Pioneers in every land: Pioneering the way in Mexico since 1876
Growth of the Church in Mexico was far from a certainty and started in some unexpected ways for one family, now in its seventh generation of Church membership
Editor’s note: July 2022 marks the 175th anniversary of the vanguard company of pioneers arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, in July 1847, after Latter-day Saints were driven by mobs out of the Nauvoo, Illinois, area the preceding year. The Church News is honoring the achievements of pioneers crossing the Plains 175 years ago and also of Latter-day Saint pioneers of different times on every continent. Today: Amado Rojas of Mexico.
It was the first country outside the United States to have 1 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has more temples (13) than any country outside the United States. It was the first Spanish-speaking country to have a temple (1983) and the second in Latin America after the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple (1978).
Growth of the Church in Mexico has been steady for 146 years. But that growth was far from a certainty and started in some unexpected ways for one family now in its seventh generation of membership in the Church.
“There were a lot of other churches in my neighborhood growing up,” said Amado Rojas as he drove along the highway near that same town of Tecalco, Mexico, decades later. “And with criticisms from members of those churches came a desire to learn the gospel and find truth.”
The town was small then, but today it still only has around 6,000 people living in it. Located five hours northeast of Mexico City on today’s roads, the journey would have taken longer in 1946 when the eighth President of the Church, President George Albert Smith, visited Rojas’ family while in Mexico for a special conference.
“My father died when I was 18 months old,” Rojas said. “So my mom was a widow with six children to care for — four boys and two girls.”
His mother, Fidencia García de Rojas, was baptized in 1901 with her parents and grandparents. With the support of other family members in Mexico City, she raised her children as best she could in the gospel.
Amado Rojas, now 73 years old, speaks of that visit from a Prophet with great reverence and gratitude. He said he knew his mother had sacrificed and acted in faith throughout her life, regardless of the challenges faced by her family.
He is grateful for his family’s challenges and knows that other families had their own to overcome as the Church grew in Mexico.
Called to the work
“My two oldest brothers moved to Mexico City to stay with family for a few years,” he said. “When I finished high school, I too went there to live with my aunt.”
His family in Mexico City were also members of the Church, and he said they motivated him to serve a full-time mission.
“My aunt introduced me to the missionaries and sent me out with them,” he said. “She showed me what they did as missionaries.”
“To study, serve and live as the Lord and Spirit directed? That strengthened my testimony.” — Amado Rojas
His aunt’s efforts resulted in Amado Rojas submitting his mission application a short time later. His excitement to serve was tested when months passed without receiving a call to serve. When the call didn’t come, he decided to apply to college instead.
“But the university rejected me because they didn’t accept my graduation from high school in such a small town,” he said.
With no mission call and no college acceptance, he returned from Mexico City to Tecalco, sad and with many questions.
“I wanted to develop a bigger testimony of the Church and the Savior. My desires were big,” he said, remembering the challenges of that time.
Wards and branches: 1,849
History: Missionaries baptized the first converts in 1877 in Hermosillo and organized a branch in Mexico City in 1879. In the 1880s, several colonies were also established in northern Mexico by Latter-day Saints emigrating from the United States. In 1944 temple ordinances were translated into Spanish. In 1983 a temple was dedicated in Mexico City.
“I could have blamed others for misplacing my application and simply determined that serving a mission wasn’t for me, but I had to serve.”
The mission president heard about the situation and offered to help shepherd the mission application in its process if Amado Rojas still wanted to serve. His response was immediately affirmative, and he received a call to serve in the Mexico City Mission.
“To study, serve and live as the Lord and Spirit directed? That strengthened my testimony,” Rojas said.
‘Dream come true’
Following his mission, his mission presidents — he had had two — encouraged him to apply to study at Brigham Young University.
“That was a dream come true, to go from living in my small town in Mexico to studying at BYU in the United States,” he said.
Another dream was fulfilled when he married Leonila Rivera. The two were married civilly in Mexico and sealed in Salt Lake City nearly a week later.
They lived in Mexico and raised their seven children in the Church before taking on three missionary opportunities as a couple.
Three distinct missions; one divine purpose
In 1998, Rojas was called to serve as the mission president in Culiacán, Mexico, on the opposite coast of the country. He and his wife loved the people of the area, and they loved the missionaries who served with them.
That was the first of three missions the couple would serve together — so far.
They served in Lima, Peru, as part of the Church’s South America Northwest Area. Among the many roles they had in that assignment, one they loved was helping young missionaries organize open houses at Church chapels. He served as a counselor in the Peru Missionary Training Center’s presidency during that time, as well.
Rojas said it was rewarding to see his family accept mission calls and serve in different capacities over the years. As he and his wife served in Lima, they were two of seven missionaries to be serving simultaneously from their family.
“Missions,” he said, his voice choked with emotion. “We are a family of missions. And we want [our family] to have testimonies of the Savior and demonstrate that through their actions.”
Finally, their third mission took them to Paraguay as area auditors; their service was cut short when missionaries were sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All service emulates the Savior
Serving missions, fulfilling callings and watching children and grandchildren grow in their own testimonies have all given the Rojases many opportunities to strengthen their own testimonies of the Savior.
“Thinking about His suffering, I have always been motivated to continue moving forward,” Rojas said.
So moving forward is what the Rojas family will do. His newest calling is one that he said he is learning a lot from as he provides patriarchal blessings to members of the Church in his stake in Provo, Utah. He gives those blessings both in Spanish and English.
“Whatever is best for that person receiving the blessing,” he said. “I don’t want them to miss anything. The Lord doesn’t want them to miss anything.”