The story of the LDS Church and its remarkable growth throughout Latin America is a modern-day miracle that continues to be realized.
That's the message Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve, shared Sunday with thousands of Hispanic members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.
Such miracles ring familiar to Elder Ballard. It was his grandfather and a predecessor in the Twelve, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, who established the first mission in South American in 1925. The elder Elder Ballard would prophesy that the work in the area would grow as an acorn to an oak tree — slowly at first, then becoming a "power in the church."
That prophesy is being fulfilled, said Elder Ballard, who admonished his audience to continue to share the message of the church to the many Hispanics who have made Utah their home in recent years.
Sunday's event also commemorated the 175th anniversary of the organization of the LDS Church and the 200th anniversary of the birth of church founder Joseph Smith. The program was conducted in Spanish. Talks were presented by Elder Ballard and Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Presidency of the Seventy in English, then translated into Spanish.
A 365-voice youth choir performed music and song celebrating the church's organization and Joseph Smith's birth.
The evening also featured video narratives highlighting the life of Joseph Smith from his humble birth, his account of his First Vision and his subsequent persecution and martyrdom.
The narratives also traced the prolific growth of the church in Latin America, where a large portion of the faith's population resides.
Elder Ballard began by offering greetings in Spanish, admitting "Mi espanol es muy limitado."
"I'm the only person I know who has to have his Spanish translated into Spanish," he quipped.
Elder Ballard said Joseph Smith once gathered a group of early church leaders together, telling them they could not fathom the future of the church. "This church," said Elder Ballard, quoting Joseph Smith, "will fill North and South America. It will fill the world."
When Elder Ballard's grandfather dedicated South America, there was only a scattering of members of the LDS Church throughout the continent. Now millions from South America, Central America and Mexico claim membership. It has become a land of missionary work and second- and third-generation faithful church members, Elder Ballard said.
Today, there are "25 operating temples where the primary language is Spanish," he added.
Elder Bateman also spoke of the growth of the church throughout Latin America and the strength found in LDS Hispanic homes.
It was Joseph Smith who said the church would blossom across the globe. The church founder also knew of the many who would be receptive to the church's message in Latin America, Elder Bateman said.
Elder Bateman told LDS Hispanics who had immigrated to Utah from foreign lands that their decision to make a home in the Beehive State was not based entirely on economic or other secular opportunities. They were also brought here, by divine design, to deliver the message of the LDS Church to their many fellow immigrants from Spanish-speaking lands.
He encouraged them to be missionaries among their own people who now raise families and earn livings in Utah.
"You are uniquely qualified to help them," Elder Bateman said.