Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve jokes that his Spanish is so limited that it needs to be translated back to Spanish.
Still, Elder Ballard's presiding presence at a Sept. 18 Spanish-language devotional in the Conference Center for Latino members living in Utah was apropos. Many among the thousands attending the event were natives of Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru and other nations of South and Central America. It was Elder Ballard's grandfather and predecessor in the Twelve, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, who established the first mission in South America that marked a pivotal beginning for the Church in Latin America.
While speaking of the remarkable growth being witnessed throughout Latin America, Elder M. Russell Ballard repeated his grandfather's prophetic words, uttered in 1926, when only a handful of members could be found across the continent:
"The work (in South America) will go forth slowly for a time just as the oak grows slowly from an acorn. It will not shoot up in a day as does the sunflower that grows quickly and thus dies. Thousands will join here. It will be divided into more than one mission and will be one of the strongest in the Church. The work here is the smallest that it will ever be. The day will come when the Lamanites here in South America will get the chance. The South American Mission will become a power in the Church."
Now, some eight decades later, that prophecy continues to be realized, Elder Ballard said.
That single South American mission organized by the elder Elder Ballard has grown to 70 on the continent alone. Such growth is mirrored in Central America and Mexico. Some 5.5 million members call Latin America home and 28 temples operate in Latin America, primarily in Spanish.
"A miracle has been fulfilled," Elder Ballard said.
The Church leader said he has seen the strength of the Latin American members demonstrated in the lives of faithful members. He spoke of traveling to Peru several years ago to visit with the parents of two young missionaries who had been assassinated. Elder Ballard had planned to reassure the grieving parents of the Church's love for them . But when he attempted to comfort one of the fathers — a man who had joined the Church just eight months earlier — the father replied, "It's all right, Brother Ballard, we will be with our son again."
That faithful father was already looking to the day when he and his wife would travel to the temple in Lima and be sealed to their missionary son, Elder Ballard said
The devotional also commemorated the 175th anniversary of the restoration of the Church and the bicentennial of Joseph Smith's birth. It was Joseph Smith, said Elder Ballard, who gathered together a small group of early Church leaders in 1834 and told them that they could not fathom the future growth of the gospel.
"This Church," prophesied Joseph Smith, "will fill North and South America, it will fill the world."
The fulfillment of the Prophet's words "is evident in the growth and testimonies of the faithful (Latin American) saints," Elder Ballard said.
But the work of preaching the gospel continues. "It is our responsibility to take the gospel to the rest of the world," said Elder Ballard, adding that LDS Hispanics living in Utah can bless the lives of their fellow Latino Utahns by delivering the message of the Restoration.
Elder Ballard's words were echoed by Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Presidency of the Seventy. Elder Bateman told the many immigrants who had made Utah their home that they had settled in the Beehive State, by divine design, for a special reason. The huge influx of Latino immigrants to Utah in recent years now offers LDS Latinos a special opportunity to share the gospel with fellow countrymen and women and Spanish-speaking friends.
"You are uniquely qualified to help them," Elder Bateman said.
He encouraged all at the devotional to obtain a copy of "Preach My Gospel" and find ways to do missionary work.
"Do you see the major opportunities the Lord is providing for the posterity of Lehi?" Elder Bateman asked.
The devotional also included video narratives highlighting the birth and contributions of Joseph Smith, his First Vision, persecution and martyrdom. The narratives also chronicled the history of the Church in Latin America, beginning with Brigham Young's monumental decision to send missionaries to Mexico, the LDS colonies in northern Mexico, Parley P. Pratt's sojourn to Chile and Elder Melvin J. Ballard's apostolic experiences in South America.
The evening was enriched by the singing voices and musical talents of some 365 young LDS Hispanics, who performed a number of hymns in Spanish. Attached to the event program was a coupon for friends of LDS Latinos to obtain a Spanish-language copy of the Church film "Finding Faith in Christ."
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