Patagonia: Church is growing at 'world's end'

Patagonia, a region in the southern area of this nation, has been equated with desolation and distance, wind and snow, and hard work and rugged terrain; in fact, some call it the end of the world.

Patagonia is a dry plain, thinly populated by mostly sheep ranchers and oilmen, and bordered by high mountains. While the Church had a slow beginning here among these hardy people, it now numbers more than 8,000 members in a stake and six districts. Work in the new Argentina Trelew Mission under Pres. Antonio Cappi continues to progress.This outreach was settled in the mid-19th century when Welsh colonists arrived aboard the bark Mimosa at Port Madryn at the mouth of the Chubut River. The colonists persisted against natural adversity and established ranches and cities to become an important link in the progress of the Argentine nation.

When Church missionaries began work in Patagonia in the 1940s, they were welcomed with open doors by the Welsh colonists. The Welsh were always pleased to listen to new ideas from other cultures. They especially enjoyed religious choral music. Few, however, joined the Church.

But seeds were planted that today include many descendants of the Welsh settlers as members of the Church. Branches have been established in Trelew, Gaiman and Dolavon and in the Valley 16 of October in Trevelin and Esquel. In June 1989, the Trelew Stake was created in the Valley of Chubut. The next month, the Argentina Trelew mission was created.

Missionaries serve in all the major cities, including Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, where a branch has been established on the southern tip of Argentina.

One early convert in the Trelew area, Iris Myfanwy Lloyd Spannaus, considers the recently erected Church buildings, and the large congregations that attend them, as an answer to prayer.

In an interview, she recalled her feelings while translating at a recent conference for Sister Shirley Porter, wife of Elder L. Aldin Porter of the Seventy who was presiding at the conference.

"As I stood beside her at the pulpit and looked over the congregation, I was not able to control the tears falling from my eyes," she related.

"I wondered, `Is this possible? This number of people who are members of the Church? In the Chubut Valley?' "

In the interview, Sister Spannaus explained that she first encountered the Church 40 years previous.

"When two young men began meeting with my parents, I was scarcely a young woman. I looked at them timidly, but listened with great attention to what they taught my parents. They were Mormon missionaries and they preached the gospel.

"My parents treated them with kindness and listened with tolerance, but didn't have even a slight interest in their message. Mother took advantage of the opportunity to speak English, and offered them cake. She did say that if her sons were far from home and yet behaved themselves as well as these two, she would be very proud of them.

"One day, one of the missionaries turned directly to me and asked, `Do you believe in God?'

" What a silly question,' I thought.Of course I believe in God,' I responded.

" `Do you believe in the Bible?' he questioned.

" Yes,' I answered.But it confuses me at times.'

"And then we began a serious conversation that ended with a gift of a pamphlet of the History of Joseph Smith. After this meeting, other meetings began. Soon I let them know that I sincerely believed all that they taught. I wanted to be baptized.

"My parents didn't permit that, but they allowed me to attend Church, and the missionaries were always welcome in our home.

"At the same time, missionaries were meeting with other families in 16 of October Valley and in Chubut Valley - missionaries were welcomed, treated well, and given food. But no one spoke seriously of religion.

"Finally, seeing their efforts were nearly fruitless, the missionaries left and encouraged their few converts to live in Buenos Aires where the Church was growing.

Sister Spannaus explained that she grew up, married and had children. "But that belief in the gospel persisted strongly in my heart. Eventually, I was baptized and my life was soon filled with Church activities.

"Now, many times I marvel at what has been accomplished among us few descendants of the Welsh in the south of Argentina who had the Church. I was astonished at the enormous chapel filled with saints. The tiny branch where four missionaries and three investigators first attended seems very distant now."

Lidia Noemi Hughes de Torres, another early Welsh convert, is a member of the Trelew stake. She recalled early missionary efforts.

"When the missionaries arrived in the valley, they went from farm to farm until they arrived at our vicinity. We were living in a ranch 7 kilometers (about 3 miles) outside of Rawson. They taught us the lessons, and often visited us. In the afternoons they taught my brother and me Primary lessons. At night, when the temperatures were frequently below freezing, they walked carrying lanterns.

"I feel very grateful to these missionaries, for they planted the seed. My father was not baptized, but after the missionaries left, he kept Church books out on a table. He always told us that this was the true Church and one day we would join.

"After several years passed, we began reading the scriptures as a family. I gained my testimony reading about principles and doctrines that I wanted for my life. Finally in 1965, on New Year's Eve, we decided to celebrate as though we were members of the Church. We did not drink alcoholic drinks. I remember that I prayed hard to my Father in Heaven to bring the Church to Trelew. I remember the certain feeling I had afterwards.

"On New Year's Day, we took a family holiday and returned to meet a member, a Brother Ortiz from Trelew, who invited us to meet with missionaries who were passing through. A few weeks later, another pair of elders arrived. They were sent by a mission president with the challenge to baptize us."

The missionaries came to the ranch and helped with the harvest and daily chores. At night, they gave the missionary lessons to the Hughes family. A short time later, "they baptized us in a river that flows by our farm," said Sister de Torres.

"The following week, we attended the first branch meeting with Brother Ortiz, and a Sister Moreira. Later two or three others began attending. Thus began the first tiny branch in Trelew."

So the gospel of Jesus Christ continues to extend as missionaries search in uttermost parts of the earth, and the elect continue to be found.

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