A grand celebration of the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley brought some 8,500 people to the grounds of the Mexico City Mexico Temple Feb. 28.
The open spaces on the temple grounds were transformed into seating areas as members and friends gathered to hear talks by Elders M. Russell Ballard and Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve. Also present were Elders D. Todd Christofferson and Gary J. Coleman of the Seventy, and Elder Octaviano Tenorio, an area authority, the Mexico South Area presidency. All the brethren were accompanied by their wives.To honor the Church pioneers in Mexico, Efrain Sandoval Avila from the state of Puebla; Maria Elena Monroy Vda. De Villalobos from San Marcos in the state of Hidalgo; Jesus Garcia Trinidad who served full-time in the Mexican Mission; and Jose Serrano Martinez, also from Hidalgo, were invited to bear their testimonies. Special music for the program was provided by the Benemerito de las Americas Choir.
Elder Ballard, who is a direct descendant of Hyrum Smith, the brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith, began his talk with greetings from the Brethren in Salt Lake City.
"As we have been seated here, next to the temple, my eyes have looked toward the statue of Angel Moroni at the top of this temple," he said. "My heart has turned back to the prophet Joseph Smith. We know that our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and through him the gospel was restored. When looking at the statue of the Angel Moroni at the top of the temple, I was reminded of the day when Moroni, as a resurrected being, appeared to Joseph Smith and taught and instructed him for a period of four years and at the appropriate time gave Joseph Smith the plates to be translated into the Book of Mormon. This Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ and contains the fulness of the gospel to be used together with the sacred Bible."
Elder Ballard referred to a visit some ministers paid to him at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. He said the ministers were interested in obtaining some information from the Church because they knew about its interest in strong families. He said they asked all kinds of questions, and were given many books, video cassettes and material with respect to the family. "One evening as we were having dinner with them, one of the ministers said: `Elder Ballard, thank you very much for what you have shared with us. We are anxious to go back to put everything we have learned into practice in our churches.'
We are glad to have shared this with you. But I have to be honest with you. The material we have shared with you will not have the same benefit for you as it has for us.' We were seated in a place where we could see the Salt Lake Temple, so pointing at the temple, I said,When we perform marriages in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we do so in the house of the Lord. Those marriages are for time and eternity, unlike the marriages performed by other religious organizations that marry a couple for this life only until death parts the husband away from his wife. When the gospel was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith, he received inspiration that marriage is for time and eternity. Families are meant to be together eternally, so our families we should love one another and remain true to one another."
"So brothers and sisters, in celebrating this sesquicentennial, may our hearts continue to feel love for the Prophet Joseph Smith, for his brother Hyrum, and for the first leaders and pioneers of this Church in the United States and in Mexico."
Elder Eyring began his talk by referring to the stories of the pioneers in Mexico as stories of "faith and courage." He spoke of his own pioneer family who lived at the time of Brigham Young. He said that his great-grandfather, also named Henry Eyring, was called to serve for five years on a mission in Arizona, and was then called to preside over the Mexican Mission. Elder Eyring said that his ancestor was asked to learn Spanish, to meet with the Mexican leaders and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. "He came to Mexico, learned Spanish and became a Mexican citizen," said Elder Eyring, whose father was later born in Mexico.
Speaking to the youth, Elder Eyring said, "You may be wondering why we are talking about history. I want you to know that we are not talking about history. We are talking about the future. You are pioneers. You are living a legacy of faith when you believe in the prophets of God, when you are willing to obey, when you are valiant even when facing persecution. You are building a legacy of faith that will be passed on to generations to come."
In his testimony, Brother Sandoval, who was baptized in 1931, told the story of pioneers in his own family. Brother Sandoval's parents were already members of the Church when he was born in 1924. They witnessed the beginnings of the Church in Puebla.
In telling about the conversion of his father to the gospel, Brother Sandoval said that in 1910 his grandfather, Juan Francisco Sandoval, was the first person in his family to hear the gospel message. However, he was interrupted in being taught the gospel by the start of the Mexican Revolution. Ten years later, Efrain Sandoval's father, Narciso Sandoval, was baptized, thus becoming the first member, the first elder and the first leader of the Church in that region.
In her comments, Sister Monroy told how her uncle, Rafael Monroy, had given his life to defend his testimony of the gospel. Her uncle was the first member of the Church in San Marcos Hidalgo. She said that from the very moment he was converted to the gospel he suffered great persecution by people of his community. They accused him before the Federal Army to be working with revolutionist Pancho Villa, and said that he had weapons for the revolution. She said they detained him and he was sentenced to death. She related that a little before his execution, as he was bidding farewell to his family, he asked the soldiers for permission to pray. She said that Brother Monroy offered a beautiful prayer and that the soldiers were moved. They offered to grant his life if he would only give up the weapons he had and that they would set him free immediately. He answered: "I don't have any weapons." Then, taking a copy of the Book of Mormon and the Bible out of his coat pocket, he said, "These are the only weapons I have. I don't have anything else." Sister Monroy said that the soldiers were offended by his answer and they hanged him on the main street of town.
Brother Garcia spoke about his missionary experiences and the miracles the Lord worked through his endeavors.
Brother Serrano, who was a missionary in Mexico in 1937, told an experience his father had when he was put in jail for being a member of the Church, and how he and his family have remained steadfast in spite of great persecution.