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Apostle's 1851 visit to Chile

VALPARAISO, CHILE — November 8 will mark the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Elder Parley P. Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve in Chile in 1851.

Church near where infant was buried remains in use today.
Church near where infant was buried remains in use today. Photo: Photos by Rodolfo Acevedo

Elder Pratt's visit occurred long ago — yet it remains an important chapter in the history of the Church in Chile and South America.

In 1851, Elder Pratt was serving as president of the Pacific Mission, which was organized to establish the preaching of the gospel along the Pacific coast, the Pacific Islands and South America. Elder Pratt arrived at the mission headquarters in San Francisco, Calif., in March of 1851.

In a letter to President Brigham Young, Elder Pratt expressed his desire to travel to South America, adding that he was studying Spanish. Elder Pratt had worked with Lamanite populations in North America and was intrigued by the Lamanites of South America.

Elder Pratt, his wife Phebe and a full-time missionary, Elder Rufus C. Allen, left California en route to Valparaiso, Chile, aboard the ship Henry Kelsy. The conditions on the ship were spartan. Only limited provisions were included for Elder Pratt and his fellow travelers. During the voyage, Elder Pratt wrote in his journal that "the bread we ate during the trip was filled with worms, the pork spoiled."

The Henry Kelsy almost capsized near the coast of Peru, Elder Pratt added.

Finally, on Nov. 8, 1851, Elder Pratt and the others arrived in Valparaiso. The next day he wrote about his first few hours on a new continent.

"We landed yesterday at noon, and took lodgings and board at a French hotel, where we had a great variety of good eating. . .We find the country in the midst of revolution and civil war."

The internal crisis in Chile would prove to be an obstacle to that early missionary effort.

The Pratts and Elder Allen soon left the hotel, rented a home and purchased furniture. They dedicated almost all of their time to studying Spanish.

On Nov. 30, 1851, Phebe gave birth to a beautiful son named Omner. The happiness of his birth soon turned to sadness. Baby Omner passed away after a mere 38 days of life. On Jan. 7, 1852, he was buried in a common grave. Civil records show the child died of weakness.

Despite the setback, the Pratts continued studying Spanish and searching for opportunities to spread the gospel. The civil war ended a short time later and the trio of missionaries moved from Valparaiso to the town of Quillota in the Chilean interior. They lived in a home owned by a widow and her two teenage daughters.

Register at graveyard records name of Omner Pratt, the infant who died in 1852.
Register at graveyard records name of Omner Pratt, the infant who died in 1852. Photo: Photos by Rodolfo Acevedo

"[The family is ] socialable and much pleased with us," Elder Pratt wrote. "They can read Spanish and take every possible pains to teach us the language. . .I read to them in the Spanish Testament, which pleases them much as they have never read it."

At the end of the Chilean summer in 1852, Elder Pratt decided to return to the United States — his mind hopeful that missionaries would return to Chile when conditions improved and the land ripened for the gospel. The Americans boarded the San Francisco-bound Dracutt on March 2. When they pulled away from the Chilean coast, the Pratts looked back at the land where they had buried a son and planted a spiritual seed for the future of the Church in Chile.

Elder Pratt wrote he had little choice but to return to the United States because he and his travel mates struggled with the language, exhausted their financial resources and could not find work to earn money.

Their trip home stretched across 79 miserable days.

Today, many Chilean Church members are grateful for the sacrifices of these pioneer missionaries. The Church has become a spiritual force in Chile — there are 118 stakes, eight missions, a temple and almost a half-million members. Elder Pratt's visit is regarded by members here as a prologue of the history of the Church in this land.

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