Friday, August 18, 2017

Incredible and Important South America

It is interesting that while numerous theorists have looked endlessly for possible locations of Lehi’s landing and the location of the Nephite nation, the center of such activity has been written in Church history from the beginning. Many members have been frustrated over the emphasis on Mesoamerica, which doesn’t line up directionally with Mormon’s descriptions, among other problems, and also because the New York Hill Cumorah does not readily fit Mormon’s description of Cumorah, and, again, among other problems, there has been a flood of differing locations and theories raised in search of the correct location.
As one looks around at the general terrain and topography of possible locations, South America, obviously does not look like a congenial fit in any way, appearing to be far too large to even consider for most uninformed people regarding the specific meanings found in the scriptural record left us by Nephi, Jacob, Mormon and Moroni that shed light on the finding of that Land of Promise area.
    Then, too, many others find the idea of the continent of South America coming up out of the water during the time of man to be unacceptable, so inundated are they that the Earth is 4.55 billion years old, they simply cannot see through the liberal, evolutionary concepts that have been fostered on them now for several generations. 
    In fact, evolutionary geology is the only thing regarding tdistant Earth history that has been taught in schools for over half a century.
    In addition, the configuration of South America today, completely lifted out of the ocean, does not resemble the Land of Promise descriptions left us by Mormon and the others in any way, shape or form, unless one becomes very conversant with the Andean uplift and Chilean-Peruvian shelf and history. But that, too, is not taught in schools and is unknown to most people.
    Yet, despite this, many Latter-day Saints have been interested in South America almost from the beginning of the Restoration.
    According to Chapter 3: The Dispensation of the Fulness of Times (“Teachings of Presidents of the Church” Wilford Woodruff, 2011, pp24–34), in the spring of 1834, Wilford Woodruff attended a priesthood meeting in Kirtland, Ohio. According to him, at this meeting he began to understand the destiny of the Church in this dispensation. He later recounted: “The Prophet called on all who held the Priesthood to gather into the little log school house they had there. It was a small house, perhaps 14 feet square. But it held the whole of the Priesthood of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were then in the town of Kirtland. That was the first time I ever saw Oliver Cowdery, or heard him speak; the first time I ever saw Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, and the two Pratts, and Orson Hyde and many others.
“There were no Apostles in the Church then except Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. When we got together the Prophet called upon the Elders of Israel with him to bear testimony of this work. Those that I have named spoke, and a good many that I have not named, bore their testimonies. When they got through the Prophet said, ‘Brethren I have been very much edified and instructed in your testimonies here tonight, but I want to say to you before the Lord, that you know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap. You don’t comprehend it.’ I was rather surprised. He said ‘it is only a little handfull of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world” (Conference Report, April 1898, p57).
    Then in 1844, the Prophet declared that “the whole of America is Zion itself from north to south” (TPJS, 362).
    Elder Joseph Fielding Smith linked an Old Testament prophecy to the Americas when he suggested that Isaiah’s declaration of “Woe to the land shadowing with wings” (Isaiah 18:1) would be better translated, “Hail to the land in the shape of wings” (Signs of the Times, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 1974, p51). President Spencer W. Kimball tied all these thoughts together as he reminded the Saints in Brazil and Argentina that “Zion was all of North and South America, like the wide, spreading wings of a great eagle, the one being North and the other South America” (Spencer W. Kimball, Conference Report, April 1975, pp3-9).
    Elder Ezra Taft Benson understood the need that early on in the history of the Church that South America had to be prepared for the preaching of the Gospel. It was obvious to him that the hand of the Lord was involved in the process. As he stated: “In the decade prior to the restoration of the gospel, many countries of South America fought wars of independence to free themselves from European rule.”
It will be recalled that in the 1700s, Portugal controlled about 40% of South America, mostly in the northeast; Spain controlled all of Mexico and much of Central America and  about 55% of South America; with France, Netherlands, and England controlling small portions of territory. By 1820, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela had gained independence; in 1821, Mexico became independent in a violent struggle; also in 1821, both Guatemala and Peru became independent, and the following year Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and a portion of Argentina had gained their independence, all of these countries breaking free of European rule and indeed preparing the way for missionaries to enter these countries soon after the Church was organized.
    The independence of these countries was supported by the American government and most of Latin America protected by the inspired proclamation of the United States known as the Monroe Doctrine, which was passed in 1823, declaring that there should be no further colonization in the Americas by the European powers (Conference Report, October 1979). Finally, the divinely inspired Constitution of the United States (D&C 101:80) became the pattern for the written constitutions in most other American countries.
    There were inspired patriots in these countries that rose to the occasion, in somewhat the same manner as had happened in the United States earlier, to fight for and declare the freedoms of tyranny and foreign control, such as José Leonardo Chirino, José Caridad Gonzáles, José de San Martín, San Miguel de Tucumán, Simón Bolívar, and numerous others led the uprisings and eventually formed independent governments.
    The Church’s first contact with South America came in 1851, when Elder Parley P. Pratt, who had already been on a mission to Canada, crossed the Atlantic six times on missions to England; taken the gospel to Indian tribes and explored the Western United States, was appointed to preside over the “islands and coasts” of the Pacific, with headquarters at San Francisco. From there he sailed to Valparaiso, Chile, with his wife and another missionary, arriving early in November.
At this time, almost all the countries of South America had gained their independence, but revolutions continued in many areas, including Chile. These conditions diverted the people’s attention from an interest in religion, and despite Elder Pratt’s diligent efforts, he did not succeed in learning Spanish. He finally left Chile and returned home in March of 1852 (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt (Life and Travels of Parley P. Pratt), Law, King & Law, Chicago, 1888).
    Seventy-three years later the next missionary contact with South America when two two German families residing in Argentina wrote to the First Presidency in 1925, asking for missionaries to come and establish the Church. Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Council of the Twelve, together with Elders Rey L. Pratt and Rulon S. Wells of the First Council of the Seventy, were sent to Buenos Aires in response. They dedicated South America for the preaching of the gospel. During the 8 months they were there, at a testimony meeting Elder Ballard was addressing a small congregation on July 4, 1926 in Buenos Aires. During his talk, he felt prompted to share a prophetic vision about the future in South America:
    “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 work here is the smallest that it will ever be. The day will come when the Lamanites in this land will be given a chance. The South American Mission will be a power in the Church” (Bryant S. Hinckley, Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin J. Ballard, quoted in Ballard, Deseret Book, 1949).
The first missionaries since World War II were sent to countries along the west coast of South America in 1956. Prior to that time, the church had grown a little, from the 329 members in South America in 1936, to 1,200 by1945, despite there being no missionaries there during the war. With a renewal of missionaries, the postwar decades witnessed an acceleration of Church growth.
    It should be noted that in South America, the Lamanite heritage is found in significantly greater numbers, and on May 1, 1966, Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, organized the first stake in South America at São Paulo, Brazil (Richard O. Cowan, "The Pace Quickens," Temples to Dot the Earth, Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort Inc., Springville, Utah, 1997). Six months later, the second stake was organized in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on November 20 (Fernando Assis, "Sao Paulo temple ready for re-dedication," Church News, 31 Jan. 2004).
    The growth of the Church in South America has been extraordinary compared to elsewhere in the world and it is obvious that South America could never have become a strong center of the Church without being “endowed with power from on high” (D&C 95:8). President Wilford Woodruff prophesied that temples would “appear all over this land of Joseph, North and South America” (Journal of Discourses, Vol 19:230). With the March 1975 announcement by Spencer W. Kimball at a conference in Brazil, that a São Paulo Temple would be built there in one of the largest cities of the world, the fulfillment of that prophecy began—at the time there were 15 stakes and about 54,000 members. In1978 it was dedicated, and a year later, the Church organized in São Paulo South America’s first missionary training center, and over the following twelve years an incredible 41 additional stakes were organized, with membership reaching 300,000.
As all these prophecies have been fulfilled, South America has become a land of extraordinary growth and importance in the Church, fulfilling the prophecy Joseph Smith gave to a handful of priesthood holders in Kirtland, Ohio, as recorded by Wilford Woodruff. It has also become a land of peace, with no kings governing it, and a fulfilment of the prophecy in the Book of Mormon(2 Nephi 10:11).

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