Half century of stately influence

Faithful members built strong foundations here.

These foundations are both spiritual and literal, resulting in an enduring ward that meets in one of the oldest Church-built meetinghouses in all of Mexico.La Caseta is a small town about 15 miles southeast of Ciudad Juarez - which lies across the border from El Paso, Texas. Rising above the town is a stately meetinghouse, which has stood for half a century. Its many-feet thick foundation was made from three train carloads of cement. The cement was mixed laboriously by hand and then reinforced in the foundation with the steel chassis of old autos in its post-World War II construction.

And within the ward is a foundation of strength and faith that has lifted the Church in the entire area. More than 70 missionaries have served from the branch. In addition, many of its former members have filled leadership capacities in Mexico and the United States.

The Church has grown up around La Caseta. Nearby Ciudad Juarez, a city bustling with new industry, now has four stakes and promises further growth. Members throughout the region appreciate the old meetinghouse and its history.

On Oct. 25, 1992, after a remodeling, the building was rededicated by Elder John M. Madsen of the Seventy and then counselor in the Mexico North Area presidency. A large congregation attended the rededicatory services and a stake choir performed. Local, long-time members recounted the history of the building.

Perhaps no one knows its history better than Manual Morales, a convert who was baptized about the time construction on the meetinghouse was started.

"It has been a great blessing for me to come to know the gospel in this place," said Brother Morales. "I have met each of the apostles and prophets who have come to this locality. For me the pulpit is sacred, for behind it have stood great General Authorities who spoke to us of the Lord."

He remembers President David O. McKay, then second counselor in the First Presidency, dedicating the building on Oct. 8, 1948. Later visitors included then-apostles Elders Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Howard W. Hunter, as well as Elders Marion G. Romney, Bruce R. McConkie and Mark E. Petersen.

One of the missionaries who taught him the gospel in 1943 was Elder J. Thomas Fyans, now an emeritus member of the Seventy. His companion was a pioneer missionary of the area, Jose Acevedo, who soon became president of the tiny new La Caseta Branch.

In 1943, missionaries befriended 10-year-old Manual Morales. Manual was curious about the Church, but his father, Antonino, forbade him from associating with members.

A short time later, missionaries teaching families in the ranchitos around La Caseta came to the Morales family home. They spoke with Antonino and began teaching him the gospel. The family was baptized.

About that time, Pres. Acevedo requested a meetinghouse.

He was kindly informed that La Caseta just had too few members.

Pres. Acevedo's reply is still quoted more than half a century later: "When the Lord created the world, there was only Adam and Eve," he said.

Permission was granted to build a meetinghouse, and Manual saw its construction. After the building was completed, surplus materials were provided to the Catholics, who were also building a chapel. Relationships between the two faiths has been cordial for many years.

Following dedication of the meetinghouse, Brother Morales helped in the branch's growth.

"I did not have the opportunity to serve a full-time mission even though I had a great desire to do so," explained Brother Morales, now 64. "But the branch president spoke with

Mexican MissionT Pres. Harold Pratt and told him I was his helper in everything. Pres. Pratt told me, `Your mission is here; you serve here.' "

So the young man went to work in the Mutual program and encouraged people to attend. They held many activities, even showing movies in a room in the meetinghouse. His "home mission" was successful. Brother Morales later married a returned missionary and stayed in La Caseta. He served as branch president from 1957-1964, and has filled additional callings since then.

When many around him moved to the United States to find work, he remained at home, content to serve. He feels he's received many blessings for doing so. One of those blessings was surviving a serious accident while working as a mechanic on a pickup. The vehicle slipped off its props and fell on his head. Doctors expected him to die, but he had faith that he would be preserved, and today he has no after-effects of the accident.

Another member with ties to the building from a later era, is Ramon Ramos Ruiz, recently called as patriarch of the Ciudad Juarez East Stake.

Brother Ramos was baptized in 1975 in La Caseta. Just 10 months later, he was invited by the stake president to take part in an excursion to the Arizona Temple. When the group arrived at the temple, the temple president informed Brother Ruiz about the Church's policy that a year's membership is required before a convert can receive his temple blessings.

The temple president called Brother Ramos' stake president, Sergio de la Morra, who happened to be on the excursion and asked why he hadn't waited a year. Pres. de la Morra replied, "I don't know, but I felt inspired to give him a recommend."

The temple president explained that he could not let Brother Ramos receive his temple blessings without the authorization of the First Presidency. So he then telephoned the First Presidency in Salt Lake City.

"To his surprise, President Spencer W. Kimball answered in person," said Brother Ramos. "The temple president pushed a button to speak privately, but he pushed the wrong button and we were able to hear the conversation. I didn't speak English, but the temple president translated for us that President Kimball personally authorized our sealing and our receiving all of the ordinances.

"That was a very special experience for me. I received all my ordinances in October, and three months later, I was called as bishop of the La Caseta Ward."

"I tried to serve my brothers and sisters with all my heart."

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