Elder M. Russell Ballard's feelings run deep for South America.
Since his calling to the Council of the Twelve in October 1985, Elder Ballard, who supervises the work in the South America North Area, has witnessed up-close the vivid fulfillment of a prophecy recorded 62 years ago concerning the growth of the Church in South America.His grandfather made that prophecy.
On July 4, 1926, at a testimony meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, also of the Council of the Twelve, prophesied:
"The work of the Lord will grow slowly for a time here just as an oak grows slowly from an acorn. It will not shoot up in a day as does the sunflower that grows quickly and then dies. But thousands will join the Church here. It will be divided into more than one mission and will be one of the strongest in the Church. . . . The day will come when the Lamanites in this land will be given a chance. . . ."
Elder Ballard had been called in October 1925 to dedicate South America for the preaching of the gospel and to establish a mission there. He was accompanied by Elder Rey L. Pratt (who spoke Spanish) and Elder Rulon S. Wells (who spoke German), both of the First Council of the Seventy. At the time there were only known to be a handful of Church members in South America, all of whom had joined the Church in Germany and later immigrated to Argentina.
The General Authorities arrived in Buenos Aires in December 1925, and, early in the morning on Christmas Day, they knelt with a small group of missionaries under a willow tree in one of the city's parks. There Elder Ballard offered the dedicatory prayer. In it, he prayed:
". . . We also pray that we may see the beginning of the fulfillment of the promises contained in the Book of Mormon to the Indians of this land, who are descendants of Lehi . . . who have long been downtrodden and borne many afflictions and suffered because of sin and transgression, even as the prophets of the Book of Mormon did foretell.
"Thou didst inspire these prophets to promise their descendants that thou wouldst bring forth in the latter-day the records of their fathers, and that when this record was presented to their children, they would begin to believe and repent and accept the gospel. . . ."
Elder Ballard, who died in 1939, never did personally see these Book of Mormon prophecies, nor his own prophetic statement, begin to be fulfilled. That privilege, instead, would come to others, including his grandson.
Instead, Elder Ballard's eight months in South America were filled with a series of sore trials. Within a few weeks of their arrival, Elder Wells became seriously ill and had to return to Salt Lake City. Elder Pratt was also sick for several weeks, and was confined to the house, where he worked on translating hymns and other Church literature into Spanish. Elder Ballard was often left to carry out the work alone.
Almost daily he would hand out thousands of leaflets throughout Buenos Aires publicizing the time and place of Church meetings to people he could barely communicate with, often slogging through knee-deep mud to do it. Precious few responded to the invitation to attend.
When Elder Ballard looked around him at that testimony meeting where he made his prophetic statement, he would have seen perhaps two dozen people - not more than two of whom were native South Americans. When he left Buenos Aires three weeks later, never to return, he had yet to see the first baptism of one of these "descendants of Lehi."
Still, Elder Melvin J. Ballard laid the foundation for the Church in South America, the fruits of which his grandson, Elder M. Russell Ballard, marveled at the weekend of Jan. 30-31 when he addressed more than 10,000 members of the Church in conferences held for the creation of seven new stakes in one South American city: Lima, Peru.
"Can you imagine how I feel to be with you today?" Elder Ballard expressed at one conference, while looking out over a sea of faces, virtually all of them being among the "descendants of Lehi" of which his grandfather spoke.
In another conference session, Elder Ballard paid tribute to his trail-blazing ancestor then added, "I have a feeling that my grandfather is very close to what's happening this weekend. He saw you here, 62 years ago."
And Elder Ballard's grandfather must also have seen the Church in South America that had grown, in just two generations, to include about 850,000 members, 35 missions, 204 stakes, four temples and a full-time missionary force that includes more than 3,000 local missionaries.
"Each trip to South America is an emotional experience for me," said Elder Ballard in an interview before leaving for the Lima conferences. "It's hard to express what I feel as I see the marvelous results of the work that Elder Melvin J. Ballard helped to start. This makes me feel closer to my grandfather, and closer to the wonderful people of South America."
Elder Ballard, as did his grandfather, offered glimpses into the future during some of his conference addresses in Lima. "The day is not far away when your sons and daughters will be leaving to study other languages and to teach people on other continents," he said at one conference. "This work is just beginning. Many more thousands, and even hundreds of thousands, will join the Church."
These will be words that Elder Ballard's sons and grandsons will look at as they marvel at the progress of the Church in South America in years hence.