In June 1997, the Cartagena Colombia Stake was created. Just twenty years earlier there were not any missionaries in the city and just one member family! Cartegena is a resort city on the Caribbean coast. The growth of the Church in this city has been nothing short of spectacular.
Elders Steven Lowry and Fausto Montalban were the first to work in Cartagena, arriving in July 1975. The first converts soon followed - Pedro and Leonor Bernal Torres. They were baptized in the waters of the Caribbean Sea, with a cloud of mosquitoes swarming around them, on August 9, 1975. The young couple was confirmed on the beach. ("History set at a new pace: In Cartagena, Church moves by the Month" Church News, March 12, 1988)
But after one year of work, only one other family had accepted the gospel. The city was closed to missionary work. Two years passed without any missionary activity in the city. In August 1978, Elders Kenneth L. Tracy and Juan Alberto Rincon re-opened the work in Cartagena. Only six members of the Church - the Bernal Torres family, could be found. This time, missionary work took hold. By December, a small branch was organized. Within a year, four branches had been organized in the city.
Kirt M. Olson, president of the Colombia Bogota Mission in 1978, shared his thoughts about Caragena. "The people of Cartagena are unique. They are very open and don't feel quite so shackled by tradition. I was amazed at the tremendous spirit the people had. Plus, I think the time was right. We were certainly in a better position to work in Cartagena than they were three years before."
In 1980 the Cartagena District was organized with five branches. Camilo Toledo V. was called as the first district president. The first meetinghouse was completed in 1983. By 1988, there were about 3,000 members in the city consisting of six large branches and four meetinghouses.
The rapid growth in the branches presented many challenges. Since so many members are new to the Church, some had to be pressed into leadership roles without much background or experience. But over the past years, the foundation of leadership has been strengthened. Many missionaries have been sent out from the city and have returned.
In 1991, the Cartagena District was divided into two districts, totalling more than 4,600 members. Each district had five branches. The Church News reported that the pioneer members of the branches were filled with emotions. Several spoke at the conference where the division took place. (Church News, October 5, 1991)
On June 15, 1997, Rafael Ulloque B. was Called as the first president of the Cartagena Columbia Stake. He is a professor at Cartagena University. His first counselor is Camilo Toledo V., who had been the first president of the Cartagena District, seventeen years earlier. The Cartagena Stake consists of 7 wards. (Church News, August 16, 1997)