History of the Church in Ecuador

David R. Crockett

In 1965, Elder Spencer W. Kimball discussed with President David O. McKay plans for missionary work in South America. Elder Kimball said: "I took my large map of South America and laid it out on the table. . . I pointed out to him Quito in Ecuador and told him of the millions of Indians on the Altiplano of the Andes range. He asked me, 'Millions?' And I said, 'Yes, President McKay, there are millions and they are pure-blood Indians who speak different Indians toungues and dialects.' I told him of some of the valleys of the mountains which we intended to explore to see if proselyting would be possible there. . . . I said to him, 'President McKay . . . I think the time of the Lamanite has come for them to hear the Gospel.' And he said, 'Yes, it is time and they must hear it and you are the one of the Twelve who has the vision of it. . . . You have my blessing." (Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball, 361).

In September, 1965, Elder Spencer W. Kimball wrote to Averil Jesperson, the president of the Andes Mission about the itinerary for a planned visited to the mission. Elder Kimball stated that he desired to open the mission in Ecuador. In early October, 1965, four missionaries were sent to Quito: Craig Carpenter, Bryant R. Gold, Lindon Robinson, and Paul O. Allen.

On October 9, 1965, Elder Spencer W. Kimball visited Quito, Ecuador, a city with a moderate climate located just a few miles south of the equator. There he mingled with people in the marketplace and then traveled by taxi with President Jesperson and the four missionaries to the top of a high hill, Panecillo Hill, in the center of Quito, to offer a prayer to dedicate Ecuador for the preaching of the gospel. On the hill they found a family of sightseers. Elder Kimball sent the missionaries to invite the family and their driver to join the service. They did. Elder Kimball then offered a prayer of dedication. He prayed: "They have waited so long, our Father, for the gospel to come to them. . . . We ask thee to bless them, Father, that their hearts may be warmed and that they may be filled with the glorious truths of thy Gospel." (Ecuador, Ensign, February 1977, 34) Elder Kimball wrote in his journal, "The day will come when the Lamanites here will get their chance. The South American Mission is to be a power in the Church." (Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball, 354).

Later that day, as the group sat down to a meal in the hotel, Elder Spencer W. Kimball mentioned to the others that their waiter looked like he would make a fine missionary. Elder Kimball asked the waiter about his family. The waiter said he had one son. Elder Kimball said, "Bread and milk will make him healthy, but he will be even healthier if you will feed him the food these young men have to give." He then explained to the waiter that the young men were missionaries. The waiter expressed interest in learning more.

Another story was told in President Kimball's biography: "From Quito the group drove to Otavalo [a town of Otavalo Indians] where, in a little plaza, they sat in the shade while the driver repaired a flat tire. A clean-cut businesslike boy asked to shine their shoes for a few cents and they agreed. Elder Kimball asked him his name, where he lived, whether he went to school. Then he told the boy, Cornelio, that there were things of more importance than money and that the missionaries would come to Otavalo with the message of the restored gospel of Christ. Elder Kimball promised to write him and gave him an Articles of Faith card with his name on it, saying he would be back to Otavalo some day and would be eager to learn how Cornelio was getting along." A few days later, after Elder Kimball and the group of missionaries left Otavalo, Cornelio met some Americans and showed them the Articles of Faith card. The Americans were members of the Church and were very surprised to learn the Elder Kimball had been in Otavalo. The family found the missionaries in Quito and made their home in Quito available to the elders. (Ibid., 356)

The first nine members in Quito were baptized just three weeks later, on October 31, 1965. Among these members were said to be the taxi drivers who had taken Elder Kimball to the hill for the dedicatory prayer. ("History of the Ecuador-Guayaquil Mission," David Daines)

Missionary work began in Guayaquil, Ecuador on January 20, 1966. Guayaquil is Ecuador's largest city. Two missionaries were also sent to work in Otavalo, north of Quito. They rented a home, converted the family from whom they were renting, and then the people next door too. A branch was soon established among these Otavalo Indians.

Elder Kimball returned to Ecuador in 1967. The elders brought him to the Indians in Peguchi. A meeting place was found and the elders stopped people on the streets to invite them to attend a meeting. About twenty people gathered. One of the elders opened the meeting with prayer. President Jesperson began speaking as the elders continued to run up and down the road to find more investigators. Eventually about one hundred people gathered, sat silently, and listened to the mission president speak about the Book of Mormon. Next, Elder Spencer W. Kimball spoke. He told them about the visit of the Savior to America. He pointed to the sky and told them the story of the still small voice that came from heaven. Every eye followed his gestures to the sky. He testified of Christ and told the Indians that the missionaries were teachers of truth. After the meeting, those who had gathered, rushed to shake his hand. Elder Kimball later reflected: "Of all the meetings I have ever held or attended, I think this was the most inspired and stimulating and promising." (Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball, 362.)

President Jesperson recalled: "At least one hundred investigators came and sat on the banks of a tiny creek, and there we held the meeting. It was one of those great spiritual meetings with the prophet, and we were overwhelmed by the Spirit. many were baptized afterward." ("A Land of Prophecy: In The Andes, 'Lehi's Children grow Strong in the Gospel." Church News, February 17, 1990)

During the late 1960s, missionary work progressed with moderate success in Ecuador. In 1970, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley visited Quito, Ecuador. At a zone conference with the missionaries, he testified: "I am impressed that today we have been in the presence of some of the prophets of the Book of Mormon, and I think that they are concerned about what you are doing to see that their children are taught the gospel." (Sheri Dew, Go Forward With Faith, 311.)

In August, 1970, the Ecuador Quito Mission was organized with Louis Latimer as the first president. At that time there were already about 1,200 members of the Church in the country. There were three small branches in Quito, four in Guayaquil, one in Otavalo, and one in Ambato. Initially, there were about twenty-five missionaries assigned to the new mission.

By 1975, membership reached 3,226. By 1977, there were nine chapels completed or under construction. About one hundred young people were registered in seminary. Felix Vaca, president of the Guayaquil District noted that great missionary success was taking place in the district. "We are very pleased with the progress in the Quevedo Branch. In 2 1/2 years we have built a membership of 300, quite an accomplishment by national standards." About 90 percent of the Quevedo Branch baptisms were a result of member referrals, particularly from a family home evening emphasis. ("Ecuador," Ensign, February, 1977)

The first stake in Ecuador was organized by Elder Mark E. Petersen in 1978. Lorenzo Garaycoa was called as the first stake president of the Guayaquil Ecuador Stake. On July 1, 1978, a second mission was created, the Ecuador Guayaquil Mission. Two of the first bishops to be called in Ecuador attended October 1978 General Conference. The Church News reported that Bishop Gustavo Maruri of the Guayaquil Centenario Ward said that his testimony had been strengthened just by hearing the prophet. The thing that impressed him most, he said, was when President Spencer W. Kimball said that Jesus Christ is the friend of all. Bishop Jose Molina of the Guayaquil Central Ward said he thought he'd never be able to sit before the prophet and hear him give counsel to the people. He said that seeing members from different countries made him realize that the Church is the same in all parts of the world and that there are faithful members everywhere. (Church News, October, 1978)

The second stake was created in Guayaquil in 1979. Elder Gordon B. Hinckley created a third -- the first stake in Quito, on August 22, 1979. In 1980, there was 19,000 members in the country.

Missionary work progressed well in Otavalo, the town of Otavalo Indians visited by Spencer W. Kimball in 1965. The branch that existed there in 1970 grew and was divided many times. Luis Alfonson Fuentes Cotacahi, later a member of the stake presidency stated: "Being indigenous, it's been a real pride to be Mormon. It's a beautiful feeling when I read the Book of Mormon and know that it's the history of my ancestors. We have little education, but with the help of the Spirit, we understand." The first "all-Lamanite" stake in the Church was created in Otavalo in 1981. It was a non-Spanish speaking stake; the Otavalo Indians speak Quechua. In 1980, the Book of Mormon was translated into Quechua. [By 1990, nearly ten percent of the town of 20,000 were members of the Church. By 1992, about twenty-five percent of the stake were "Latinos" and a Spanish-speaking branch was operating.]

In 1982, just prior to April Conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced that a temple would be built in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

By 1986, there were 43,000 members in Ecuador. In 1989, for political and safety reasons, the South America North Area offices were moved from Lima, Peru, to Quito, Ecuador. At the end of 1990, there were 81,000 members in Ecuador, with 121 wards and branches.

In January, 1988, a new meetinghouse was dedicated in the Andes Mountain city of Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador. Church growth had been slower there than in other areas of Ecuador, but the city at that time had two thriving branches and about 800 members. President J. Lynn Shawcroft of the Ecuador Guayaquil Mission said: "The members put a lot of donated labor into this new chapel. This new building will help the work progress even more there."

In 1991, a third mission was created in Ecuador. The Ecuador Guayaquil Mission was divided to create the Ecuador Guayaquil North and the Ecuador Guayaquil South missions. Church growth in Ecuador has been greatest in Guayaquil. By 1992, there were 16,000 members in the city of two million people, with eighteen chapels.

In October, 1991, President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, presided at a regional conference held at Quito. About 4,900 members attended, of whom about one-third were Otavalo Indians. A 300-voice choir sang at the conference. Elder William R. Bradford commented: "This attendance shows the growth and progress of the Lamanites in South America."

During this visit, President Hinckley inspected several candidate sites for the Ecuador temple. He later explained: "We visited the site and it was just so noisy. The trucks that came up the hill had to gun their engines to make it up and the noise was just terrible. It just would not do. So we looked around . . . and then drove up a little two-track road to this spot. There was a guard here cooking over a little fire. I looked out over the city and had a feeling that this was the place for the temple. I had a feeling as clear as anything that this was the site for the temple. We checked to see if the property was for sale. We found that it might be, and so we negotiated the purchase." ("Ecuador receives first visit from a president of Church." Church News, August 23, 1997)

Philippe Kradolfer, who served as director of temporal affairs for the South America North Area was with President Hinckley as he inspected the sites. He shared his remembrances of that special day. When they visited the first site, President Hinckley seemed curious about what lay beyond a group of trees. Brother Kradolfer told him that it was swampland. After visiting the other five sites, President Hinckley wanted to again visit the first location. This time the party set off to explore the area with President Hinckley giving directions as they drove. Suddenly they spotted an unpaved road. Brother Kradolfer recalled, "At that moment President Hinckley said, 'This is precisely where we are going.' The little road led to a gorgeous piece of property that oversees the whole of Guayaquil. None of us said a word as President Hinckley got out of the car and walked to the edge of the property. As he stood alone looking down upon the city, tears filled my eyes because I knew that a prophet had found the site for the temple." (Dew, Go Forward With Faith, 480-81)

During 1992, Missionaries in the Ecuador Quito Mission opened a new branch on the island of Muisne, located just offshore in central Ecuador. To reach the island, where motor vehicles are prohibited, missionaries row a canoe-like craft across a narrow channel. The branch began when members moved to the island. Since then missionaries found additional success and soon more than 20 people attended meetings. In 1995, the Muisne Branch became part of the newly created Esmeraldas Ecuador Stake.

In 1994, the Guayaquil Ecuador Temple was still awaiting government authorization before construction plans could begin. Members continued to make great sacrifices to travel by bus to the Lima Peru Temple. Elder Jay E. Jensen said: "Many stakes, if not all, continue to have their excursions to Lima, which take three days one way, and then they spend one day or two in the temple. Then they come back, another three days on the bus. We just marvel at their faith. It almost makes you weep when you see the sacrifices they make in order to go to the temple for their one time. Some will return during their lifetime, but not many. He said the area presidency encourages all members in the district to have temple recommends, even though they may not have economic resources to travel to Peru. ("In Many Countries, Great Efforts Made to Attend the Temple." Church News, June 25, 1994 )

On August 10, 1996, the long-awaited-for day arrived! Elder Richard G. Scott presided at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Guayaquil Ecuador Temple. It had been fourteen years since the First Presidency had announced that a temple would be built in Ecuador. Although attendance at the temple site was limited to stake presidents and their wives and a few other invited guests, the Church News reported that some 10,446 people were gathered in the nearby Guayaquil Coliseum where they heard the proceedings via local radio. Elder Jay E. Jensen, president of the South America North Area, commented: "Tears came easily to all involved in the groundbreaking ceremony. We have always said, 'Someday a temple will be built here, someday, someday.' The groundbreaking ceremony made something that was vague and nebulous now tangible."

During the service, Elder Julio E. Davila, of the Seventy paid tribute to the pioneers of the Church in Ecuador who in the past 30 years "have sacrificed, dedicated themselves and continued in faith -- the presidents of stakes and branches, the presidents of missions. These have worked enthusiastically on many occasions to make this moment a reality." ("Amid Tears, Ecuador Temple Ground Broken." Church News, August 17, 1996)

In 1996, there was 140,000 members in twenty-two stakes and three missions. During 1997 there has been increased excitement among the members in Ecuador as construction continued on the temple. Preparations were being made for the temple open house. Wards and branches were holding temple preparation classes and encouraging members to obtain a temple recommends. Elder Jay E. Jensen said: "We have a countdown calendar that we are really focusing on. We are trying to kindle an excitement in the minds of the Saints everywhere with a concerted, united effort. We have set a goal to have one million people go through the temple at the open house." ("Excitement For Temple in Ecuador Grows." Church News, February 1, 1997)

See a artist's rendition of the temple at: http://www.youngs.org/ecuaguay/graphics/guaytemple.jpg

During August, 1997, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited both Guayaquil and Quito. In Guayaquil, President Hinckley visited the construction site of the temple. President Hinckley spoke to 420 missionaries in Guayaquil and addressed 15,000 members at a fireside. At Quito, he spoke to 250 missionaries and 8,350 members in separate meetings.