History of the Church in Peru

David R. Crockett
In 1851-52, while trying to do missionary work in Argentina, Elder Parley P. Pratt was impressed by the things he read about Peru in the Lima newspapers. He reported to Brigham Young: "Should Peru sustain her liberties, a field is opened in the heart of Spanish America, and in the largest, best informed and most influential city and nation of South America, for the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the fullness of the Gospel to be introduced." Elder Pratt had greatly desired to go to Peru during his mission to South America. He wrote: "But an empty purse and imperfect tongue, which has only barely begun to stammer in that language, together with the want of books or the means to print them, with other circumstances, all combined to cause me to wait a little." Elder Pratt's life was cut short, and he was unable make this desired visit to Peru. (Parley Pratt Autobiography p.368)

A Peruvian copper mine was owned by a millionaire from Salt Lake City -- Alfred W. McCune. Over the years, this brought a few members to Peru. The McCune family, including three children, had lived in Peru for about a year, during 1903. While Brother McCune was not active in the Church, his wife, Elizabeth Claridge McCune, was and later served as a member of the General Board of the Relief Society. Certainly the McCunes should be recognized as probably the first member family to live in Peru. Earlier Sister McCune had assisted missionaries in Europe and served as a missionary on Temple Square. She probably attempted to share the gospel while in Peru during 1903.

In 1926, Elder Melvin J. Ballard and Rey L. Pratt visited Peru while returning to the United States after dedicating South America for the preaching of the gospel. Elder Ballard was impressed with the country. He reported in the 1926 October General Conference:

It was our privilege to call on the government officials of both Bolivia and Peru, and to explain our mission and desire to have missionaries go to those lands. We were assured that our missionaries would be welcome, and that there would be no objection on the part of the Government. It is our desire that those precious promises made to their forefathers shall be fulfilled. They shall pass through the same changes that are going forward in Mexico, but they shall come out of their serfdom and bondage into the light of freedom in religious, as well as in political matters, and the day of retribution and their redemption, I am sure, is not far distant.

Missionaries were not immediately sent. A few members of the Church from the United States lived in Peru during the 1940s and 1950s. In 1856, Frederick S. Williams moved with his family to Lima, Peru to run an import/export business. (Earlier, in 1947, Brother Williams had served as the president of the South American mission.) The Williams family held church meetings in their home together with other American Latter-day Saints living and working in the city. Brother Williams wrote to the First Presidency asking that they be placed under the Uruguayan Mission and that missionaries be sent to work there from that mission. Elder Henry D. Moyle of the Twelve, making a tour that year of the South American missions, stopped in Lima and organized the Lima Branch with Brother Williams as president. Sister Corraine Williams was called as the first Relief Society president and their son Fred was called as the branch clerk.

Elder Moyle also started the process of gaining permission for the Church to officially operate in Peru, which was still under heavy influence of the state Catholic Church. On August 7, 1956, the first missionaries arrived from the Uruguayan Mission. They were Elders Darwin Thomas, Edward T. Hall, Donald L. Hokanson, and Shirrel M. Plowman. Soon, the first native baptisms performed. Brother Williams was directed to purchase meeting quarters and future mission home for the Church. A building for branch meetings was purchased on November 20, 1956. The first Lima Branch conference was held on February 24, 1957 with 44 in attendance, including 22 investigators. The branch grew and was divided and missionary work went on at a steady pace with about four pairs of elders. This was the first South American mission field with a strong influx of native American members. During 1957, missionaries were sent to Arequipa, Peru for the first time.

In March, 1959, Elder Spencer W. Kimball visited Peru. It was part of an eleven-week tour of South America. He reported in April General Conference: "Last Saturday and Sunday I was in Peru with various gatherings of Saints. I have enjoyed greatly the touring of the missions in those countries. They are like giants just yawning and stretching and ready to go to work."

On November 1, 1959, Elder Harold B. Lee, organized the Andes Mission, which included Peru and Chile, and later Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. Initially, missionaries were only in Peru and Chile. The mission headquarters were in Lima. At the services in Lima, Frederick S. Williams served as the translator for Elder Lee. Elder Lee testified: "Soon the Pacific coast of the Americas will become the most fertile proselyting field of the church." (From Acorn to Oak Tree, p. 303).

J. Vernon Sharp was called as the mission president. At that time there were five branches in Peru and 300 members. On October 1, 1961, the Andes Mission was divided by Elder A. Theodore Tuttle into the Chile and Andes Mission (including Bolivia and Peru). At that time there were more than a thousand members of the Church in Peru. The mission president, J. Vernon Sharp, had many years of experience working with the Latin-American people. He had served his full-time mission in Mexico and helped open up missionary work in Argentina.

Church History in Peru - Part 2

In 1962, Saints in Peru were thrilled to listen to April General Conference live, via shortwave radio. During the conference, President David O. McKay, amazed with this technology, read over the pulpit a telegram received that day from the mission president, J. Vernon Sharp which read: "Shortwave program of inspirational conference received perfectly in Lima, Peru."

By 1965, the number of members in Peru increased to 6,391. The year 1970 was a historic year for the Church in Peru. The first stake was created by Regional Representative, Elder Angel Abrea. Roberto Vidal, an early convert, was called as the first president of the Lima Stake. The stake had six wards, three branches, and approximately 5,000 members. At that time, there was a total of 10,771 members in Peru. Later that year, the mission was divided again to create the Peru Mission.

President Vidal said that in the early days, the Church in Peru "was like a tree first putting out its branches. When it has more branches, then it grows more quickly." (Resourceful Pepole of Lima Making Church 'Blossom'. Church News, February 6, 1988)

In May, 1970, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley presided at a stake conference in Lima. After the meeting, he flew to Chile. Two days later he received word that Peru had been hit by a devastating earthquake and that four missionaries in northern Peru were missing. Elder Hinckley called the mission president, Allen E. Lister, and promised to return to Lima the following morning. President Lister knew that Elder Hinckley had an important meeting back in Salt Lake City. President Lister recalled: "When I asked him about that meeting, he replied, 'I cannot in good conscience go home while there are missionaries missing.'" That night, Elder Hinckley wrote in his journal: "I had repeated thoughts of our missionaries. But there came the reassurance that they were not dead but were in difficult circumstances and that we must do something for them as quickly as possible and, furthermore, that they were working very hard to help the wounded and dying." Elder Hinckley returned to Lima the next morning and was at the mission home when a call came through from the missing missionaries via a ham radio. For the next three days, Elder Hinckley helped to coordinate relief efforts. In northern Peru, entire villages had been leveled. Elder Hinckley wrote: "I felt sorry for our missionaries, and yet they all want to stay and help the Saints rebuild their homes." (Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward With Faith, 313-14)

Growth continued in Peru as local leaders assumed priesthood leadership. The Lima West Stake was created in 1974, the Lima Peru Central Stake and the Lima Peru Lamanita Stake in 1976. By 1977, there were 17,000 Church members in Peru. An area conference was held in Lima on February 26-27, presided over by President Spencer W. Kimball. In 1981, President Kimball announced that a temple would be built in Lima, Peru. Ground was broken for the temple on September 11, 1982, by Elder Boyd K. Packer. The temple was dedicated on January 10-12, 1986, by President Gordon B. Hinckley. In the dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley prayed:

We are particularly mindful this day of the sons and daughters of Lehi. They have known so much of suffering and sorrow in their many generations. They have walked in darkness and in servitude. Now Thou hast touched them by the light of the everlasting gospel. The shackles of darkness are falling from their eyes as they embrace the truths of Thy great work. Surely father Lehi has wept with sorrow over his posterity. Surely he weeps today with gladness, for in this holy house there will be exercised the fullness of the priesthood to the blessing, not only of those of this and future generations, but also to the blessing of those of previous generations.

In March, 1987, devastating rock and mud slides engulfed six small towns in the mountains east of Lima. The slide left 25,000 people homeless including eight families of the Lima Peru San Luis Stake. About 200 other families in the stake were in dire need of food, clothing, and medical supplies. Elder M. Russell Ballard reported in October 1987 General Conference: "The day after the slides, one member of the stake presidency and two other Church members waded through waist-high mud and debris for five kilometers to assess the damage. They found that more than three hundred people, members and nonmembers, had taken refuge in the Chosica chapel. The following day, the stake presidency called a meeting of their eleven bishops and branch presidents. They made many assignments to furnish needed supplies. They asked each ward and branch to furnish work teams to go to the homes of members and help them clean up."

Soon, Saints all over Peru rallied together to provide relief. A special stake fast was held on 29 March 1987 to raise funds that would help cover the expenses. Elder Ballard related: "Sister Guadalupe, a nonmember, lost everything. Then in the shelter of a little room in our chapel, she gave birth to a baby boy. She stated that the Lord had helped her escape. She learned that everything of the world is temporary and can be lost. She thanked the branch and the Church for opening its doors to her and for the assistance she received."

In 1988, there were 45,000 members of the Church in the Lima area, and a total of 120,000 in all of Peru. In January 1988, Elder Ballard was sent to Lima, Peru. When he arrived there were eleven stakes. During just one weekend, seven new stakes were created by Elder Ballard and the Area Presidency. It was the most stakes created in one week since Elder Howard W. Hunter created fifteen new stakes from five in Mexico City, in 1975. Lima became the city with the second largest number of stakes of any metropolitan area outside the United States. [Mexico City was number one.]

Elder Ballard said: "A miracle had been accomplished there by the power of the Lord's Spirit working through his authorized servants, the missionaries." Fourteen new stake presidencies were called during six separate conferences attended by more than 10,000 Peruvian Saints. Elder Ballard commented: "I was surprised at how many [of the new leaders] would quietly nod their heads and tell us that they knew in advance the calling was coming. When we asked them how they knew, they'd tell us that the Lord had let them know. So many of these men received a spiritual confirmation of the calling they were about to receive, and they were well prepared for it." He told the Saints in Peru: "The whole Church is watching what is happening in South America. It's really a miracle what is taking place here. Did you know you are blazing a great trail for the Church?" (Ensign, April 1988, p. 77-8)

Elder Charles Didier, president of the South America North Area said: "The people here in Peru are simply accepting the gospel very well and responding very well to it. This is a very special and humble people. They carry a wonderful spirit about them."

Church History in Peru - Part 3

Peru has probably suffered more from the combination of political instability, guerilla warfare, and economic disaster than any South American country. In 1989, inflation in Peru surpassed 3,000 percent. The cost of living was 450 times what it was in 1977, resulting in a 70 percent increase in the number of people living in poverty since that time. In July, 1989, because of unsettled conditions in Peru, many North American missionaries were reassigned to other countries or given early releases.

On August 22, 1990, as two missionaries were going to the home of a member for lunch in the outskirts of Hauncayo, Peru, gunmen jumped from a car and fatally shot the Elders. The slain missionaries were Manual Antonio Hidalgo, of Arequipa, Peru, and Elder Christian Andreani Ugarte, of Trujillo, Peru. The terrorists accused the LDS missionaries as being puppets of American imperialists. The following day, the First Presidency issued at statement:

We are shocked and saddened by this tragedy. We express our deepest sympathy to the parents and families of the two martyrs. Elder Hidalgo and Elder Ugarte were ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, and they were sharing His message of love and brotherhood with their fellow citizens of Peru. They and their fellow missionaries are sent into the world solely to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and have no political agenda or association of any kind. We pray for an end to the hatred and misunderstanding which led to this tragedy.

Elder M. Russell Ballard was sent to Peru a few days later. Elder Ballard assured missionaries and members of the love and prayers of the Brethren and the Church, and issued directives for the best possible security for missionaries serving in that country. Elder Ballard visited the families of the slain missionaries. The parents of Elder Hidalgo had only been members of the Church for a few months. In a letter addressed to President Ezra Taft Benson, Brother Hidalgo wrote: "We know that this separation is temporary and that we will soon be reunited with him for all eternity, since we have set a goal to go to the Lima Peru Temple to be sealed as a family this January. Our Father in Heaven wanted to have him at His side to continue as a missionary preaching His gospel in the spirit world, and we understand that, and feel joy and gladness that he is continuing his work." (Peru Missionaries 'Eager to Continue'". Church News, September 15, 1990)

Near the end of 1990, the Church donated stoves and cooking utensils to equip more than thirty community kitchens to be used by Peruvians struggling to feed their families. These kitchens are used by families who do not have cooking facilities. The Church also donated 80,000 pounds of surplus clothing to be given to the needy for Christmas. Bishop Glenn L. Pace, of the Presiding Bishopric visited Peru to help present the donation to Peruvian government leaders. Bishop Pace said: "The appreciation expressed by the government and the people was unbelievable. They couldn't say enough. We attended a large press conference where the local government and charitable organization discussed the project as an example of how private and public organizations can work together to benefit those in need." ("Officials in Peru Receive Supplies From Church for Community Kitchens." Church News, December 15, 1990.)

In April, 1993 General Conference, Elder L. Tom Perry spoke about the difficulties in Peru.

It has been difficult for my Brethren and me to visit Peru regularly because of the dangers of traveling there. It has been necessary for the Peruvian members to assume much more responsibility for priesthood and auxiliary leadership and for full-time missionary service. The area presidency recognized the need to fortify the members of the Church in this country, and after much prayer and fasting, decided to emphasize just two basic teachings of the gospel. They prepared a letter to be delivered to each family unit in Peru. The theme was "Being Converted to the Lord," in which they stressed family prayer and family scripture study. . . .

The blessings that have come to the Peruvian Saints from practicing these two basic gospel principles, daily prayer and scripture study, have been most remarkable. It soon became evident that faith and testimony were increasing among members of the Church there. There has been a significant increase in sacrament meeting attendance, which has resulted in a greater sense of community and increased interest among the Saints in loving and caring for each other. Though travel to the temple has become increasingly difficult and dangerous, surprisingly, temple attendance is up significantly.

The number of full-time missionaries immediately began to increase. Now the five missions in Peru fill their missionary needs with native Peruvians. The full-time missionaries are arriving in the field better prepared to serve, which of course has resulted in increased convert baptisms.

In 1996, there were 270,000 members in Peru. On November 9, 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley traveled to Lima Peru and spoke to 28,000 members at Coliseo Amauta, a large events center. President Hinckley also met with 380 missionaries of the four missions headquartered in Lima, as well as those training at the Missionary Training Center in Lima. At the missionary meeting, President Hinckley observed, "I haven't been here for eight years. To see what is happening is wonderful. There are 27 stakes in Lima, 75 in all in this nation. I'm glad. I remember when the first stake was organized here. It was wonderful to see the first stake. To think there are now 75 stakes here is marvelous. The stakes here will grow in strength and the people will grow in strength also. There will be a tremendous future for the Church in Peru." At the large member fireside he added: "This is but the beginning of the work in Peru. This work of the Almighty will go on and grow and grow. It is God's holy work. Let us live the gospel. Let us follow its divine truth. There is nothing you cannot do with help of the Almighty." As the meeting ended the members waved and then broke out into spontaneous applause. ("Prophet Visits South America." Church News, November 16, 1996.)

A terrible earthquake shook Peru later in November, 1996. The homes of nearly one hundred members were destroyed. All missionaries and members were safe and no Church property was damaged. Homeless members were provided temporary shelter in Church meetinghouses.

Currently, in 1997, there are 30 stakes in Lima and 80 stakes in the entire nation. Peru will probably soon become the fifth country to reach the milestone of 100 stakes.