From: John L. Blake
I served as a full-time missionary in the Andes Mission from February 1961 to August 1963. When I arrived this mission consisted of the countries of Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and Bolivia, but only had missionaries assigned to Peru and Chile. About a year after my arrival, the Chilean Mission was split from the Andes Mission, separating many missionary friends for the remainder of their missions. Our Mission President was J. Vernon Sharp, owner of a hardware store in Salt Lake City.
President Sharp had many years experience working with the Latin-American people. He first served a full-time mission in Mexico, then when he was about to return home, was told to go to open Argentina, being in the first group of six missionaries to serve there. When he returned to Salt Lake City and married, he was called to serve as Branch President of the Spanish Speaking Branch.
Until shortly before I arrived in the mission field, full-time missionaries came on tourist visas, requiring them to leave the country every ninety days to obtain new visas. President Sharp successfully obtained government approval to put all full-time missionaries on immigrant visas.
During President Sharp's presidency, the first two chapels were built in Lima. Earlier, a chapel had been built in Southern Peru by the Utah-based Copper Mining Company in Arica for the mostly English-speaking members working in the mines. Their influence was so great that Peruvian employees began to join the church, so that it was necessary to hold meetings in both Spanish and English at that chapel.
Government approvals for the first chapels in Lima were hard to come by. The plans were prepared and submitted for a building permit various times, but each time the govermnment building department "lost the plans," requiring a whole new submission. Finally, President Sharp sold the building site to the architect, who resubmitted the same plans without identifying the building as a church, and they were approved without difficulty. Then the land was sold back to the Church and construction started. The members of the building department were not angry at being fooled, but had the greatest admiration for President Sharp, who really understood the Latin system and how to get around impediments. The subsequent chapel met no difficulty in obtaining a building permit.
President Sharp was so effective at working with the Latin people that he succeeded in obtaining the sponsorship of the Ministry of Education for an LDS Christmas Program in December 1961 in the government-owned outdoor theater and broadcast over Peruvian National Radio. Those of us who performed in the choir never knew, right up to the actual performance, if pressure from the Catholic Church would prevent the broadcast. Yet, despite much pressure, the Minister of Education personally introduced the program, which was a great success--with substantial LDS doctrine regarding the Savior, His mission, and His appearance on the American Continent.
Although the country of Peru has gone through many political and economic upheavals since these early days of the church, the members have tenaciously and lovingly sought to serve their church and one another. That one mission has been replaced by many and the current rate of growth would not have been considered possible in those early days.
The work, at first was slow (at least by Latin American standards), as we concentrated on building the leadership among the better educated and middle class Peruvian areas. Yet, we were blessed with many wonderful and influential members, who helped to build the leadership for later rapid growth. Luis Abanto Morales, for instance, was an entertainer at the height of his popularity when he joined the Church. He lent his considerable fame and influence to help the church grow, while serving wherever he was asked to serve--no matter how minor the role. Early members included bank officers and other educated, capable people.
A QUICK REVIEW OF MY JOURNAL INDICATES THAT MISSIONARIES WERE FIRST ASSIGNED TO HUACHO (ABOUT 134 KM NORTH OF LIMA) ON MAY 14, 1961. ON JUNE 17TH, THE RENTED HOUSE WAS LIGHTED, WATER WORKING, CLEANED, FURNISHED, AND THE FIRST SUNDAY MEETINGS HELD (WITH 32 ATTENDEES FOR SACRAMENT MEETING, INCLUDING THE MAYOR OF HUACHO). THE FIRST FAMILY JOINED BECAUSE THE ELDERS NEEDED A POWER FLOOR BUFFER, AND AFTER FASTING AND PRAYER FOUND A MAID STANDING IN THE STREET WITH ONE. WHEN THEY ASKED WHO IT BELONGED TO, THEY WERE LED TO THE DEL CORRAL FAMILY, WHO WERE SUBSEQUENTLY THE FIRST MEMBERS OF THE NEW HUACHO BRANCH.