'Prophecy comes before history'

Having visited, interviewed and documented the lives of hundreds of individuals and families in Latin America in the past 30 years, Néstor Curbelo attests to seeing faith, miracles and sacrifices equal to those in the more well-known history of the Church.

“I do not doubt that the same happens in other remote parts of the world where the Church has been established,” said Brother Curbelo, who gave the lecture June 11 in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square during the monthly Church History Library series, “Pioneers in Every Land.”

He titled his lecture “Prophecy Comes before History.”

Brother Curbelo, a native of Uruguay and longtime resident of Argentina, began his career working with the Church Educational System in Argentina and later was Church director of public affairs there. Since the 1980s, he has served as Church historian in Argentina and in 2010 was called to be the Church history adviser for the South America South Area of the Church. For many years, he has been an occasional contributor to the Church News.

“How can we bring to the entire Church knowledge of these experiences and faith of members distant from the center so that they contribute to the building of a real worldwide brother- and sisterhood?” he asked. “One of the ways we can meet that goal is through sharing history.”

He added that Church members in the distant areas have grown in faith “similar to the marvelous history of the Church beginning in Palmyra, New York, and extending to the Salt Lake Valley. We recognize and appreciate that this early history will always be the foundation and trunk of the history of the Church to build our faith in the entire world regardless of what happens in other parts of the Church.”

Brother Curbelo said that when he taught seminary and institute classes, there were four texts about Church history that were translated into Spanish. In those books “there are only maybe 20 pages dedicated to the history of the Church outside of North America in the 20th century,” he said, adding that he can’t recall any that included examples of the faith of Church members, only descriptions of the success of the Church in different parts of the world.

“All I want to suggest is the need to add our testimony of faith to the traditional history of the Church in North America and contribute to building a brother- and sisterhood of faith,” he said.

Placing such examples in historical context, he pointed out that today 43 percent of Church members reside in the United States, 40 percent in Latin America and 17 percent in the rest of the world. He gave a timeline of key events of the Church in Latin America, including the first missionaries going to Mexico in 1879, Elder Melvin J. Ballard dedicating South America for the preaching of the gospel in 1925, and ending with the dedication of temples in Peru and Argentina in 1986.

Brother Curbelo cited quotations from Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and Ezra Taft Benson to the effect that the land of Zion comprises the whole of North and South America.

He quoted Elder Ballard as prophesying that the work of the Lord would grow slowly in Latin America, “but thousands will join the Church here. … 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.”

“For those who know the story of the evolution of the Church in South America, it is amazing to see how the history of the past 90 years followed exactly the prophetic vision of Elder Ballard,” Brother Curbelo said.

He noted that while immigration was going on in North America from northern Europe, there was a similar period of immigration from southern Europe to South America, for largely the same reasons: war, political problems, lack of opportunity, desire for land and other reasons.

This affected the Church membership in Latin America he said, as he told of three immigrants who were pioneers of the Church in South America and who had sons who are now prominent Church leaders.

Iris Lloyd Spannaus was a teenager in the Patagonia section of Argentna that had been settled by Welsh immigrants when LDS missionaries taught her the gospel in the 1940s. The only one in her family to believe the message, she was not baptized immediately, but kept the message in her heart for 15 years. She was then baptized and raised her family in the Church.

Ramón Avila met his wife, Elisa, after coming to Argentina from Spain at age 17 in 1917. They married and raised seven children. Mormon missionaries met and converted them through the miracle of faith, and the family has made its mark on the Church in Argentina, Brother Curbelo said.

Rafael and Sacramento Viñas married after a turbulent time in their native Spain, the 1936 Civil War, during which he had been sentenced to prison but his life preserved. With their three children, they immigrated to Paraguay in 1948, where they soon met Mormon missionaries. They settled in Uruguay, where they contacted missionaries and were baptized.

“The Viñas family were pioneers of the Church in Uruguay and have also left a legacy of name and faith,” Brother Curbelo commented.

“I hope you see the necessity to share our experiences of faith in the gospel which will in turn increase our fellowship and unity in a worldwide Church,” he concluded.

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