 16 others. Although the branch in Mexico City did not last, the elders later left Mexico City and established branches in the rural communities just to the south: Ozumba, Iztacalco, Santa Fe and Toluca, and surrounding villages near Mount Popocateptl.
In northern Mexico in 1885, a group of nearly 400 colonists from Utah arrived at the Mexico Casas Grandes River and acquired property. In 1887, some members from central Mexico arrived at the colonies but found circumstances difficult and returned to their homes. Mexico's first stake was created among the settlers in Colonia Juarez in 1895. By 1912, more than 4,000 members had settled in Chihuahua and Sonora.
Progress also continued in central Mexico. By 1889, 241 people had been baptized and 10 branches created. Missionary work in central Mexico temporarily stopped in 1889 because of problems in Utah and emphasis on colonizing in northern Mexico. Missionaries were withdrawn that year.
When missionary work resumed in 1901, Ammon Tenney, one of the original 1876 missionaries to Mexico and president of the Mexican Mission from 1887-89, returned to preside over the mission. He found that most of the Mexican Saints had remained faithful, although some problems existed in the leadership. One of his converts was Fidencia Garcia de Rojas, who became a devout missionary and pillar of strength in the branches. She lived 106 years, long enough to see Tecalco, where she had attended a branch as a non-member shortly after the turn of the century, become headquarters of Mexico's 100th stake in 1989.
One of the most influential mission leaders during this era was Pres. Rey L. Pratt, who served from 1907 to 1913. Old-timers recalled that "he had a very potent voice. He wanted the whole village to hear him, whether they were at the meeting or not."
Membership in Mexico reached about 1,000 in 1911, but in 1913 the Mexican Revolution led to the withdrawal of all American missionaries. During this period, local leaders in central Mexico continued to expand missionary work. However, the members suffered at the hands of conflicting armies. Two local members, Rafael Monroy, president of the San Marcos Branch, and Vicente Morales, were captured by the rebel army of Zapatistas. Accused of collaborating with a rival wing of revolutionaries, the Carranzistas, Pres. Monroy held up the scriptures and said, "These are the only arms I carry." At dusk, they were taken to the outskirts of San Marcos. The officer in charge offered them freedom if they would renounce their religion. Pres. Monroy and Brother Morales refused. A few minutes later, rifle shots rang and the two faithful men were executed and became martyrs for truth.
In 1921, missionaries returned to central Mexico and, after a joyful reunion with the remaining members, work resumed until foreigners were barred in 1926. Not until 1940 could outsiders serve as missionaries, but local members continued the work.
One of the leaders who remembers the early years is Harold Brown, who was the first president of a stake in Mexico City. A former regional representative and Mexico City Temple president, Brother Brown recalled that in 1926, Apostle Melvin J. Ballard visited the Colonia Juarez Stake and promised, "You young people here will live to see the day when for every convert that is coming into the Church now, there will be 1,000 converts."
"I have expected that, and dedicated my life to that," Brother Brown said. "My first awareness of the size of the Church was in 1943. There were about 10,000 members in Mexico." In 1945, he said, he was president of a branch in Mexico City of about 350.
During the next two decades, membership increased as more local members were called to leadership positions, and the missionary zeal of the Mexican members was manifest.
On June 10, 1956, the Mexican Mission was divided. On Dec. 3, 1961, the Mexico Stake, the first stake outside the colonies, was created. Pres. Brown was shortly succeeded by Agricol Lozano H., now president of the Mexico City Temple. Membership then was about 25,000.
Church schools in Mexico were established in 1959 - the capstone of which is the large preparatory school, Benemerito de Las Americas, established in 1963 in what is now north Mexico City. This flagship school of the Church in Mexico helped the Church advance in leadership and reputation.
In a history prepared in 1980 for the Church News, Agricol Lozano described the youth of this period:
"The youth of Zion, with great aspirations, plans, goals and programs, saw on their horizons limitless possibilities for Mexico. All the programs were directed at promoting local leaders."
Membership began to expand rapidly. By 1972, it reached 100,000.
In one week in 1975, the quality of local leadership was evident as then Elder Howard W. Hunter presided over the creation of 16 new stakes from five.
Two of the new stake presidents have since been called as General Authorities, Elder Horacio Tenorio (released in 1994) and Jorge A. Rojas (now a counselor in the Mexico North Area presidency). One who served as a counselor in a stake presidency during that time was Elder Lino Alvarez, now of the Seventy and president of the Mexico South Area. Other stake leaders from that era have served as regional representatives.
Commenting on that week in November 1975 in a television interview Dec. 11, President Hunter said, "It was a heavy week, but we were real pleased with the results of the stakes created. It demonstrated the great growth of the Church in Mexico. It is one of the pleasures of this trip to see all that growth."
The growth has been significant. On April 3, 1976, a temple was announced for Mexico City and was dedicated Dec. 2-4, 1983. At that time, membership in Mexico was conservatively placed about 240,000. Mexico was the first country outside the United States to reach 100 stakes. When the 100th stake was created at Tecalco in 1989, membership in Mexico was estimated to be more than half a million. Membership is now approaching 700,000.
A historic moment came June 29, 1993, when the Mexican government formally registered the Church, allowing it to own property. The recognition was granted at a rarely held ceremony presided over by Patrocinio Gonzalez Garrido, Secretary of Government. Instrumental in gaining the recognition was Brother Lozano, the Church's legal counsel, who bore his testimony at the ceremony.
In his address at the creation of the Church's 2,000th stake, President Howard W. Hunter observed:
"It is estimated that over 27 percent of the members of the worldwide Church today are Spanish-speaking, with Mexico having the largest Church population outside the United States."
New Stakes: United States/Worldwide
Year Outside the United States Inside the United States Total
1830-1928 4 96 100
1928-1952 1 99 200
1952-1960 5 95 300
1960-1964 17 83 400
1964-1970 17 83 500
1970-1973 26 74 600
1973-1975 39 61 700
1975-1977 50 50 800
1977-1978 42 58 900
1978-1979 34 66 1,000
1979-1980 47 53 1,100
1980-1980 59 41 1,200
1980-1981 71 29 1,300
1981-1983 53 47 1,400
1983-1984 40 60 1,500
1984-1986 48 52 1,600
1986-1988 51 49 1,700
1988-1991 92 8 1,800
1991-1992 65 35 1,900
1992-1994 90 10 2,000