Even in a Church where multiplication by division is commonplace, this equation was staggering: Take 11 stakes in Lima, Peru, divide them to become 18 stakes, and do it all in one weekend.
That's what happened here in one of the largest and most ambitious stake divisions in the history of the Church. In six separate conferences stretching over 28 hours on Jan. 30-31, seven new stakes were created, 14 new stake presidencies were called and about 10,500 church members were inspired and instructed by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve and by members of the South America North Area presidency."You ought to be as thrilled about this as you can be," said Elder Ballard in the first of six addresses he would give over two days, each averaging 40 minutes in length. "This weekend is a great tribute to each of you."
It was also a tribute to painstaking preparation and planning. Despite overflow crowds and the muggy oppressiveness of an oncoming Lima summer, the six conferences were spiritual feasts that, with both good planning and the Lord's help, also went smoothly.
The good planning: When the power at one conference went off because of an overloading of the building's electrical capacity, an emergency system switched on within seconds.
The Lord's help: A general power outage hit the Palao Stake Center five minutes before the scheduled starting time of the final conference session late Sunday afternoon. Such outages in Lima are frequent, and often lengthy. When notified of this, Elder Ballard said, "We'd better start praying." The lights came back on three minutes later, and the conference went on uninterrupted.
How anxious were the people of Lima to attend these conferences? Members started arriving at the Bellavista meetinghouse Sunday at 7 a.m. for their conference session - one that started at 11 a.m. The chapel in Limatambo was half-filled for Sunday afternoon's 4 o'clock session 2 1/2 hours before starting time. Those arriving even a half-hour early, at any session, invariably found the main chapel and cultural hall full. They were ushered to rooms or outdoor areas where the sessions were shown on closed-circuit television.
Elder Ballard's schedule was also staggering. He spoke at all six conferences. That made for some inventive planning: At some sessions he excused himself halfway through the meeting so he could be driven six to eight miles through congested Lima streets to make the start of the next conference.
Still, his impact on each session was significant, and he left a unique message at each location. But three themes repeately rang out:
A call for more missionaries from Peru. "Each mission in Peru needs more missionaries," he said. "We can't send many more of them from the United States. Where will they come from? Here." He also foresaw the day when Peruvian missionaries would be exported in significant numbers to other countries, even other continents. "In this Church, when we decide to do something that is right, and when we go forward with faith, we do it."
A continuation of the program where members provide one meal a day for missionaries. Elder Ballard stressed that several benefits would come through this seemingly simple effort: activation, more investigators for missionaries to teach, a better relationship between members and missionaries and a significant lowering of the cost to serve a mission. This would allow more local missionaries to be able to afford to serve missions. He challenged bishops and Relief Society presidents to ask 30 families in the ward, even less-active families, to participate, one for each day of the month.
Establishment of a mission fund in every ward. Elder Ballard asked every ward and branch to establish its own mission fund and to invite all members to help in some way. "Sending your young people on missions will require faith and the Lord will bless you to be able to do this in proportion to your faith in Him," he said.
He also frequently mentioned the work of his grandfather, Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Council of the Twelve who in 1925 dedicated the continent of South America for the preaching of the gospel. (See related story on page 7.) "I'm thrilled to be a part of this," he said. "This means a lot to me. You mean a lot to me."
He emphasized the historic impact of what was happening during this weekend. "The whole church is watching what is happening in South America," he said. "It's really a miracle what is taking place here. Did you know you are blazing a great trail for the Church?"
Choirs also added their own unique touches to each conference. One group impeccably performed all of its numbers without piano accompaniment. Another was joined for one memorable song by a robust chorus of children that brought tears to eyes throughout the congregation.
Elder Charles Didier, president of the South America North Area, and his counselors, Elder Angel Abrea and Elder Derek Cuthbert, each had responsibility for two conferences. They also were involved in countless hours of planning preceding Lima's big weekend.
The idea to divide Lima's stakes began in late October while Elder Carl Pratt and Elder Philippe Kradolfer, both regional representatives, sat in the La Paz, Bolivia, airport. Their rough figuring on the airplane ride back to Lima indicated that one or two new stakes could be formed form the bulging Lima units.
After much study and a series of meetings, including one with the 11 Lima stake presidents, the potential number of new stakes was gradually raised to the seven that were eventually approved. "We shook our heads in wonder at that meeting," recalled Elder Kradolfer. They knew something rather spectacular was happening.
It would turn out to be the largest single-week stake division in Latin America since Elder Howard W. Hunter of the Council of the Twelve and Elder J. Thomas Fyans, then an Assistant to the Twelve, organized 15 new stakes from five in Mexico City Nov. 7-9, 1975.
The South America North Area presidency planned an intricate schedule that allowed each of the needed six conferences to be held in one weekend, also permitting Elder Ballard's presence at each session. Two conferences would be held on Saturday, at 4 and 6 p.m., and four on Sunday, at 9 and 11 a.m. and 4 and 6 p.m.
From this, seven new stakes would emerge - Chorrillos, Vitarte, Las Palmeras, Comas, Las Flores, Maranga and El Olivar - to be added to the 11 already in place - San Luis, Lamanita, San Felipe, Central, Callao, San Juan, San Martin, Palao, Limatambo, Magdalena and Villa Maria.
Elder Kradolfer, who is also the regional manager of the Church's Lima, Peru Administration Office, then went to work on a dizzying range of details to prepare for the conference.
Others made important behind-the-scenes contributions. Juan Jorge Stromsdorfer spent an average of five hours at each of the three conference sites preparing video transmission for the overflow crowds. Federico Cifuentes devoted dozens of hours helping custodians get their buildings ready.
The interviewing of potential stake leaders took place over three nights, and required three to four hours per night. More than 300 interviews were eventually conducted. By 10:30 p.m. Friday night, 14 new stake presidents had been called for the 18 stakes - 10 who were new to the calling and four who were being transferred to a divided stake.
Stakes by city-outside of the U.S.
Mexico City, Mexico 22
Lima, Peru 18
Santiago, Chile 17
Sao Paulo, Brazil 9
Buenos Aires, Argentina 8
Guatemala City, Guatemala 8
Monterrey, Mexico 8
Nukku'alofa, Tonga 7
Seoul, South Korea 7
Curtiba, Brazil 6