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Mexican colonies offering fruits of leadership

Colonists say ancestors taught faith, devotion

Along a fairly obscure swath of the Sierra Madre foothills in northern Mexico sits a remarkable pool that can't be seen, heard or touched. Call it a service pool. A deep reservoir of devotion and faith that seems to forever spring forth Church leaders with familiar names such as Call, Pratt, Romney or Whetten. A legacy of leadership.

The story of the Mormon colonies in Mexico claims a prominent chapter in Church history. Much has been written of the men and women who settled and established communities of faith in the late 19th century in colonies called Juarez, Dublan or maybe Pacheco. Yet the story of the Mormon Mexican colonies continues. Those hardy folk that once weathered dire times and a nation's revolution now offer the world fruits of leadership.

Two sons of the Colonia Juarez Stake in the Mormon Mexican colonies — Anthony W. Ivins and Marion G. Romney — served in the First Presidency. That same unit has also produced several current and former General Authorities, along with many temple presidents, visitor center directors and mission training center presidents. Plus, the Mormon Mexican colonies have seemingly doubled as a mission president factory. Elder Eran A. Call, a former Seventy who once served as a mission president, said the tiny colonies have yielded 118 mission presidents — at last count.

Their numbers are legion — far too many to name.

So why have the Mormon Mexican colonies become this treasure trove of Church leadership?

Two initial answers are obvious: the LDS colonists are bilingual — shifting effortlessly from English to Spanish. Plus, they grew up understanding and embracing the Latin culture and people. That linguistic and cultural background continues to be tapped in a time of historic Church growth in Mexico, Central and South America and in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

Keith Bowman, shown with his wife, Naoma, is a native colonist and former mission president who stil
Keith Bowman, shown with his wife, Naoma, is a native colonist and former mission president who still calls the colonies home. | Photo by John L. Hart

"In the colonies, you learned to love the people and learned to speak the language with virtually no accent," said C. Gary Lunt, a native of Colonia Pacheco and president of the San Jose Costa Rica Temple. "You know how to hug, you know how to backslap and you learn to identify."

But President Lunt and others say their homeland taught lessons beyond language and culture. Today's Church leaders from the colonies are the children and grandchildren of tough, devout people.

Elder Jerald L. Taylor of the Seventy said his colonial ancestors knew sacrifice and hardship — yet remained faithful and endured.

"That spirit of sacrifice and love for the Lord was ingrained," Elder Taylor said.

Elder Eran A. Call remembers his wise father, Bishop Anson Call, calling for special fasts when drought parched the colonists' crops — then calling subsequent fasts of gratitude after thunderclouds opened.

"That's the kind of homes we were raised in," he said.

Elder Jorge A. Rojas is a former Seventy who attended school at the Juarez Stake Academy while living with a colonist family. Although Elder Rojas did not join the Church until he moved away, he adds he was converted in the Mormon Mexican colonies. The collective experience of so many LDS families living outside their culture was a great unifying tool that forged strong people, he said.

"[The colonists] have shown tremendous faith," Elder Rojas said. "The Academy was central in their lives."

Wilbur Wagner, a native of Colonia Dublan and president of the Tijuana Mexico Mission, remembers the LDS colonies and the Church being interwoven in all things. Children learned to place their faith first in their lives.

"When I was young, there were no activities except Church activities," President Wagner said. "We had no television, no show houses — all the entertainment was centered around the Church."

The colonies were areas "where you didn't have a lot of the outside world dragging you down. . . it was a good environment to raise kids," President Lunt said.

Most colonists were farmers or ranchers, so children learned to work early in life. That ethic served them well in subsequent Church duties.

"It wasn't always easy, but it was happy," President Wagner said. "We worked so hard that we didn't have time to get into mischief. It was a great blessing."

Elder Waldo P. Call, a former Seventy, and his wife LaRayne, at the dedication of the Colonia Juarez
Elder Waldo P. Call, a former General Authority Seventy, and his wife LaRayne, at the dedication of the Colonia Juarez Mexico Temple. | John L. Hart

Besides hard work, many of today's leaders from the colonies say they were raised with love and respect for Church service. When a call was issued you accepted.

"Our heritage left you with the feeling that service was expected of you," said President Lunt, adding that it has long been impressed upon the colonies' young people to live good lives, be obedient and cherish the counsel of their parents and local leaders.

Service is often a family affair for colonists. Mac Call, for example, presides over the Caracas Venezuela Temple and is a former mission president. His uncle is Eran A. Call. A brother, Waldo Pratt Call, is a former Seventy, mission president and temple president. Another Call brother, Owen Dean, once served as a temple president and is now a mission president in Ecuador. Yet another sibling, Carl Call, presides over a mission in Mexico.

Today, there are Mexican colonists serving in leadership positions throughout the world. Most say they keep up on what their fellow colonists are doing.

Three of President Wagner's fellow colonists are serving as mission presidents in the Mexico North Area.

"When we get together for a seminar we usually gravitate to one another — we've been accused of being clannish," he said, laughing. "But we're not, we're just friendly."

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