History of the Church in Honduras

David R. Crockett

In 1858, during the tensions of the "Utah War," Colonel Kinney, John B. Cooper, and James M. Harbin tried to sell thirty million acres of land to Brigham Young. The land was a narrow strip on the east coast in Central America, extending from Nicaragua into Honduras. President Young was not impressed with the proposition and when pressed further said: "I would not go to that country if it was covered fifteen inches deep in gold, and we owned it all. We are here, and here we will stay in this territory." (B. H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 4:364.)

The Church did not arrive in Honduras until 1952. In November 1952, Elder Spencer W. Kimball, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, and President Gordon M. Romney of the Central American Mission opened up missionary work in Honduras. They visited the country for a couple days and paid calls on officials in the government including the president of Honduras and the Minister of Religion. They told these officials about the Book of Mormon. The president joked that if the Church brought back polygamy, he would join.

President Gordon M. Romney (my grandfather) related an interesting experience that happened as the brethren were eating breakfast in the restaurant of their hotel, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras:

I was impressed by a waiter who was waiting on our table at the hotel, and I turned to Brother Kimball and said, "Brother Kimball, I like this young man. I am going to give him a tract. I think that he might accept the Gospel." Brother Kimball, turning to me, said, "President Romney, you are now looking at the first elder in Honduras," as we had no members, we had no branch in the country of Honduras. I was astonished, and I said, "I hope you are right, and I believe you are right." (Gordon M. Romney, Conference Report April 1957)
As they were leaving, Elder Kimball told President Romney to deliver a copy of the Book of Mormon to Jose Ortega (the waiter) on his next trip to Honduras.

Within a few weeks, on December 10, 1952, President Gordon M. Romney returned to Honduras with two elders who were installed at Tegucigalpa. These elders were James T. Thorup and George W. Allen. President Romney visited Jose Ortega who told him: "President Romney, Apostle Kimball wrote me a letter! Did you bring me that book?" President Romney presented to him a copy of the Book of Mormon. Elder Kimball continued to write Jose monthly.

On March 21, 1953, the first five people were baptized. Jose Ortega, the waiter, was the first one to enter the waters of baptism in Honduras. The others who were baptized at this service were: Alicia Castanado, Corina de Bustamonte, Mario A. de Chotria, and Carmen B. Corina. A branch was organized in Tegucigalpa on the next day on March 22, 1953. (1997-1998 Church Almanac.)

President Romney explained in 1957 General Conference:

I did not ask for it, but he [Jose Ortega, the waiter] was the first one to receive the Aaronic Priesthood. I did not push him. I did not recommend it to the elders. It came about naturally, and when I left [in 1955] he was still a priest, as he had a little difficulty in paying his tithing. But he finally paid his tithing, and I understand that he is now an elder. But he turned out to be one of the best missionaries we ever had in Honduras. He taught the Gospel to his wife, to his wife's sister, to his family, and I think he was responsible for the elders baptizing at least a half dozen or ten members in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. (Ibid.)

Central American Mission President, Gordon M. Romney recalled the early days of missionary work in Honduras during 1953: "Tegucigalpa, Honduras merited four elders before long. It was a fruitful field. Within six months we had a fine branch of forty members. It was the miracle of the mission." (Gordon M. Romney Oral History, 20)

President Romney would frequently tract with his elders to encourage them in their work. He related this experience:

I remember one time at Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The elders were discouraged. They couldn't find friends. I said, "Have you approached the people in the grocery store downstairs?" No, they brought groceries there, but never approached them as missionaries. Down we went. I began to converse with the lady who was the proprietor of the small store. It went something like this: "Good morning, we are missionaries. We would like to get your reaction to some of our teachings. We have a wonderful book which is the history of your people here in the Americas. It is called the Book of Mormon. In this good it tells that your people will be changed, that from one generation to another they will became a white and delightsome people if they accept and obey these teachings." Her response was spontaneous as she explaimed, "For goodness sake, a month ago I had a dream, a very vivid dream, and in that dream I saw that if we would live right and accept teachings that would come to us we would become a white and delightsome people." The elders were aghast because they were living just above this woman's store and had failed to approach her on the gospel. (Gordon M. Romney, Oral History, 47)
President Romney asked these same elders if they had talked to the cleaners about the gospel. That hadn't. Away they went down the street and found another investigator.

Missionary work was opened up in San Pedro Sula on October 4, 1954. A branch was organized there a few months later, in 1955. This was the second branch in Honduras.

In 1960, membership in Honduras had increased to 411. The San Pedro Sula District was organized on June 4, 1961.

By 1970, there were 3,000 members in Honduras. In 1972 the First Presidency announced that an area of conference was to be held in Mexico City. Saints from Central America, including Honduras participated in the conference held in August, 1972, presided over by President Harold B. Lee. Milagro Alfaro, of San Pedro Sula, was quoted in the Ensign: "I think we feel here in Honduras like other members in other parts of the world would feel if they knew the prophet of God was coming to their conference. For no reason on earth would I miss the conference in Mexico. What a great blessing it will be to see and hear a prophet of God. The though alone has caused me to weep." ("Los Mormones," Ensign, September 1972).

The first stake in Honduras was created on April 10, 1977. It was the San Pedro Sula Honduras Stake. Samuel Ben-Zion Ventura was the first stake president. The following year, on July 30, 1978, the Tegucigalpa Honduras Stake was created with Jose Miguel Dominguez as the president.

In 1980, membership climbed to 6,300. During that year, the Honduras Tegucigalpa mission was created. It included Honduras, Nicaragua, and Belize. By 1987, there were 23,000 members in the country.

In 1988, local members in Tegucigalpa became involved in missionary, in a creative way. Members volunteered to wash clothes for the missionaries, and the payment they would have received went toward purchasing copies of the Book of Mormon for missionary work. Mission President Manuel Najera estimated that this program would make 30,000 additional copies of the Book of Mormon available for placement during the year. (Church News, March 12, 1988)

In 1990 there were 43,000 members in Honduras. In July the mission was divided, and a new mission created, the Honduras San Pedro Sula Mission. This new mission also included the country of Belize. President Lehi Gracia of the Tegucigalpa mission reported that about 3,200 people were baptized in the northern portion of the mission during 1989. He reported the three quarters of the missionaries in the country were Hondurans. Half of those missionaries were converts for only a year when they were called. President Gracia said: "They are first- generation members. Five years from now they will be a tremendous leadership force in this country. The area presidency has asked us to train them in administering the Church while they are on their missions. As soon as they are home and are married, they will become bishops and high councilors and branch presidents." ("Growth Leads to Four New Missions," Church News, February 3, 1990).

On June 1, 1991 Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Twelve dedicated Honduras for the preaching of the gospel. The prayer of dedication was offered on a mountain called El Pecacho (The Peak). El Pecacho is a 5,000-foot mountain that towers above the capital city of Tegucigalpa. Also ascending the mountain were Elder Rex D. Pinegar, Elder Gardner H. Russell, and about fifty local leaders. In the prayer he ask the Lord that "the people might be receptive to the teachings of the Lord and that the land itself might be blessed to be prosperous and productive, and be preserved." Elder Nelson added: "I never set foot on any place in the Americas -- North, Central, or the South American continent but that I realize that somewhere along these precincts are the people who tread the paths of those of Book of Mormon history. . . . Things will be better now that this dedication has taken place. I look forward to a re-committing of resources and faith on the part of the the people to make the Church even stronger than ever before." Elder Nelson also presided at a regional conference held at Tegucigalpa. ("Land of Honduras is Dedicated, Church News, June 15, 1991.)

In 1996, there were 65,000 members in Honduras, nineteen stakes, and two missions. During 1996, Salomon Jaar, of Tegucigalpa, was called as an Area Authority. He was a Church Educational System coordinator and had served as the president of the Tegucigalpa Mission. Also during 1996, LDS-GEMS subscriber, Kim Beckstead of San Antonia, Texas, was called as the new president of the Honduras Tegucigalpa Mission. He is the owner of real estate brokerage company and has a masters degree in international management. He has served a mission to Mexico. His wife, Ginger Beckstead graduated from BYU with a degree in Spanish education and theater.

On January 21, 1997 President Gordon B. Hinckley visited Honduras. He first traveled to San Pedro Sula and met with the 191 missionaries in that mission. In the evening he spoke to 8,100 members at the National Stadium. He said: "I hope the Church is the greatest thing in your lives. I hope you live it, love it, pray for it, send your sons and daughters in the mission field for it, and serve in it when you are called. This is God's holy work. . . . I just have such tremendous respect for you. You are our people. You are the kind of people we like to be with. . . . How much we love you." Thousands waved white handkerchiefs as President Hinckley left the stadium. ("An Outpouring of Love For Prophet," Church News, February 1, 1997).

The following day, President Hinckley arrived in Tegucigalpa. He was interviewed by the news media and then spoke to 224 missionaries of the Honduras Tegucigalpa Mission. He also called on U.S. Ambassador James F. Creagan. In the evening he spoke to 15,000 members at the National Stadium. He said: "You are a chosen generation, my brothers and sisters. You were preserved in the great plan of the Almighty to receive the blessings of the eternal gospel." (Ibid.)

During 1997, the Honduras Tegucigalpa Mission was divided, creating a new mission, the Honduras Comayaguela Mission, Elder William R. Bradford of the Seventy and president of the Central America Area said: "The work has grown in that area so that one mission president just can't handle all the area. Our baptisms rate is quite high and will remain high no matter how many missionaries are coming in. We are building from centers of strength. We have some cities outside, but most of the concentration is in the city or within an hour and half transportation to the city." ("Church to Create Eight New Missions," Church News, March 1, 1997).