The first Latter-day Saints to visit present-day Mexico were probably the dedicated soldiers of the Mormon Battalion in 1846. Their historic march during the war with Mexico dipped down into present-day Mexico as they approached Tucson.
In 1874 Brigham Young believed the time had arrived to prepare to take the gospel to Mexico. Daniel Webster Jones and Henry Brizzee, both experienced in the Spanish language were given an assignment to begin translating the Book of Mormon and some missionary tracts into Spanish. A few months later, Meliton Trejo of Spain arrived and assisted in this effort. While living in Spain, Brother Trejo learned about the Church. He was filled with an intense desire to visit Salt Lake City. He later experienced a powerful dream which convinced him to journey to the valley. He arrived in the city, was warmly greeted, taught the gospel, and baptized. Brother Trejo told Brigham Young of his desire to help with the translation of the Book of Mormon into Spanish. He was soon assigned to help Daniel Jones with the effort. In 1875, their efforts resulted in the printing of about one hundred pages of Book of Mormon passages which was entitled, "Trozos Selectos del Libro de Mormon" (Selected Extracts from the Book of Mormon). ("How The Scriptures Came to be Translated into Spanish, by Eduardo Balderas, Ensign September 1972, p. 28-9)
In 1875 six elders were called to open a mission in the Republic of Mexico. These elders were led by Daniel Jones. The others were: Helaman Pratt (son of Parley P. Pratt), James Z. Stewart, Anthony W. Ivins, Robert H. Smith, and Ammon M. Tenney. Also traveling with the party was Elder Jones' teenage son, Wiley. They were to preach the gospel and search for locations as gathering places for the Saints because anti-polygamy efforts were intensifying. Orson Pratt said to the elders, "I wish you to look out for places where our brethren could go and be safe from harm in the event that persecution should make it necessary for them to get out of the way for a season." (Thomas Cottam Romney, The Mormon Colonies in Mexico, 39).
The elders left on seven horses with seventeen pack horses. They explored the Salt River Valley in Arizona (present-day Phoenix and Mesa) and would later bring back favorable reports. When they reached Tucson, they decided to head for El Paso because of reports that the Yaqui Indians were warring in Sonora, Mexico. The party entered Mexico on January 7, 1876 at El Paso del Norte (present day Ciudad Juarez, Mexico). During the winter they would split up, two traveling back to New Mexico, two into Texas, and Elder Jones and Ivins remained in Ciudad Juarez. They were not allowed to preach in the streets, but were able to distribute a few books. Brigham Young wrote to them "Be cautious in your labors and movements; do not court opposition, but move steadily on, presenting the truths of the gospel to those who will hear you, and inviting all to become partakers of the gospel of the Son of God." Elders Jones and Ivins gained the respect of many influential people in the city.
On March 20, 1876, Elders Jones, Ivins, Stewart, Pratt, and Wiley Jones left the border city of Ciudad Juarez, and traveled into the interior of Mexico toward the city of Chihuahua. They arrived there on April 2. Three days later, they begain mailing out hundreds of copies of "Trozos Selectos del Libro de Mormon" to prominent men in cities all over Mexico. With the permission of Governor Luis Terrazas, the first Church meeting held in the interior of Mexico took place on April 12, 1876, in a large building known as "Cock Pit." There were more than five hundred people in attendance. (Andrew Jenson, Church Chronology)
From Chihuahua, the missionaries traveled to La Villa de Concepcion where they held daily meetings for almost two weeks. Several Mexicans asked for baptism, but the elders did not feel they were ready. They concluded their mission in May and arrived back in Salt Lake City in July. The Deseret News reported: "We understand there is a prospect for good work being done in Mexico." (Romney, p. 42)
A second group of missionaries were called by Brigham Young to return to Mexico in October, 1876. This group included James Z. Stewart and Helaman Pratt from the first mission. The other elders were: Isaac Stewart, George Terry, Louis Garff. They were later joined by Meliton G. Trejo (who had helped translate "Trozos Selectos del Libro de Mormon"). The party left on October 18, 1876. This time they traveled with horse teams. When they reached Tucson, they split up into two groups and headed into Sonora, Mexico. Elder Garff and Trejo went to to Hermosillo. Elder Garff wrote: "Here we enjoyed the Holy Spirit greatly, notwithstanding the persecution we endured at this place. We were stoned some 17 times, while walking about on the street or wherever we would appear." (Journal of Louis Garff). The Elders did find some success and baptized the first five members of the Church in Mexico.
Elders Helaman Pratt and George Terry traveled throughout Sonora and on May 30, 1877 started a short mission among the Yaquis Indians. On their arrival, the Yaquis bound the missionaries and were going to kill them until stopped by their chief. He said he would spare the elders' lives if they would leave the territory and never return. The missionaries left the Yaqui country and returned to the United States. (F. LaMond Tullis, "Early Mormon Exploration and Missionary Activities in Mexico," BYU Studies Vol. 22, No. 3, pg.293)
In about 1878, Dr. Plotino Rhodakanaty, a professor of Greek at a Presbyterian college in Mexico City had been praying to the Lord for wisdom. One night, he dreamed that a person came and presented to him a book, pressing it upon his forehead. On the following day, while teaching at the college, a little boy came in and tried to sell him a book. Dr. Rhodakanaty wasn't interested but the boy persisted. He finally bought the book. It turned out to be a copy of "Trozos Selectos del Libro de Mormon," one of the many that were mailed to people in 1876. Dr. Rhodakanaty received a testimony of the book. In 1878, he organized a group to meet at his home on Sundays to study the Book of
Mormon passages. He wrote to Meliton Trejo in Arizona with the hope to learn more about the Church. They corresponded for a time and then Brother Trejo wrote to President John Taylor (Brigham Young died in August, 1877) and included some of Dr. Rhodakanaty's letters. President Taylor wrote to Dr. Rhodakanaty and sent him additional literature.
The brethren learned that there were between fifteen and twenty citizens in Mexico City who were interested in the Church. In December 1878, these people wrote to President Taylor, who they referred to as "Most illustrious and revered President and Apostles of 'the Christian Church of the Latter-day Saints.'" They explained that Dr. Rhodakanaty "proved unto us and fully convinced us of the evidence of the divine origin of such a precious book, and of the lofty mission that its doctrine has to accomplish in the world." They pleaded that they would be allowed to receive the priesthood so they could preach the gospel to the people of Mexico. During 1879, Dr. Rhodakanaty wrote many letters requesting that missionaries be sent. (Ibid p.294, 309-10)
In 1879 Apostle Moses Thatcher, James Z. Stewart and Meliton Trejo were sent to Mexico. They traveled by steamer to Vera Cruz, Mexico, and arrived at Mexico City on November 16, 1879. They received a warm welcome from Dr. Rhodakanaty. He opened his home for meetings and they found many enthusiastic investigators. On November 20, Elder Thatcher baptized Plotino Rhodakanaty and Silviano Arteaga. Two days later six others were baptized. On November 23, 1879 a branch was organized with Brother Rhodakanaty as president. Silviano Arteaga and Jose Ybarola were chosen as his counselors. All three were ordained elders. (Comprehensive History of the Church 5:569)
As 1880 began, the branch had grown to sixteen members. Elders Trejo and Stewart worked on translating more Church literature, including Parley P. Pratt's "A Voice of Warning." On January 25, 1880, Elder Moses Thatcher dedicated the land of Mexico for the preaching of the gospel. He prayed for the Lord "to rid the nation of revolutionary elements and the disposition to shed blood, to break the shackles from the bodies and minds of the poor Lamanites, that they might be free in the law of Christ. And that, as the coming of the Spanish conqueror foreshadowed their bondage, so might the gospel foreshadow their deliverance; that as the first overcame them with the sword, so might the proclamation of divine truth subdue and soften their hearts." (LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Andrew Jenson, Vol. 1, p.127)
Newspaper reports started attacking the Church and Elder Thatcher's replies were published. This generated some interest and stopped the slanderous accusations. Elder Thatcher contacted many influential people in the Mexican government and made valuable friends. The elders started to have some trouble with Brother Rhodakanaty, who tried to bring the Church members into a form of communal living.
Elder Thatcher met a Belgian gentleman, Emelio Biebuyck, who had government permission to pomote the establishment of colonies in Mexico. He believed that the Mormons "were the best colonists in the world." The offer excited Elder Thatcher so much that he left for Salt Lake City on February 4, 1880, arriving on the 22nd. The brethren considered the offer but concluded "that the colonization of the Latter-day Saints in Mexico at this time, even under the generous concession of the contract mentioned, would be premature."
In April Conference, Elder Thatcher reported:
Our reception was warm and genuine [in Mexico], and we felt to bless such people. We believe that the Lord will yet open up the way by which thousands and hundreds of thousands will receive a knowledge of the truth. We have baptized some twenty in that land, and have a little branch already formed, and the manifestations of the power of God among them are not wanting. . . . There will be a great work accomplished in Mexico. I feel that the Lamanites in that land will receive the Gospel by thousands.While Elder Thatcher was away, Elders Stewart and Trejo translated more of the Book of Mormon. They shifted their missionary efforts to the village of Ozumba and found some success. A branch was soon established there. But the progress was slow and discouraging. During May, 1880, Elder Trejo returned to his home in Arizona, leaving Elder Stewart alone in Mexico.
Elder Thatcher departed again for Mexico City on November 17, 1880, with Feramorz L. Young (son of Brigham Young). They arrived on December 5, 1880.
Missionary work progressed slowly in 1881. Because the elders would not accept Brother Rhodakanaty's utopian views, he fell away from the Church and soon was writing articles against the Saints. On April 6, 1881, Moses Thatcher presided at the first conference of the Church in Mexico on Mount Popocatapetal. The Mexican members in attendance included: Silviano Arteaga, Fernando A. Lara, Ventura Paez, Lino Zarate, and two other brothers. Because so many of the first members in Mexico had fallen away, Elder Thatcher again dedicated Mexico for the preaching of the gospel. (Tullis, "Early Mormon Exploration and Missionary Activities in Mexico," BYU Studies 22:3:303)
In August 1881, Elder Thatcher received his release to go home. Elder H. F. Wilcken had been sent to preside over the missionary work. At the time of Elder Thatcher's release, there had been sixty-one baptisms in the Mexican Mission since the elders arrived in 1879. Elder Thatcher left Mexico City with Elder Feramorz L. Young and a Mexican convert, Fernando Lara on September 15. Elder Young was very sick and died of typhoid pneumonia on the steamer. He was buried at sea about twenty miles of the coast of Florida. The vessel was stopped for about twenty minutes for the burial service. Elder Thatcher told the passengers who the young man was, his parentage, mission, and bore testimony of the restored gospel. Elder Thatcher arrived back home in Utah on October 8, 1881. In October General Conference he said: "Feramorz Young had lived a pure life. He was pure as mortal could be. . . . Feramorz L. Young was as well prepared to pass behind the veil as any young man the speaker had ever known in Israel, and he had never complained that God chose to call him." (Comprehensive History of the Church, 5:577)
In 1882, Anthony W. Ivins (one of the original 1875 missionaries) and Nielson R. Pratt were sent to Mexico City. Elder Ivins took over the leadership when Elder Wilcken was released in the spring of 1883. Fifty-one more converts soon came into the Church. The gospel spread into several small villages in Central Mexico. Helaman Pratt took over the mission leadership in March, 1884. The work spread into San Marcos.
As the Anti-Polygamy crusade started to reach a crisis for the Saints, the brethren began to look toward the south for possible colonies in Mexico. In 1884, Apostles Brigham Young Jr. and Heber J. Grant traveled into Sonora, Mexico, leading a expedition of twenty-four men, to attempt to make a treaty with the Yaqui Indians. They were warned by the Governor of Sonora that the Indians were on the warpath. They pressed on anyway and were welcomed by the Yaqui at their village. They were able to preach the gospel but found no converts. Brigham Young Jr. and Heber J. Grant both became ill and had to return to the States. On their return, rumors started to circulate in the press that the Mormons were in collusion with the Yaqui against the United States. President Taylor advised against establishing a colony in Yaqui territory.
During January, 1885, polygamist families in Arizona and New Mexico were told to prepare to take refuge in the Casas Grandes River Valley, in Chihuahua, Mexico. On January 1, 1885, Alexander F. MacDonald, and Christopher Layton were sent to Mexico by the brethren, to find land to rent or buy for exiled Saints. They rented good land at Corralitos, Chihuahua, Mexico and explored further to the west. When Brothers MacDonald and Layton returned to Corralitos on January 20, they found that several families had already arrived from the United States.
On February 9, 1885, a group of families, numbering seventy people, left Snowflake, Arizona under the leadership of Edward A. Noble. They finally arrived on the banks of the Casas Grandes River on March 7, 1885. They set up camp across from the Mexican village of La Ascension. One of the sisters said: "When I looked around and saw our neighbors, I had a feeling that the world had been left behind, and I fervently hoped that persecution had too." Other companies soon came in. When Peter H. McBride arrived, he wrote: "This afternoon we have traveled over the finest piece of land I ever saw, all moist enough to plow, and as level as can be." (Turley, History of the Mormon Colonies in Mexico, 26)
Moses Thatcher headed up a committee to purchase land. It was a difficult process because of so many dishonest land dealers. During a six-week period, about 350 Saints arrived. This influx of Mormons caused suspicion to arise among local Mexican officials. Letters creating excitement were sent to the Chihuahua government. On April 9, an order was issued for all the Mormon families to leave the state within fifteen days. Apostle George Teasdale led a delegation to Chihuahua City to plead their cause. The meeting with the Governor proved unsuccessful. He still insisted that the Mormons leave. A letter was quickly sent to Moses Thatcher, who was back in Utah. He sent a telegram Mission President Helaman Pratt in Mexico City, asking him to go visit with government officials. He was instructed to ask them to stay the order while Brigham Young Jr. and Moses Thatcher traveled to the capitol. They arrived on May 9, 1885. The government officials treated them warmly and the crisis was averted. President Porfirio Diaz, who had visited Salt Lake City before, told the brethren that the Saints were welcome as colonists in Mexico.
During the next several years, the Mormon colonies were established. The first colony was Colonia Diaz, followed soon by Colonia Juarez which was laid out on January 10, 1886. The first dwellings for these exiles were tents or wagon boxes covered with cottonwood or willow. Later dugouts were excavated into the riverbanks. Meeting houses were constructed, canals built and eventually permanent homes. The first shingled house to be built in Colonia Diaz was the home of William D. Johnson. It was completed in the winter of 1886. Less than a year after Colonia Juarez was established, the whole town had to move because it was discovered that they were located on a ranch of Luis Terrazas rather than the land that had been purchased. So in January, 1887, they had to move the entire community two miles north, up the Piedras Verdes River.
Hannah Hood Hill Romney (my great-great grandmother) wrote: "In April, 1887 the town site of [Colonia] Juarez was dedicated by Apostle Moses Thatcher. After that there were a great many people came to Juarez. They built good houses, planted trees and orchards. It got to be a very prosperous town. In time we began to gather round us some of the comforts of life." (Our Pioneer Heritage, Vol. 5, p.278).
The first ward in the colonies was organized in Colonia Juarez on June 5, 1887 with George W. Sevey as bishop. An epistle to the Church from the First Presidency, read at October 1887 General Conference contained:
Our settlements in Mexico are progressing favorably and are gradually being strengthened, both at Diaz and Juarez. . . . The country is well adapted to stock-raising, as the grasses are of good quality and great variety, while the climate is uniform, the temperature seldom reaching higher than 85 degrees or lower than an approach to the freezing point. The facilities for making comfortable homes there are excellent, the land, water and timber being good. A fine steam saw, shingle and lath mill, and a planer and molder, are in operation, affording building material within easy reach of Juarez.
Missionary work continued, generally among the poorer classes near Mexico City. In 1887 the Church leaders put together plans to gather the converts from the Mexico City area to the colonies in Northern Mexico. When the property for Colonia Juarez was purchased, the goverment included a condition that a certain percentage of the inhabitants would be native-Mexicans. Teams were sent on April 30 to bring the converts to the colonies. A company of forty-one Saints arrived on May 10, 1887. They were distributed among the several colonies but they soon became disenchanted with their new living conditions, climate, culture, and customs among the Anglo Saints. The vast majority of the Mexican Saints soon returned on foot to their homes in Mexico City. (Romney, The Mormon Colonies in Mexico, 92).
Missionary work suffered because of this failure. Also, policital conditions created closer ties between the Catholic Church and the government. Henry Eyring took over leadership of the Mexican Mission in 1887. He wrote: "Our success in lower Mexico at that time was rather limited, as the people appeared to be very indifferent in matters pertaining to the gospel. I was only able to convert one man, and I fear that the Lord never converted him, as he soon after left the Church." (LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Andrew Jenson, Vol. 1, p.311)
In 1889 as the anti-polygamy crisis continued with great force in Utah, the elders were called home from Mexico City and the mission was closed. The 241 native Saints in Central Mexico and the more than forty northern Mexican Indian members were left on their own. This was very hard on the Mexican Saints. Many felt that the priesthood had deserted them. While large numbers fell into inactivity, others maintained their strong testimonies and did their best to keep the Church functioning without missionary supervision.
Several more colonies were established including what would become the largest -- Colonia Dublan. The Saints in the colonies stuggled to build their communites. They faced challenges such as getting water to the towns, obtaining lumber, combating sickness, floods, and even a terrible earthquake. During the quake, huge boulders came crashing down from the mountainsides. Sparks ignited brush fires. People and animals paniced. At night, rumblings could still be heard and the sky was bright from the prairie fires. New springs were opened up and the river flow greatly increased.
The Saints in the Colonies organized the Church auxilaries. For example, Hannah Hood Hill Romney was called as the president of the primary at Colonia Juarez. She recalled: "We had quite a lot of children in Juarez and I used to give them parties and take them on picnics. In those days we did not have any guide for our lessons in the Primary and we gave them lessons out of the Bible and other Church works. I told them stories and taught them to sing. We taught them to sew, crochet, etc. After some of the boys grew up they have told me how frightened they were when I asked them to pray or recite but they enjoyed it and it has helped them in after years to do bigger things." (Our Pioneer Heritage, Vol. 5, p.279)
In 1891 the Saints in the colonies, in northern Mexico were organized into the Mexican Mission, with Apostle George Teasdale as the president. Elder Teasdale reported at April 1894 General Conference:
We have five or six settlements in Mexico, and are growing and increasing. We consider that we have got over the worst of our experience in laying the foundation of new settlements. The brethren and sisters that are in Mexico went there because they believed that was where the Lord wanted their labors. . . . We have only been there seven years, and we have some very creditable buildings. We have a good tannery and a flour mill. We have also a cannery that uses more fruit than we can supply. The progress that we have made there is certainly wonderful. Those who visit us are very much surprised.At times tragedy would come to the Saints in these pioneer communities. In 1890 smallpox hit Colonia Juarez. John Jacob Walser wrote in his journals on November 30, 1890. "On arriving at home we found the smallpox in town. . . . My whole family, eighteen in number, were compelled to live together for the time being in a room fourteen by sixteen feet and a tent ten by twelve." (Quoted in Karl E. Young, "Ordeal in Mexico, p. 15).
On June 22, 1892, Hyrum Naegle was terribly mangled by a bear near Colonia Pacheco. He soon died because of these injuries. On September 19, 1892, Apaches attacked the Hans A. Thompson ranch while he was away. They killed Sister Thompson and her son Hyrum. The Indians looted the home, drove off the horses, wounded a son Elmer and tormented little Annie Thompson. In March 1894, Wesley Norton of Colonia Diaz was murdered at Barrancas by Mexicans who stole his money. On November 4, 1895, Christopher B. Heaton was shot and killed while attempting to capture thieves, near Colonia Pacheco. Two barrels of molasses and other items had been stolen. The thief clubbed him and shot him to death. On February 23, 1898, Agnes MacDonald, wife of Alexander F. MacDonald, was murdered by Mexicans at Colonia Garcia. Sister MacDonald managed a store in the town. One morning the neighbors noticed that the store had not been opened. To their horror, they discovered that sometime during the night Sister MacDonald had been smothered to death in her bed and that the store at been looted.
Despite these tragedies, beautiful communities were established. Schools were organized for the children. In 1892, Karl G. Maeser visited the colonies to inspect the schools. He organized them into a General Church School system and appointed a board of education. In 1895 Elder George Teasdale reported to the Deseret News that the Saints in the colonies were workers. "There are no saloons, gambling houses or other objectionable institutions to defile our settlements. Federal and state governments have befriended the colonists. The Mexican authories are anxious to have this country settled with sober, industrious people and are giving encouragement to that class." (Romney, The Mormon Colonies in Mexico, 130).
On December 9, 1895, a special conference was held at Colonia Juarez. The Saints were organized into the Juarez Stake with Anthony W. Ivins as president. It was soon decided to build a Stake Acadamy. The building was opened on September 20, 1897, with an enrollment of 291 students. It had many large classrooms, a large auditorium, a library, an office, a prayer room, and two halls. A student later remarked: "One can hardly contemplate the convenience and grandeur of this building without contrasting it with the little adobe room and split logs for benches which was occupied by the first school of Juarez thirteen years ago." By 1900, there were 750 Saints in Colonia Juarez. (Romney, The Mormon Colonies in Mexico, 141).
During 1899, Charles W. Kindrich of the U.S. State Department visited the colonies. He left this description:
Gardens [there] are fragrant with flowers, and the blossoms of the peach, apricot, and plum trees glow in the pure air. Clear water from the Acequia along the hillside flows down the gutter of each cross street. Neat brick residences are nestled amid grapevines and pear trees. . . . From this valley the Mormons have extracted in ten years enough wealth to give them independence. . . . There is a gristmill, a furniture factory, and other industries in Colonia Juarez. There is an academy with five teachers and 400 pupils. (Historical Atlas of Mormonism p.110)In 1901 the Mexican Mission in Central Mexico was again opened. Ammon M. Tenney was called to be the president and only elder to serve in Mexico City. Apostle John Henry Smith and Anthony W. Ivins accompanied Elder Tenney to the city. The brethren called on Mexican President Porfirio Diaz to gain his support for the new mission. President Diaz expressed warmth toward the Mormon people and wished them success. (See F. LaMond Tullis, "Reopening the Mexican Mission in 1901" BYU Studies Vol. 22, No. 4)
As the brethren search for old members, they were surprised to find quite a few who had maintained their testimonies of the gospel. Elder Ivins found many old friends from his former missionary days in the area. Soon, Elders Smith and Ivins left for home, leaving President Tenney alone, and in charge of reestablishing the Church in Central Mexico. He discovered that many Protestant traditions had crept in among the Saints and that common-law marriages had become prevalent. The members had set up their own congregations and did not want to give up control to President Tenney, for fear that they would be left alone again in the future.
In Cuautla, he found Simon Zuniga, who had been among that Mexican Saints who returned from the colonies in 1887. President Tenney was welcomed there. He retaught the Saints and brought them back into the fold. Six converts soon came into the Church there. At Ozumba he found Lino Zarate, a former missionary. Brother Zarate enthusiastically joined President Tenny in his efforts to locate the Saints. In Atlautla, they found Simon Paez and his family. This family had stayed in the Mormon colonies for five years before returning home. Brother Paez received them with kindness, still faithful to the gospel. In Chimal they found the Nicolas Rodriguez family. This family agreed to return to the Church only with the promise that the missionaries would not again desert them. In Tecalco they located Julian Rojas, a former missionary, who for years had provided leadership in his branch. It took them a long time to convince Brother Rojas to allow his congregation to be brought back under priesthood leadership. On August 18, 1901, Brother Rojas and seventy-five followers were rebaptized into the Church. (Tullis, BYU Studies Vol. 22, No. 4, pg.449)
And so the laborious process continued. For nearly a year President Tenney worked to organize and bring the Mexican Saints back into the Church. Branches were organized in Tecalco and San Andres de la Cal, and priesthood confered on worthy brethren. Local missionaries were called to labor. Of the nearly 300 people brought into the Church before the mission was closed in 1889, only 55 of these Saints were on the Church rolls as of August, 1902. But the Church in Mexico started to grow again. During President Tenney's fifteen-month presidency, 175 converts came into the Church.
By 1902 fulltime missionaries arrived from the colonies to help President Tenney. Among them was Alonzo L. Taylor who served as a counselor in the mission presidency.
At October 1902 General Conference, Anthony W. Ivins reported:
A year ago last June, under the direction of Apostle John Henry Smith, a mission was reestablished in the City of Mexico, since which time about 210 people have been added to the Church. . . . My brethren and sisters, as we see the result of our labors in Mexico and the very promising outlook there is for the introduction of the Gospel there, we see these words of the Lord fulfilled, and it encourages us in the hope that we are nearer--as we know we are--to the consummation of God's purposes in the dispensation in which we live.In 1903 Hyrum Smith Harris took over as president of the mission. On August 17, 1903, Elder Elmer Hooks, of Provo, Utah, died of typhoid fever in Mexico City. The local Saints were also inflicted by this disease. Lino Zarate died of typhoid, leaving behind a wife and seven children. Most of the members of his family were also bedridden with sickness when he died. The Relief Society of the Ozumba Branch rallied to help the family and nurse them back to health.
In May 1904, Apostle Abraham O. Woodruff and his wife toured the mission with Anthony W. Ivins. Soon after their arrival, Sister Helen Woodruff came down with smallpox. Sister Juana Paez risked her own life to nurse Sister Woodruff. She gradually became worse and finally died on June 7, 1904. She was buried in the American cemetery in Mexico City. The Elders who had been exposed to the smallpox were released and traveled with Elder Woodruff to El Paso. Elder Woodruff became ill on the train. Elder Alonzo L. Taylor also came down with smallpox when they arrived at Ciudad Juarez. They both were taken to a hospital in El Paso. Elder Ivins looked after all their needs. On June 20, 1904, Elder Woodruff suddenly became worse and died in the afternoon.
The Deseret News later commented:
The sad tiding of the death of Apostle Abraham Owen Woodruff came to the public as a calamity. Following so quickly on the news of his wife's demise, it is as a heavy blow repeated that causes pain and regret which cannot be expressed. Brother Woodruff was a bright and valiant soldier in the army of the Lord, ready to respond at every call; devoted to the cause in which he was enlisted for life. . . . He was a valued member of his quorum, and there will be universal sorrow throughout the Church over the loss that is sustained in his departure. (LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Andrew Jenson, Vol. 3, p.796)
During 1904, twenty-two-year-old Arwell L. Pierce (who would later have a historic impact on the Mexican Saints and their descendants) was called as a missionary to Mexico. He had lived in Colonia Diaz since the age of eight. Elder Pierce arrived in Mexico City on Christmas Day, 1904. He served as a counselor in the mission presidency. During his twenty-month mission, he baptized eight people.
Anthony W. Ivins, president of the Juarez Stake reported in October 1905 conference:
There are several hundred people who are converts to the Church in and around the city of Mexico. They are Indians. There are about eight millions of pure blooded Indians in the republic of Mexico. . . . These millions of people who are south of us, and who are direct descendants of father Lehi, heirs of the promises made to him and to his descendants, are beginning to come to a knowledge of the truth of the Gospel. It seems to me that a great responsibility rests upon us regarding them. We are indebted to them for the Book of Mormon.During 1905 tragedy struck Colonia Oaxaca, a colony in Sonora Mexico. In 1892 two hundred square miles of land was purchased for a colony and it was located along the banks of the Bavispe River. The colony experienced much hardship establishing their settlement. A ward was organized there in 1894. Strife arose and tithes were not paid. Apostle John W. Taylor was sent to strighten things out. He prophesied: "Now I say unto you unless you repent of your sins and become united, this land will become desolate and unfit for Latter-day Saints to live in and this very house in which we are holding this service will be used as a ranch house and a place for strangers to camp in."
In November, 1905, an unusually heavy snow storm fell in the mountains. Two feet of snow fell on Colonia Oaxaca. When the weather suddenly turned very warm, and rains came, water swelled the creeks and river. One morning, with worry, the Saints watched the river rise very quickly out of its banks and flow through the yards of the closest homes. They watched in horror as the water rose up the walls of homes to the roofs. The roof would crash, turn over, and then float away. One by one, the houses were washed away. From the school house on the hill, they watched the brown flood carry off trees, houses, topsoil, and barns down the valley. No lives were lost. That night, as the Saints found safety in the school house, the water receded, an inch at a time. By morning, the river was back in its banks, but Colonia Oaxaca was no more. About eighty percent of the inhabitants returned to the United States or moved nearby to Colonia Morelos. (Young, Ordeal in Mexico, 19-23).
At April 1906 General Conference, Juarez Stake President Ivins said:
During the past six months we have passed through some very trying circumstances in the Juarez Stake of Zion. Some of our colonies have been almost destroyed by flood and great damage has been done. Many of the people have lost the accumulations of a lifetime. Notwithstanding that which the people have suffered they are not discouraged, but "come up smiling," determined to grapple with nature and regain that which has been lost. There are 3,871 Latter-day Saints in Mexico, according to the last statistics we took.During 1906, Rey L. Pratt was called to labor in the Mexican Mission. In 1907, he was set apart as the president. President Ivins said: "We have a dozen elders laboring down there among that people, and they are making converts every day. So we see that the Gospel has been introduced among them, that they are coming to a knowledge of the truth. . . . There are about 4,000 Latter-day Saints [in Mexico], without including the members of the Church who live in the neighborhood of the city of Mexico, and who number five or six hundred." Also in 1907 Anthony W. Ivins was called to be an Apostle. Junius Romney was sustained as the new president of the Juarez Stake. In 1909, pioneer missionary Helaman Pratt died at Colonia Dublan. President Rey L. Pratt nearly died of typhoid in 1909, and was laid up for several months.
In 1910, revolution started to brew after Mexico President Diaz jailed his main political opponent, Francisco Madero. After he was released, Madero called for an armed resistance. A full-fledged revolution broke out in 1911. Madero set his sites on the largest town in northern Chihuahua, Casas Grandes, not far from Colonia Dublan. On March 5, 1911, a small force of about five hundred revolutionaries approached Casas Grandes. The battle was fierce but the federal troops were victorious and chased the rebel soldiers into the hills. Some of the Saints at Colonia Dublan watched the battle from a vantage point of a barn. Marion G. Romney of Colonia Juarez, at that time thirteen years old, later recalled: "My distress turned to fright -- in fact, to terror -- when they met at Casas Grandes, just ten miles away, and the shooting began. Some of our more adventuresome young men climbed to the top of Montezuma Mountain where, through field glasses, they could watch the fighting." (F. Burton Howard, "Marion G. Romney: His Life and Faith," 47)
The rebel forces fought another battle at the border town Cuidad Juarez and this time were victorious. Thousands of men deserted the federal cause and joined the revolutionary forces. The Mormon colonies started to feel the effects of the revolution as bridges were burned on the railway that linked them with El Paso. Guards had to be posted every night around the settlements. Strict instructions were given to remain neutral. Bands of revolutionists would come into town at first requesting supplies. But these requests later turned into demands and then to thievery.
Tentions boiled over when a Mormon effort to capture a thief resulted in the killing of a Mexican man. Stolen articles had been found at the home of Juan Sosa, who lived on the outskirts of Colonia Juarez. A warrent was issued for Sosa's arrest. As peace officer Guy Taylor and some deputies tried to apprehend him, Sosa began to assalt one of the men. Shots were fired and he ended up dead. This ignited feelings of hatred toward the "gringos." The Mormon men were taken to trial and were almost lynched by an angry mob.
With northern Chihuahua in his power, revolutionary leader Madero turned his attention to Mexico City. President Diaz went into exile and Madero took over the government. Madero's promises for reforms did not materialize and soon factions of counter-revolutionaires arose. These factions depended on the Mormon Colonies for supplies and would come frequently into the settlements making demands.
On February 5, 1912, troops came into Colonia Juarez. They demanded guns, horses, saddles, and other supplies. The demands were refused. The next day, Stake President Junius Romney went to meet General Salazar at Casas Grandes to obtain assurances that the Mormons would not be molested as long as they remained neutral. Salazar issued an order that included: "You will kindly respect in every way the neutrality of the members of the various Mormon Colonies and in on way molest them." (Romney, "The Mormon Colonies in Mexico," 157)
In the coming weeks, stores were looted by soldiers and many horses and cattle were driven off. El Paso papers started to report on these depredations. The news reports angered the rebels. As the Saints became more worried and frightened, they smuggled in several dozen high-powered rifles and ammunition to be used for defense.
On May 2, 1912, two Mexicans broke into a store at Colonia Diaz. An alarm was sounded by Frank Whiting and several men appeared at the scene. They saw the men trying to make off with merchandise. A command was issued for them to halt, but they fled on their horses. Shots were fired and one of the Mexicans was killed. Word of the killing soon arrived at the nearby Mexican town of La Ascension. Threats were issued toward the Mormons. A brother of the victim swore out vengence and shot down Brother James D. Harvey in cold blood. The brethren sent for President Romney as war seemed inevitable. President Romney met with Mexican officials and negotiated a settlement. Four Mormon men went to trial at Casas Grandes but were acquitted. The murderer of Brother Harvey never was brought to justice. (Romney, 168-69)
Another Mormon colonist was killed in the door of his own home at Colonia Diaz on July 2, 1912. President Romney wrote a letter of protest to Mexican officials, stating that a total of nine people had thus far been assassinated in cold blood. Rebel troops continued to wander through the streets of Colonia Juarez begging for food and stealing fruit from the orchards. Wheat was demanded to feed the soldiers stationed nearby.
Finally, General Salazar demanded that President Romney deliver to him a list of all the arms and ammunition in the colonies. President Romney at first refused until Salazar threatened to come into the towns and sieze all the arms. On July 12, a rebel leader seized all the flour from the grist mill at Colonia Diaz and demanded that all arms be surrendered in the morning. When the news arrived to Colonia Juarez, President Junius Romney immediately went to protest to General Salazar. The General ordered the rebel officer to stop, but the General's manner convinced President Romney that the Saints would not be safe in the future, that an evacuation might be needed. Rumors were flying that the rebels planned to loot the colonies of everything they wanted within ten days. (Romney, 172-73)
President Junius Romney went to El Paso to confer with Apostle Anthony W. Ivins. News of the possible crisis was wired to Salt Lake City. President Romney informed the brethren that if the Saints in colonies continued to try to keep their firearms and ammunition, that it would mean that they would have to engage in armed conflict, "and that to surrender our arms meant to have our families at the mercy of demons." The brethren in Salt Lake City wired back instructions that the leaders in the colonies should assume responsibility to decide the best course of action.
On July 20, 1912, Elder Ivins held a conference with the leaders of Colonia Dublan. Soon news arrived that rebels came into town and took all the horses and saddles that they could find. General Castillo, leading another force of 600 men, sent an order to President Romney to surrender horses, saddles, guns, ammunition, and other merchandise. In Casas Grandes, General Salazar was preparing troops to fight against Federal forces and would need all the guns and ammunition that could be found.
On July 26, 1912, General Salazar informed Juarez Stake President, Junius Romney, that he was withdrawing his guarantees to the Mormons for their protection. He told President Romney to surrender all their arms and ammunition. President Romney asked that the Saints be allowed to evacuate all their women and children from the country before giving an answer to this request. The General demanded that the arms be delivered immediately and threatened to turn his soldiers on the women and children. President Romney told the General that the guns were privately owned and he did not have the authority to give them up. General Salazar was outraged. He told President Romney that if the guns and ammunition were not given up, the Mormons would be attacked. President Romney finally concluded that for the safety of the women and children, they must do as the General said. Arrangements were made to surrender the arms at Colonia Dublan.
When President Romney arrived at Colonia Dublan, it was discovered that troops were looting the stores and that a battery of cannons and machine guns were aimed at the settlement. The town was surrounded by cavalry. The brethren sent word to all the Saints in Dublan to gather only their old guns at the school house to be delivered over to Salazar's men. Eighty-one guns, fifteen pistols, and ammunition were surrendered. Thomas C. Romney later wrote: "We felt that it would be suicidal to attempt to hold at bay the thousands of rebels who were invading the territory." That night President Romney met with all the men in Colonia Juarez. It was decided that all the women and children would be sent to El Paso. (Romney, "The Mormon Colonies in Mexico," 180-81)
On July 28, 1912, President Romney sent letters to the various colonies, informing them of the decision to evacuate all the women and children to El Paso. The collection of guns continued as rebels also persisted in robbing the Saints. The women and children started to be rushed to the nearest railroad depot, seven miles from Colonia Juarez. Few belongings could be taken. Most of the families hoped that they would soon return once the trouble had passed. Women and children were forced by rebels to crowd onto railroad cars, to the point of suffocation without water to drink. Lorna Call, six years old at the time, later recalled: "We couldn't take many things with us. I will never forget when we were waiting for the train. . . . We got a cattle car. We put our trunks and bedding on top and we just sat on it. It was very, very slow and tiresome." ("Faith learned in colonies fosters long life of service," Church News, Saturday, November 15, 1997).
On July 29, 1912, Elder Anthony W. Ivins, in El Paso, sent a telegram to Salt Lake City: "350 refugees reached here at midnight from the colonies. Expect two trains today with probably 1,000 persons. There has been no personal violence but many threats have been made. It appears to be the policy of the rebels to bring on intervention." (Romney, "The Mormon Colonies in Mexico," 188)
The exiles were at first housed in sheds at a deserted lumber yard with little shelter. A large group were placed in a building covered with corrugated iron. Thomas C. Romney wrote: "Imagine if you can the distress of the refugees crowded together as they were in such a sweat box. I confess that the sights which met my gaze both here and at the lumber yard were such as to cause me to stand aside and weep." The Church authorities arrived soon and quickly made arrangements to move the exiles to communities within the St. Joseph Stake. Orin P. Miller, of the Presiding Bishopric wrote:
The sight presented to my view is one of the most heart-rending I have ever witnessed--to see over 2,000 people, mostly women and children, driven from their homes without time to gather even their personal effects and most of them without a dollar to assist themselves with. We are expecting 500 tents from the government today which will be sent to the different settlements where we expect the refuges to locate. (Romney, 190).The men who remained behind in the colonies met in conference at Colonia Juarez to determine what next course of action to take. There was no sign that peace would come. On August 1, 1912, a rebel leader named Cavaro came into Colonia Juarez with seventy-five men. They demanded quarters and issued threats. A meeting of the brethren was held that night. It was decided to evacuate the colony immediately. Instructions for evacuation were sent to the other colonies. Some of the men wanted to remain and fight, but most were convinced that it would be suicide.
On August 7, the march toward the border started. Some of the brethren hired Mexicans to look after their property that was left behind. At sundown on August 10, the procession crossed into the United States and reached Dog Springs, where some American soldiers were stationed. In the coming days they were reunited with their families. Thomas C. Romney recorded: "I was present in El Paso when the dust-covered, bedraggled column entered the city and I shall always remember the affectionate welcome tendered them by their families and friends and by the people of El Paso in general." (Romney, 194)
The refugees hoped to return soon to their homes. Mexican authorities in the border city of Ciudad Juarez gave assurances that the Saints would be protected in the Casas Grandes Valley colonies. On August 21, five men were sent back to the colonies to check out the conditions. They brought back discouraging reports. The Colonia Dublan houses had all been looted of clothing, dishes, and bedding. Many of the houses in the mountain colonies had been destroyed. Crops were ruined by grazing animals. President Romney went to see for himself on August 25. Houses were ransacked, their contents looted or utterly ruined. In Colonia Diaz, every house except one was looted of practically everything of value. The total loss of property was estimated at one million dollars.
On August 27, Joshua Stevens was killed by Mexican rebels, while defending his daughters at Colonia Pacheco. By September 1, a few Saints returned to Colonia Juarez and harvested crops. By mid-September conditions improved, but the brethren still felt it unsafe to counsel families to return. By October the leaders concluded that it was still unsafe to return and that the refugees should plan to stay in the States for the winter. Some homes in the colonies had being taken over by local Mexicans. A few Saints tried to return but were soon chased back. The U.S. government offered to relocate refugees to any section of the country without cost. Many of the Saints moved as far away as Canada. Some preferred to remain close by, in El Paso.
President Joseph F. Smith said:
I cannot refrain from expressing my sincere gratitude to our national authorities for the generous kindness they have shown to American citizens who have suffered so much on account of the deplorable conditions existing in Northern Mexico; by appropriating large sums of money for their relief. Every good citizen will hail with pleasure this act of kindness on the part of our government. (General Conference, October, 1912).On October 12, the First Presidency disolved the Juarez Stake. "The Juarez stake and ward officers and members, one and all may consider themselves honorably released from any further sense of duty to return or remain in Mexico." The brethren did not want to bear the responsibility for the safety of those who still insisted on returning to the colonies. "But to all who may desire to return, we cheerfully say, go with our sanction and blessing and our prayers, for your preservation and success." (James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, Vol.4, p.277).
Only about one fourth of these Saints would eventually return to the colonies.
In Central Mexico, during August 1912, four Mormon men were caught in a cross-fire between rebels and federal troops at Cuautla. The two men were taken into custody and drafted into the Army. Mission President Rey L. Pratt tried unsuccessfully to have them released. One of them was killed. Later some local members were arrested for being suspected conspirators against the government. Two were executed and one sister was sent to a slave labor camp. In February 1913, because of continued unrest, all the missionaries (seven of them) were recalled to the mission home in Mexico City for their safety. They were soon withdrawn from the country. However, the mission was not dissolved. President Rey L. Pratt continued to correspond with the native presidents of the twenty Mexican branches. The district presidency of Isaias Juarez, Abel Paez, and Bernabe Parra were placed in charge of the Church in Mexico.
Mission President Rey L. Pratt reported in October, 1913 General Conference:
In spite of the adverse conditions that exist in that country. We have on our record books something over 1600 names, of that number the great majority are true and faithful members of the Church. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is doing for them just what it is doing for any other people who have accepted the Gospel of Christ, in the true spirit of it. Our work at the present time is such that, although the condition of the country is such that it would seem almost impossible to do missionary work there, we have never had a more successful year than the present. We have baptized already, this year, sixty-five souls, and they will compare favorably with any Saints that embrace the Gospel in any land.At Colonia Juarez, Bishop Joseph C. Bentley presided over the Saints who had returned to the colonies. The Juarez Stake Academy was able to reopen its doors. In 1914 Joseph F. Smith reported that some of the Saints had returned to the colonies. "Some of them have returned and are doing their best to retain their homes and properties, but are in continual danger of incursions from brigands and other disturbers of the peace. At present there appears to be little prospect of permanent stay in that unhappy land." (General Conference, October 1914)
In 1915, revolutionary leader, Pancho Villa, with an army of 1,500 men camped for a month in Colonia Dublan. He set up headquarters in the tithing office. A dynamite bomb was set off in front of the building killing fifty-seven men, but Villa survived. Anson B. Call Jr. at that time was fifteen years old. His father was the bishop in Colonia Dublan. Anson Jr. recalled when Villa's soldiers ransacked his home on Christmas Eve. The soldiers even took all the tithing his father had gathered during tithing settlement. At one point, the soldiers were about to go upstairs where the women were. "But my father forbade them. When they asked, 'Who would stop us?' Father stood in the doorway, blocking it, and commanded them by the priesthood of God not to go upstairs. The lieutenant and his assistant suddenly subdued, said, 'If that is what you say, muy bien.' And they left." (Thayla E. Gilmore, "Father and the Revolutionaries," Ensign, December 1993).
In 1916 the Juarez Stake was again organized. Joseph C. Bentley was called as the president. President Bentley spoke at April 1916 General Conference. He reported that there were twenty-five men in Colonia Juarez along with 250 women and children. He said:
I suppose all of you are aware that the Latter-day Saints in Mexico are located in the heart of the revolutionary section of that country, where revolutions are manufactured. Our condition for a number of years has not been as satisfactory as we should like to have had it. . . . My belief has been that whenever the time shall come that the Gospel of Jesus Christ shall be planted in that land it will be by the faith of men and women who are willing to put their trust in the Lord, men and women who can exhibit a spirit of kindness and a spirit of love and charity.Heber J. Grant added these words at this conference:
I acknowledge the hand of God in the preservation of our people in Mexico. It is a miracle, and there should be a feeling of gratitude in our hearts to our Heavenly Father for the preservation of those of our brethren and sisters who have been located in that land. I confess that their faith has been superior to mine. I am afraid that if I had been located in Mexico, I would have left that country long ago.In 1916 Mission President Rey L. Pratt received a sad letter from the father of Rafael Monroy, who had been left in charge of the San Marcos Branch. Rafael Monroy and his counselor, Vicente Morales, had been executed by a rebel faction for refusing to renounce Mormonism. As they faced the firing squad, they were told: "Now, as one last chance, we tell you if you will renounce your religion and confess before the Virgin Mary, we will forgive you and we will spare your lives." Brother Monry replied: "Gentlemen, I cannot, for I know that what I have taught and what I have accepted is the gospel of Jesus Christ." As a last request, he was permitted to kneel in prayer. He prayed for his little branch, that they would be not led astray and he prayed that these men would be forgiven. A moment later he was killed. (Rey L. Pratt, Conference Report, April 1920, p.93)
President Pratt also received a letter from a Branch President who said some of the Saints only had one meal every two days, yet they still paid their tithing when they received money. They attended their meetings, visited the members, and acted in their callings.
During October and November of 1916, President Rey L. Pratt returned for a visit to Mexico City. On the way he saw scenes of terrible destruction He believed that it still was not feasible to bring in missionaries from the United States. He visited the branches and made some adjustments. Many of the Saints had suffered greatly from the wars. Some had lost their lives and others had been drafted into armies and been forced to fight against each other. During 1917 efforts were made to remove some of the Saints from Mexico, but emigration regulations made this impossible. (CHC 6:171-72)
During 1916, Pancho Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico. Reports were received that Villa vowed to kill the Mormon men in the colonies when he returned. Bishop Anson B. Call told the Saints of the Colonia Dublan Ward to go to their homes and pray for protection. When Pancho Villa's army returned, his guards passed through the town during the night, but Villa continued south. He later said it "slipped his mind" to keep his vow. A few days later, on March 17, 1916, General John J. Pershing arrived in Colonia Dublan with several thousand American soldiers in pursuit of Villa. Pershing stayed in Dublan for nine months. The Army pumped many dollars into the Mormon economy. When they left, fearing the return of Villa, some of the Saints again went to the United States. (Turley, History of the Mormon Colonies in Mexico, 216-17)
This was the second exodus from the Mormon Colonies. A newspaper article in El Paso, on January 29, 1917, reported about this exodus of Americans, Mormons, and foreigners.
Like the flight of the children of Israel from Egypt, more than 1,500 refugees are following in the wake of the American Expeditional roces on the march out of Mexico. Mormons were riding in automobiles, covered wagons of the prairie schooner type, in farm wagons and on horses and mules, according to cattlement. They were driving their milch cows ahead of them, while behind tramped hundreds of natives, Chinese and others who had not means of transportation on the long trek to the border. Nothing that could be brought out was left behind. (Romney, The Mormon Colonies in Mexico, 244).
During 1917, as feared, Pancho Villa's forces returned to the the colonies. They were terribly hungry and were fed by the Saints. General Salazar was unfriendly, stating that he did not want any pacifists in Mexico, that the Mormons should fight or leave the country. His heart was eventually softened, and he said they were welcome to remain. Later on in that year, the long war finally started to wind down.
In 1918 the headquarters for the Mexican Mission was moved to El Paso, with jurisdiction over all the Spanish-speaking branches in the States in addition to the branches in Mexico.
In June, 1919, two missionaries in El Paso decided to cross the border into Ciudad Juarez. Elders Abel Paez and Victor Hancock started to do some tracting and found themselves in the middle of a battle between Pancho Villa's forces and federal troops. They were unable to cross back over the Rio Grande. While they waited, they met Pancho Villa himself. Villa expressed friendly feelings toward the Mormons and their missionary efforts. In 1920, a branch of the Church was opened in Ciudad Juarez. In that year there were 774 members in the Juarez Stake. (Dale F. Beecher, BYU Studies, Vol. 15, No. 3, p.303-04)
In March, 1921, President Rey L. Pratt returned to Mexico with twelve full-time elders from the United States. Missionary work again resumed in Central Mexico. They found that the Church had been doing well under the leadership of the local brethren. Many new converts had been brought into the church while the missionaries were away. (CHC 6:173) President Pratt recorded in his journal:
Only those who have experienced it know the joy of meeting these dear people after a long absence. Their faithfulness through eight long years . . . during which time they passed through a veritable hell of war, is wonderful. I feel to thank the Lord that he has permitted me to return here and find so many of the people strong in the faith. (quoted in Gerry R. Flake, "Mormon in Mexico: The First 96 Years," Ensign, September 1972, 21)President Pratt reported at October 1921 General Conference:
Our work has prospered during the year that has passed, in the Mexican mission. We have never baptized in any single year of the history of that mission so many people as we have baptised during the months that have passed of this year of 1921. With sixty missionaries laboring we have baptized two hundred and twenty-five people, and they are wonderfully faithful in their living of the gospel. I am grateful to the Lord that he has privileged me with my brethren to re-open the mission in the Republic of Mexico . . . and I am thankful to him for the faithfulness and integrity and the faithful lives of the Saints who were left there for years, as it were, as sheep without a shepherd. They have remained faithful.In the coming years President Pratt moved missionaries into into Queretaro, Leon, Guaymas, and Baja California. The first branch was created in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1922 with thirty-five members. Pioneer member Maria Saldana recalled: "Four families met in one small home. We put the furniture outside so there would be room for us. Inside were just four very small chairs for the missionaries. Eventually the owner of the home lost all her furniture." (John L. Hart, "Foundation of Faith Laid by Early Members," Church News, January 28, 1995).
At October 1924 General Conference, President Pratt said: "Our missionaries are free to go and to come in every part of that country to which we have been able to extend our mission work, and we are not persecuted, we are not harrassed in our labors, but freely we are permitted to go forth among the people and teach the principles of the gospel, and many are being brought to a knowledge of the truth."
In September 1925, President Pratt, now one of the seven presidents of the Seventy, was called to assist Apostle Melvin J. Ballard and Elder Rulon S. Wells in opening the mission in Argentina. President Pratt was absent from Mexico for eleven months. Elder Kenneth Haymore was appointed as the acting president of the Mexican Mission.
During 1926 disaster struck the Mexican Mission. Reacting against a pro-Catholic movement, the government imposed strict enforcement of a law stating that ministers of religion had to be Mexican by birth. Elder Haymore, who was left in charge of the mission, said at April 1926 General Conference: "The missionaries, numbering seventy-four or seventy-five, are doing a splendid work there. They are taking the gospel to the descendants of a people who formerly had a thorough knowledge of the gospel. . . . We are having success in Mexico in spite of a few disadvantages. We hope that within a short time our missionaries may labor in that country unhindered." Soon, Elder Haymore had to comply with the law and withdraw all missionaries who had not been born in Mexico. The leadership of the Church in Mexico again fell upon the shoulders of native Saints. In September, 1926, President Pratt returned from South America and resumed leadership over the Mexican Mission.
During 1926, Elder Melvin J. Ballard visited Colonia Juarez and prophesied: "You young people here will live to see the day when for every convert that is coming into the Church now, there will be 1,000 converts."
At October 1927 General Conference, President Pratt spoke about the withdrawal of missionaries from Mexico.
We are happy, however, in the fact that our local priesthood in some twenty odd branches in the Republic of Mexico are doing all that is possible to maintain the organizations of the branches, and to continue the holding of meetings and the administration of the gospel among that people. Notwithstanding the adverse circumstances existing in that country at this time, and the fact that so many missionaries, about 60 per cent of the force that we ordinarily have, have been withdrawn, the people are doing remarkably well. They are faithful in attendance at meetings; and in payment of tithing. . . . They pray for the return of the missionaries to that land, and a continuation of the preaching of the gospel among their people.In 1929, Ralph B. Keeler became the new stake president of the Juarez Stake. There were 1,263 members in the Stake, including 353 children. The stake consisted of five colony wards and a Mexican branch for the Mexican Saints residing within the boundaries of the Colonia Dublan Ward. There was also a branch in Cave Valley. (Andrew Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Church, p.381) Also that year, the Mexican Mission headquarters was moved from El Paso to Los Angeles.
In 1930, the Catholic uprising was over. U.S. Ambassador J. Reuben Clark asked the government to allow foreign missionaries into Mexico again. He could not receive permission. President Rey L. Pratt also visited Mexico in February and March but was also unsuccessful. As he visited the local branches, he was prevented from speaking because he had not been born in Mexico. (Dale F. Beecher, BYU Studies, Vol. 15, No. 3, p.306)
In April 1931 General Conference, President Pratt reported:
For nearly six years now [the Mexican Saints] have not been permitted to have the association and the ministrations of the Elders from Zion. But they are happy and are growing and progressing in the work. The local priesthood have risen to the occasion. . . . Our Saints have erected four meeting houses near the vicinity of Mexico City and are endeavoring to provide themselves with places in which they can worship the Lord freely and not be handicapped in any way.Following the conference, President Pratt had a hernia operation. Complications arose and soon the shocking news was spread that on April 14, 1931, Rey L. Pratt died. The funeral was held in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. President Heber J. Grant and Elder Anthony W. Ivins spoke.
This tragic development left the Mexican Mission without a President. Antonine R. Ivins, son of Elder Anthony W. Ivins, was appointed president. President Ivins concentrated his efforts with the Spanish-speaking branches in the States. The Mission headquarters were in Los Angeles. For many months the branches in Mexico were left to themselves again, not even letters were received. District President Isaias Juarez called together a meeting by early 1932 to discuss the problems felt by the Mexican Saints who were without mission leadership. The group decided to write Salt Lake City asking Church leaders for a native Mexican Mission President since an American-born president was unable to function. This meeting was later known as "The First Convention." (See Tullis, "A Shepherd to Mexico's Saints: Arwell L. Pierce and the Third Convention" BYU Studies, Vol 37, No. 1, p 130-31)
A Second Convention was planned. In March 1932, President Ivins finally traveled to Mexico City, accompanied with Apostle Melvin J. Ballard. President Ivins reprimanded the Saints for sending petitions to Church Headquarters, but also assured them that the time for local leadership would eventually arrive. In April 1932 General Conference he said:
We were really astounded and surprised at the success those people down there are having in carrying on their organizations without our help. . . . We dropped in on them as a surprise Sunday morning. We found the Sunday School in session, which was conducted very much like ours here at home. . . . We attended a meeting as visitors only, for we were not allowed to do it in the capacity of our calling. We listened to eight or ten of them bear their testimonies and talk, and it was an excellent service. After its dismissal we were allowed to visit with them, to discuss some of their problems and advise them.
In 1934, Harold W. Pratt (Rey L. Pratt's half-brother) was appointed as the new president of the Mexican Mission. Harold Pratt had been born in the Mexican colonies and thus could lawfully preach the gospel in Mexico. During 1934 conditions changed such that American missionaries were able to return. These elders were appointed in leadership positions over the branches. This action wounded the feelings of the native members. Passions increased with the publication of a book by Margarito Bautista promoting Latin Americans as a chosen people.
By 1936, membership reached about 2,800 members. The Juarez Stake in Northern Mexico had grown to 1,300 members. The Mexican Mission was divided into the Mexican Mission and the Spanish-American Mission. The new headquarters for the Mexican Mission was established in Mexico City. Mexican members were disappointed when they learned that Harold Pratt would remain president instead of receiving a native Mexican president. Many wanted to meet together for a third convention.
On April 26, 1936, the third convention was held. A group of about 120 Mexican Saints came together and decided to form their own congregations. Abel Paez was appointed by the Third Convention as their leader. President Harold Pratt and leaders in Salt Lake City worked long and hard to try to bring the dissident group back into the fold. Finally, in May 1937, Church courts were convened and the Third Convention leaders were excommunicated. They took with them about 800 Saints and even some chapels. These Conventionalists continued to believe in the doctrines of the Church and functioned just like other LDS congregations. For the next ten years they operated and grew alongside those who chose to remain in the Church.
In April 1938 General Conference, President Harold Pratt said:
I am glad to report to you that we are making progress, that the revolution and evolution going on [in Mexico] is indeed the work of our Heavenly Father, preparing that people to accept the blessings that have been promised to them through their forefathers. We see there, however, the power of the Evil One also laboring and struggling to win souls away from our Heavenly Father and from his cause.Poor health following an appendectomy, led to the release of Harold Pratt in 1938. A. Lorenzo Anderson was called as the next president. Arwell L. Pierce became president of the Mexican Mission in 1942.
President Pierce was assigned by David O. McKay to bring the Third Convention back into the Church. He said: "We don't have a divided mission; we have a big family quarrel." Slowly, and diplomatically, President Pierce worked to heal the wounds. He attended Third Convention meetings, established friendships, and gave them Church literature. He believed that many of the Conventionalists past complaints had been valid. Hearts started to soften. President Pierce was invited to speak at their conferences. At times he spoke of reunification. When Third Conventionalists visited LDS Church meetings, President Pierce invited them to sit in the favored seats near the front.
During 1945 some quarrels developed among the Third Convention leaders and the mainline LDS Church looked more and more attractive to their followers. They began to trust President Pierce who emphasized that preparing for an independant Stake was much more important than a desire for a native-Mexican Mission President. (See Tullis, BYU Studies, Vol 37, No. 1, p 127-151)
During 1945, the first temple excursion of Mexican Saints was organized to go to the Arizona Temple. Many preperations were made, and the long-awaited event took place in November, 1945. Spanish-speaking Saints from both Mexico and the United States gathered. Housing in Mesa was provided in the Mezona recreation hall. A special "Lamanite Conference" was held on November 4, 1945. President David O. McKay presided. The first Spanish-speaking temple ordinances ever conducted in the Church were held on November 6. Later, during a 1947 General Conference, Elder Spencer W. Kimball prophesied: "I see the Lamanites coming into this Church in numbers, and instead of coming in small groups of tens or hundreds, they will be in thousands. I see them organized into wards and stakes, with Lamanite people comprising those stakes. I see them filling the temples and officiating therein." (Richard O. Cowan, "The Arizona Temple and the Lamanites" in "Regional Studies, Arizona").
In 1945 George Albert Smith became the president of the Church. The time for reunification seemed right. President Pierce persuaded the First Presidency to review the Third Convention leader's excommunications. The First Presidency decided to change the excommunications to disfellowshipment. This would make reentry into the Church much easier on the pride of these Saints since they would not be required to be rebaptized.
In 1946 President George Albert Smith journeyed to Mexico City. The Third Convention Saints had always maintained their belief in the prophet. President Smith met with several hundred Saints to hear the compaints of the dissidents and loyal Church members. After all arguments were heard, President Smith arose and calmly spoke of love, patience, and forgiveness. He said that both groups were children of our Heavenly Father and needed to reconcile their differences. The Spirit melted the hearts of the Saints. After the prophet spoke, President Pierce asked for a sustaining vote of the General Authorties of the Church. Only a few die-hards abstained. Abel Paez was invited to speak and he expressed joy at being able to return to the Church. One of the dissidents was heard to say, "There is only one president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he is here today." The same results were felt in other communities that were visited by President Smith. The vast majority of the Third Convention's 1,200 members returned to the Church. The total Church membership stood at 5,300. (Gibbons, George Albert Smith, 311-12).
After his release as president, Arwell L. Pierce spoke in April 1951 General Conference: "Brethren and Sisters, the work of the Lord is growing rapidly in Mexico and Central America. We have found among those people many who are deeply religious. They love the Book of Mormon, once they receive it and learn what it purports to be, the history of their forefathers. They carry it with them and teach the Gospel from it. The Book of Mormon is a great missionary in Mexico."
In November 1952 Elders Spencer W. Kimball and Bruce R. McConkie drove through Mexico after establishing the Central American Mission. In Mexico City they met with the high council. Two of the council members confessed that they had not been paying tithing and said that perhaps they should be released. They told the brethren about their extreme hardship. Elder Kimball later wrote: "My heart bled for them. I told them that it would be much easier if I could tell them to forget the law of tithing, but since it was not my law, I had no right to waive it . . . . I knew that if they would trust in the Lord and render to him their tithing that he would bless them. They must make the first gesture. They should never use a penny of the Lord's money no matter how much the apparent need." (Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball, 282).
By 1955 the Church had grown to 7,000 members. Elder Ezra Taft Benson spent a Sabbath day in Mexico City. He spoke to the missionaries and Saints there. He said: "Later the next day, as I visited with the President of that republic, he expressed surprise and apparently seemed somewhat pleased to find the number of people we have right in Mexico City of our faith. He had known of our people in the Colonies, and he spoke highly of the Church and its people." (General Conference, April 1955).
On June 3, 1956, Elders Harold B. Lee and Spencer W. Kimball drove from El Paso to Monterrey Mexico to create the Northern Mexican Mission, with Joseph T. Bentley as the new president. After a two-day journey, they arrived in Monterrey and rented facilities for the new mission. On June 8, they drove six hundred miles to Mexico City. The following day the apostles spoke to members and missionaries, and officially divided the Mexican Mission. President Bentley was highly impressed with a young elder in the Mexican Mission, Rex E. Lee. He pressed the Mexican Mission President Claudius Bowman to allow him to serve as President Bentley's counselor, but President Bowman would not give up the talented elder. [Elder Lee would instead serve as President Bowman's counselor. Rex E. Lee later served as solicitor general of the United States and president of Brigham Young University.] (Gibbons, Harold B. Lee: Man of Vision, Prophet of God, 332-33).
Elder Harold B. Lee then toured the Mexican Mission while Elder Spencer W. Kimball traveled through the Northern Mexican Mission. Elder Kimball found the members of many branches in poor and destitute conditions. At once branch, he made arrangements for a crippled girl to be sent to Primary Children's Hospital. At another branch he discovered that only one sister could read. He played the piano for the Saints in another branch because no once else could. (Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball, 297-98).
During 1958 Elder Marion G. Romney visited Mexico City. He reported in April 1958 General Conference: "The missionaries in Mexico are in good health, working hard, and therefore enjoying the spirit of their callings. We visited with and heard the reports and testimonies of 254 of them. Many of the people among whom they labor are receptive to the gospel. Last year there were 1,288 convert baptisms. As of the first of the year the Church membership in Mexico was 11,249."
During 1959, the gospel was taken to the Mayan people on the Yucatan Peninsula for the first time. President Harvey H. Taylor traveled there with Jose Octavio and missionaries, Stanley Gardner, Warren Carter, Leon Sylvester, and Ken Flake. They arrived at Merida by train on February 5, 1959. Two days later President Taylor dedicated the area for the preaching of the gospel, and on the following day, they held the first Church meeting with eight investigators in attendance. The first baptisms were performed May 9, 1959, and included members of the Humberto Carrillo Carrillo and Herculano Pech families. ("Amid Mayan Ruins, Fireside Focuses on History," Church News, February 22, 1997).
In 1959 the First Presidency approved a plan for Church schools to be established in Mexico. During the early 1960s six schools were founded. On December 3, 1961, the Mexico Stake was created with Harold Brown as the president. A former member of the Third Convention served as his counselor. Isaias Juarez, who led the Mexican Saints for many years while they were isolated from Church Headquarters was called to be a bishop. Membership at that time numbered 25,000. When Harold Brown was released, native-Mexican Agricol Lozano was called as the new president. [President Lozano would later serve as a mission president and then the president of the Mexico City Temple].
Difficulties were still experienced getting missionaries into Mexico. As delays were encountered for visas, missionaries were housed in vacant BYU dormitories to spend time learning Spanish. This evolved into the establishment of the the Language Training Mission (LTM) in Provo, Utah, in 1962.
On November 4, 1963, ground was broken for a massive Church school campus called "Benemerito de Las Americas" in Mexico City. The campus consisted of seventy buildings and by 1972 would serve 2,000 students and 193 faculty members. Benemerito campus became the hub of an impressive Church school system in Mexico. It was built with an institute, gymnasium, commissary, administration building, health center, cafeteria, dormitories and fifty cottages to house students living away from home. Students were organized into family groups of sixteen students supervised by couples serving as "foster parents." Students had chores, participated in family prayer, and attended Church together. (Paul Toscano, "Church Education in Mexico," Ensign, September 1972).
In 1968 Gordon M. Romney (my grandfather) was called to serve as the president of the Mexican Mission. [Prior to this, he had served as the Central American mission president in 1952-55, and acting president of the French mission in 1924.] When he arrived, he found the mission in poor condition because the previous president, Jasper McClellan, had been unable to function well because of a long illness. President Romney recalled "We found a deplorable condition among the members of the Church in many of the branches in Mexico. We had 42 branches and in many of these branches the elders could not convert a single member." President Romney sent Elders Edwin Whetten and Edgar McAvoy to visit troubled branches. They identified situations that needed to be corrected and the missionaries throughout the mission were recommitted. Immediately baptisms resulted. (Gordon M. Romney Oral History, 65).
As President Romney was searching for counselors to call, he attended a district conference in San Marcos. When President and Sister Romney arrived at the city, they stopped at a store where a member, Benjamin Parra greeted them. President Romney invited him to attend the conference that was to be held in the afternoon. President Romney related: "During the priesthood meeting, I heard him speaking and I asked, 'Who is that man?' I was told, 'That is Benjamin Parra.' Then I said, 'That is the man I want for my counselor.' It came to me that quickly. I said, 'He is the man I've been looking for.'" When the meeting concluded, President Romney approached Brother Parra and asked him to serve as his counselor. He hesitated because his small store took almost all his time. The next day Brother Parra came to Mexico City said to President Romney, "I wanted to talk it over with my wife, and we have decided that I had better be your counselor." At a later conference, President Romney prophesied that one day Brother Parra would be a mission president. [In the early 1970s he served as the president of the Veracruz Mexico Mission.]
Edgar A. McAvoy was serving as mission secretary when President Romney arrived. Elder McAvoy recalled: "President Romney needed a driver because he had cataracts and couldn't see very well, so I took him on his first tour of the mission. As we drove past Ciudad Satelite he said someday there will be 50 stakes in this area. Often I prayed for the assistance of the three nephites and I remember the first time I met Benjamin Parra, I thought my prayers had been answered. He was the most dynamic and bold missionary I had met." (e-mail from Ed McAvoy to David Crockett on Feb 19, 1998).
During President Romney's term as president, more than 5,000 members were brought into the Church. About three-quarters of the baptisms were in Mexico City. The stake president was a great supporter of the missionary effort and allowed elders to hold open houses in the ward as often as once per month. In August, 1969, the Mexican Mission led the entire Church with 343 baptisms.
On one occasion President Romney gave permission for the elders in the mission home to go see the Harlem Globe Trotters play a game across the city. When they arrived and tried to buy tickets, they discovered that they were short five pesos. Elder John Blakesley, from Boise, Idaho pointed to a house and said, "I believe I'll ask for a loan of five pesos at this horse. I'll see if the lady of the house will lend me that much." The lady wanted to give him ten pesos. He only accepted five. He returned the next day to repay the loan and started to teach the family the gospel. Thirteen baptisms resulted from that contact.
In 1970, there were 70,000 Church members in Mexico. By 1972 membership exceeded 100,000! On August 25-27, 1972, an area conference was held in Mexico City, at Auditorio National in Chapultepec Park attended by nearly 17,000 Saints from Mexico and Central America. Mexican Saints traveled from all over the country. A bus chartered from Tijuana traveled 48 hours with people standing in the aisles. Thousands of Saints made great sacrifices to attend.
President Harold B. Lee presided at the conference also attended by the other members of the First Presidency, four members of the Quorum of Twelve, and four other general authorities. The conference opened on a Friday evening with a "Folklorico," two hours of song and dance performed by 764 people. During the two days general sessions were held. In the evening there were separate sessions for Melchizedek Priesthood, Aaronic Priesthood, Relief Society, and Young Women. The Tabernacle Choir sang on Sunday and at a Monday evening performance. One conference goer remarked: "This conference is like a dream to us -- a dream that we did not even dare hope for. . . . To see our prophet in conference, oh!"
President Harold B. Lee said: "Many have wondered why this conference is being held in Mexico City. . . . To give recognition and to commend the wonderful labors of the many who have labored here over the years. They have been instrumental in bringing about the tremendous growth of the Church in these countries." President Lee also said: "Every time I come to this republic I am touched by the deep faith, the dedication, and the warm friendliness of the Mexican people. They are a choice people."
During this conference were uttered powerful teachings that have often been quoted since. President Harold B. Lee said "The strength of the Church is not to be measured by the amount of money paid as tithing by faithful members, nor by the number of the total membership of the Church, or the number of Church chapels and temple buildings. The real strength of the Church is to be measured by the individual testimonies to be found in the total membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught: "The place of gathering for the Mexican Saints is in Mexico. . . . every nation is the gathering place for its own people."
At the conclusion of the conference, thousands stood and sang with emotion, "God Be With You Till We Meet Again." Following this hymn the Saints spontaneously broke out with the Mexican farewell song, "Las Golondrinas." Then they waved handkerchiefs while softly saying "adios." As the members were departing, one was heard to say, "It will take many years for us to forget the love that we have felt here these days." Another said, "To be able to sit and listen to [President Lee's] words and to know and feel in your heart that you are listening to a prophet of God, one of the most beautiful experiences in my life." (Jay M. Todd, "The Remarkable Mexico City Area Conference," Ensign, November 1972.)
J. Thomas Fyans later related stories of sacrifices made to attend this historic conference.
Four busloads came from a very distant area. There was no money left over for food, but that didn't matter. This group decided that they could fast for the three or four days of the conference. Most of the Saints arriving at the area general conference in Mexico City didn't have two pesos (about sixteen cents American currency) for a cot, and so they spent those nights on hard floors. But, oh, what an inspiration it was to witness sixteen thousand members of the Church sustain President Harold B. Lee for the first time in a general conference as the President and the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator of the Church! (BYU devotional, June 25, 1974).Elder Ezra Taft Benson recorded in his journal, "These are wonderful, loving, warm-spirited people, proud of their Book of Mormon ancestry." (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 422).
Three years later, on April 27, 1975, President Spencer W. Kimball flew to Mexico City unannounced to inspect some Church properties. He visited a small Church school. When the youngsters in the school yard discovered who their visitor was, soon fifty children flocked around him to shake his hand. One boy asked the prophet where he was from. He replied "Salt Lake City." The boy said, "Oh, I thought you were from heaven." President Kimball wanted to visit a home for Family Home Evening. He asked Elder F. Burton Howard to suggest a few families who were faithful in holding their home evenings. President Kimball then picked a family. Elder Burton called the home. The sister was stunned but said the brethren were welcome to come. He told her that they would arrive at 7 p.m. On the way to the home, President Kimball stopped to buy a dozen roses for the sister. The family was lined up on the sidewalk when the brethren drove up. They had a wonderful home evening, with song, prayer, and a short lesson on "living water." The program was conducted by a fourteen-year-old daughter. After the lesson she asked President Kimball to speak. He told them stories about his youth. Then he played the piano while the family sang "I Am a Child of God." They had cookies for refreshments. At the end of the evening, the sister of the home said: "This has been one of the greatest days of my life. After today, there can never be a really bad day again." The children didn't sleep at all that night. (F. Burton Howard, "An Ordinary Monday Night," Ensign, October 1980)
In 1975 Elder Howard W. Hunter went to Mexico City to divide the five stakes. He wrote in his journal: "Our purpose was to reduce the size of the stakes, to better align them, to reduce travel of members, and also to provide for the rapid growth that is taking place in Mexico." After investigating the situation with Elder J. Thomas Fyans, he called Salt Lake City and talked with Presidents Kimball and Romney. Elder Hunter proposed that the five stakes should be made into fifteen! He later said, "I am sure they were shocked when we explained our proposal, but after our explanation, they authorized us to proceed." Elders Hunter and Fyans spent an entire day interviewing leaders, and by 11 p.m., fifteen stake presidencies had been called. Three of these leaders called later became General Authorities. Commenting on that week in November 1975 in a television interview on December 11, President Hunter said, "It was a heavy week, but we were real pleased with the results of the stakes created. It demonstrated the great growth of the Church in Mexico. It is one of the pleasures of this trip to see all that growth." In later years, the brethren would tease Elder Hunter about all those stakes he created. Once, Elder Bruce R. McConkie returned from South America reporting that he had created five stakes. President Kimball joked, asking him if he was trying to catch up with Elder Hunter's record. (Eleanor Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 202-03).
On March 21, 1976, at a leadership meeting in Mexico, the First Presidency announced that a temple would be built in Mexico City. Church architect Emil B. Fetzer designed the temple -- a modern adaptation of Mayan architecture. In 1976, there were 27 stakes, 173 wards, and 198 branches. Nine out of every ten members had been baptized since 1960. Growing pains were being experienced.
In February, 1977, Area Conferences were held at Mexico City and Monterrey. President Spencer W. Kimball presided.
In 1979, a building permit was issued for the Mexico City Temple, which was to be built in the Aragon area, near the large Aragon public park and zoological gardens. On November 25, 1979, ground was broken for the temple by Elder Boyd K. Packer. More than 9,000 people attended the service. A 600-voice choir of Saints from Mexico City provided the music.
On December 2, 1983, the Mexico City Temple was dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley. More than 110,000 people had toured the temple during the open house period in November, resulting in 2,900 missionary referrals. About 30,000 Saints attended the nine dedicatory services which were televised by closed-circuit broadcast to several rooms in the building. President Hinckley said: "We must recognize that this day in Mexico is one of the most important in the history of the nation." President Hinckley prayed:
Bless thy Saints in this great land and those from other lands who will use this temple. Most have in their veins the blood of Father Lehi. Thou hast kept thine ancient promises. . . . May the harvest that we have witnessed here foreshadow great things to come as thy work rolls on in power and majesty in this the dispensation of the fulness of times." In 1983, there were about 240,000 members in Mexico. ("Saints Throng to Temple in Mexico City," Ensign, February 1984).President Ezra Taft Benson, of the Quorum of Twelve, received an important witness of the Spirit at this time. He later said: "As I participated in the Mexico City Temple dedication, I received the distinct impression that God is not pleased with our neglect of the Book of Mormon." When President Benson became president of the Church, he emphasized again and again the importance of studying the Book of Mormon. (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.51).
In August, 1985, the Saints in the Mormon Colonies celebrated their centennial. In 1985 there were about five hundred descendants of the original colonists. Over the years the colonies produced four General Authorities and more than fifty mission presidents. In 1985, native-Mexicans in the stake far out-numbered the Anglo descendants of the colonists. Twelve of the fourteen units were Spanish-speaking. Many members there were "transplants" who married natives.
Life in the colonies was somewhat confining. They had to still travel to El Paso for certain medical and dental care. Life also wasn't easy because of persistent inflation. But satellite TV and other American conveniences could be found. Resident Kelly Robinson said: "I feel that my children are safer both spiritually and physically in the colonies. I don't have to spend a lot of time worrying about where they are or what they're doing. Here it's the popular thing to be good. For instance, nearly all our young men (95 percent of the graduates from the Juarez Academy for the past five years) go on missions." (LaVon B. Whetten and Don L. Searle, "Once a Haven, Still a Home," Ensign, August 1985).
On September 19, 1985, a massive 8.1 earthquake struck Mexico City. More than 6,000 died, 30,000 were injured, and 50,000 were left homeless. About ten Church members were killed. No missionaries were injured and no meeting houses were seriously damaged. The First Presidency issued a statement: "We are saddened by the accounts of suffering and loss of live in cities and villages across Mexico, but we are heartened by the evidence of stricken people working together to lift each other's burdens and to begin life anew under changed and challenged circumstances." The needs of the Saints were few and they shared food supplies with their neighbors. Three homes belonging to members were destroyed and sixty-seven others damaged. Elder Cook reported: "Members from all over the country are responding magnificently with food, clothing, water, medicine, and work brigades, in a great spirit of devotion." ("Disasters Test Saints in Mexico," Ensign, November, 1985).
During 1985, Waldo Call became the first General Authority from Mexico. He was from the colonies. Since that time others with Mexican ancestry were called: Elder Horacio Tenorio in 1989, Elder Jorge A. Rojas Ornales in 1991, and Elder Lino Alvarez, in 1992.
In 1989, the 100th Stake in Mexico was created in Tecalco, Mexico. One of the members of this new stake was the oldest member of the Church in Mexico, 106-year-old, Fidecia Garcia de Rojas. She had joined the Church in 1901 and was baptized by Ammon Tenney, shortly after the Mexican Mission was reopened. (Agustin Rojas Santos, "Fidencia Garcia de Rojas: Life of a Mexican Pioneer, Ensign, February 1991).
In 1989 it was estimated that there were 500,000 members in the country. During 1990 the 17th mission in Mexico was created.
During January 1991, terrible rains flooded the El Fuerte River, on the west-central coast of Mexico. More than 60,000 people were forced from their homes. Among them were eighty-three members of the Aome Branch. They were housed and fed from more than two weeks at the homes of other members or in a meeting house. Five member homes were lost. Materials were donated by members of the Los Mochis El Fuerte Stake to rebuild the homes. "It is touching to see the feeling and spirit of self- sufficiency begin to grow among the members of the Church in Mexico," said Elder Horacio A. Tenorio, a counselor in the Mexico Area presidency. ("LDS Care, Share after Flood," Church News, March 9, 1991).
On June 29, 1993, the government of Mexico formally registered the Church as a religious organization. This granted the Church the formal right to own property. A ceremony was held and attended by four members of the Seventy. The meeting took place in the official reception room of the Ministry of Interior. Many cabinet members were in attendance. (John L. Hart, "Mexico Formally Registers Church," Church News, July 17, 1993).
In 1993, Elder Angel Abrea, President of the Mexico North Area said: "Out greatest missionary success has been in urban areas, and Mexico has many of those. . . . We could describe the growth of the past few years as 'explosive' -- much like that in many other Latin American countries." Elder F. Burton Howard, President of the Mexico South Area said of the leadership in Mexico: "The Church has also had the benefit of leaders developed through its Benemerito School in Mexico City, established in the 1960s. The school's influence has been enormous." ("The Church in Mexico," Ensign, August 1993).
On December 11, 1994, President Howard W. Hunter created the Church's 2,000th stake. The new stake was the Mexico City Mexico Contreras Stake. This was the 129th stake in Mexico. Membership in the country was nearly 700,000. President Hunter spoke to 4,250 members at the Mexico City Churubusco stake center, and then spoke to about 12,000 gathered for the Mexico City Temple lighting ceremony. President Hunter referred to the first missionaries to come to Mexico in 1876 and then said: "Who could have imagined that from its very humble beginnings, the work in this land would have progressed to its present state of maturity? The Lord, through His servants, has brought this miracle to pass. This work will continue to go forward in strength and vitality. The promises made to Father Lehi and his children about their posterity have been and are continuing to be fulfilled in Mexico." It was the first time the president of the Church visited Mexico since Spencer W. Kimball did in 1977. Elder Lino Alvarez of the Seventy said: "The creation of the 2,000th stake here by President Hunter is a testimony of the leadership of the local leaders. This will create a great surge forward; it is a great blessing to have the president of the Church here." (Church News, December 17, 1994)
During 1996, it was announced that a temple would be built in Monterrey, Mexico. There were 30,000 members and nine stakes in Monterrey.
On January 27-28, 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited the seaport city of Veracruz. He spoke to missionaries, priesthood leaders, and to a multi-stake gathering, held in the World Trade Center Auditorium. He said:
When I came into this hall this morning I had difficulty holding back my tears because you are my people and I am your brother. Each of us is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Men and women of different nations but united in the great cause of the Lord. . . . I think if father Lehi were looking down on this meeting today, he would weep . . . and those would be tears of gladness to see his children, so many of you who carry within your veins his blood, as he sees your faith and faithfulness. ("Mexico Welcomes Prophet's Visit," Church News, February 3, 1996).On February 28, 1997, a celebration commemorating the arrival of the Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley was held on the grounds of the Mexico City Temple. About 8,500 people attended to hear Elders M. Russell Ballard and Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve. Elder Eyring mentioned his great-grandfather, Henry Eyring, who presided over the Mexican Mission in 1887. Also speaking at the service was Maria Elena Monroy Vda, the niece of Rafael Monroy, who died as a martyr in Mexico, in 1915. ("Commemorating 'Legacy of Faith' in Mexico," Church News, March 15, 1997).
On April 5, 1997, Members of the Tecalco Mexico Stake retraced the climb made by Elder Moses Thatcher and others, up Mount Popocatapetal in 1881, when he dedicated Mexico for the preaching of the gospel. About forty-five members reached the dedication site at 16,000 feet above sea level. They had a short service, took a group picture, released blue and orange balloons, ate a light meal, and continued on. A group of 13 reached Frile Peak at 17,000 feet. One member said: "To go from 4,000 feet [the elevation of the stake center] to 17,000 feet takes faith in every footstep." ("LDS Roots in Mexico: Honoring pioneers on 'Popo,'" Church News, May 3, 1997).
On June 6, 1997, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited Colonia Juarez to mark the 100th anniversary of the Juarez Academy. He addressed an audience of 5,000 during the academy's commencement ceremony. He also rededicated a number of academy buildings that had been renovated. The day before, he spoke at a fireside for the Colonia Juarez and Colonia Dublan stakes. (Ensign, August, 1997).
In October, 1997 General Conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced that small temples would be constructed in remote areas of the Church. He said that one is in the planning stage for the colonies in northern Mexico.
On November 8-12, 1997, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited several cities in Mexico. He first spoke at two meetings in Mexico City's Palacio de Deportes, where 21,000 members attended. He then went eighty miles south, to Puebla, where 12,000 Saints were gathered. He said: "I have seen in my lifetime what I call the 'miracle of Mexico,' the development of this Church here until it has become strong and powerful for good, blessing the lives of so many thousands of people." To missionaries in Puebla, he said: "What a wonderful thing it is to be a missionary in Mexico, to work among these great people who are descendants of Father Lehi, to teach them the living gospel, to bring the Book of Mormon to them, to feel their faith and take them into the waters of baptism, confirm them members of the Church." (John L. Hart, "Put arms around converts, prophet urges," Church News, November 15, 1997).
On November 10, President Hinckley spoke to 4,000 members in Oaxaca, and on the next day addressed 5,300 members in Villahermosa. Also that day, he visited with Mexico's president, Dr. Ernesto Zedillo at the Los Pinos residence in Mexico City. President Hinckley shared with him some of the history of the Church in Mexico and presented him a copy of the "Proclamation on the Family." President Zedillo expressed his admiration for the Church members in Mexico.
Saints in Tuxtla Gutierrez were very disappointed when President Hinckley's trip to their city had to be cancelled due to stormy weather caused by Hurricane Rick. President Hinckley did send a telephone message. He also spoke to 7,800 members gathered in the Poliforum in Merida. On November 13, he spoke to 2,000 members crowded into the Cancun stake center. During the busy week, he spoke to about 75,000 members.
On November 20-25, 1997, a wonderful reunion of early Church members in Mexico was held. They spent the week touring Mexico Church History sites, attending dinners, and speaking at firesides. Among those who attended was Amelita Monroy de Parra, 92, the only surviving daughter of early San Marcos Branch president, Rafael Monroy, died a martyr death in 1915. In San Marcos, they visited the graves where Rafael Monroy and Vicente Morales are buried. H. Clark Fails, 83, recalled his missionary days in the Mexican Mission presidency with President Arwell L. Pierce. "There were about 3,000 members in Mexico and Central America. Now there are 800,000 in Mexico alone. There are more stakes in Mexico now than there were in the world when I was on my mission in Mexico." ("Church roots remembered in Mexico," Church News, December 6, 1997).
In 1997 there were 800,000 members in 155 stakes, 44 districts, and 18 missions.