Reared in an isolated LDS colony where people relied on the Lord for their very survival, Elder Jerald L. Taylor learned lessons of faith early in life.
He was born in Colonia Dublan, one of the Mormon colonies settled in the late 19th century in northern Mexico's Casas Grandes River region."We were very much dependent on rain, since in those early days there weren't deep wells like there are now," he said. "In times of drought, we would fast and pray for the Lord's blessings." Because they were so far from doctors, they also relied on the Lord when illness struck, he reflected.
A lifetime resident of the colonies where North American and Mexican cultures exist side by side, the slender, 5-foot-8-inch rancher is described by his wife, Sharon, as "a man always on the run." He has, she explained, a streak of strength that typically runs through the colonists - "They just don't give up." Colonists know sacrifice and hard work as well, she added.
Elder Taylor, 59, who was sustained to the Second Quorum of the Seventy April 6, is the third Mexican General Authority currently serving. The other two are Elders Lino Alvarez and Jorge A. Rojas, both of the Seventy.
Elder Taylor is thankful for his residence in the colonies. He's also lived in Chile and Argentina, doing missionary work. "I look like a North American, but I am a Mexican," he said. "I feel that to be raised in a bicultural environment is a great blessing. I have had that great advantage, and have developed a love and appreciation for the people of Mexico and South America."
Regarding his spiritual growth, he observed, "I don't ever remember not having a testimony. I can't describe any particular time in my life that I suddenly knew the gospel was true, and my faith is that Joseph Smith did see the Father and the Son."
He said his father was a powerful example in his life. "My father never held a high position, but he was a very honest man. He was honest in paying his tithing and he never missed doing his ward
now homeT teaching."
Elder Taylor's father, Loren Le Roy Taylor, was born in 1887, just two years after the Mormon colonies were founded. When the 1912 Mexican Revolution began, the Taylor family left for the United States for two or three weeks, then returned. They continued to operate their ranch during this period of strife and potential danger.
Through hard work, persistence and continual reliance on the Lord, colonists built a close-knit community based on the Church and gospel principles.
In the first decades of the settlements, colonists mostly spoke English, he said. "The older generation didn't know Spanish very well because most of their dealings were each other. They learned enough to get by, but even when I was going to school, we didn't learn that much Spanish. I really started to learn Spanish when I went on my mission to Argentina." Today, however, the youth graduating from high school are are bilingual.
Elder Taylor explained that the elementary and high schools he attended were sponsored by the Church. "When I was growing up, there were no telephones, no televisions and no highways in our area. The closest city in the United States
El Paso, Tex.T was eight or 10 hours away, if you didn't get stuck on a sandy or muddy road.
"It was really a sheltered environment. Everything we had was sponsored by the Church or school - the plays and dramas, the band concerts, and recreational entertainment."
The youngest of six children, he was 3 when his mother, Lillian Hatch Taylor, died. Three years later, his father married a widow, Lavetta Cluff Lunt, with nine children, and the two families were then reared as one.
"We are 15 brothers and sisters with no distinction between us," Elder Taylor emphasized. "We were raised together and we still have lasting bonds, and enjoy gathering for family reunions." For many years, a family newsletter circulated among the brothers and sisters. It has been sent all around the world as one or another served missions or in the U.S. armed forces.
The family was very close as they worked together to keep such a large family functioning. They gardened, did housework and helped on the ranch. He remembers seeing his father ride away on horseback each Monday to care for the cattle, and not return for a week or more.
"One of my uncles, who was a Lunt, lived up in Colonia Pacheco in the mountains. We spent quite a few summers in Colonia Pacheco, pulling weeds, feeding pigs, and the older children milking the cows."
"I remember my older brother La Selle baptizing me on my eighth birthday," he said. "We went over to a concrete water tank in my uncle's back yard on a windy day, and he performed the baptism." He remembers twice going to El Paso, Texas, and taking a few camping trips.
At age 21, he was called on a mission to Argentina. He now looks back on that experience with great satisfaction. A former companion is serving in a leadership position in the Church in Argentina, as are others he knew while on his mission.
After being released as a missionary, he attended BYU. In his senior year, on his 26th birthday, he began dating Sharon Willis, from El Paso Texas, who was then a roommate of his cousin, Patricia Hatch.
"At first we were good friends," said Sister Taylor. "There was not much romance to begin with, but by the time he graduated in May, 1963, we were informally engaged."
They traveled to El Paso, Texas, for him to meet her parents. Then they talked about where they would live.
Sister Taylor said: "I did tell Jerald that I loved Provo,
UtahT and asked if maybe he could find something to do there. But all he could talk about was when he got back to the colonies and started ranching. His heart and soul were in Mexico, and that was the end of any thoughts of living in the United States."
They were married in the Manti Temple on July 5, 1963.
Sister Taylor said she'd learned some Spanish in El Paso and was minoring in the language at BYU. That learning served her well after their marriage. "I have been in Mexico 33 years this September. I have loved raising our family here."
Most of their family vacations were centered around youth temple excursions to the Arizona Temple in Mesa, as he served in various leadership capacities. They also vacationed at the beach and went on camping trips and visited family members in the United States.
One of the highlights of his service came when as stake president, he took part in the celebration of the Colonia Juarez centennial in 1985. "For a bunch of amateurs, we did pretty well," he remembered. "Everything went great. We had a wonderful week of activities."
He was called as president of the Chile Santiago South Mission in 1986. Their missionary service in Chile was a tremendous experience.
"We really enjoyed our mission. It changed our lives," he said, explaining that although Mexico and Chile haven't always had strong political ties, Chileans and Mexicans get along well together. "The Chilean people have a real love and respect for the Mexican people.
"In Chile, when I was mission president, I liked to use an analogy about the protecting limits of fences to cattle," he remarked. "It is the same in life. The gospel sets the limits that protect us. The gospel also directs us, and enables us to learn and grow in a way to fulfill the requirements of our earthly existence by obedience to these limits - these rules and regulations.
"By obedience, we thus earn the joy and happiness our Father has promised us."
Pres. and Sister Taylor returned from their mission in Chile to the colonies a year before the division of the Colonia Juarez Stake in 1990 - 95 years after it was created as the first stake in Mexico.
"Some people say our stake could have been divided many times," he said. "There were so many potential leaders who have left to gain an education and did not return."
He said the rapid growth of the Church in other parts of Mexico was surprising and pleasing to him. "Right now, Mexico has the largest number of members outside the United States (about 730,000 at the end of 1995). Brazil (about 550,000 at the end of 1995) and Chile (about 385,000 at the end of 1995) are also doing exceptionally well.
"I definitely feel the Church will continue to grow in Mexico. Mexico, as well as other Latin American countries, has people with the believing blood of Israel. The Lord is preparing these people for the gospel. There is a need for leaders because of the growth in these countries.
"The Lord's kingdom will go forth as the members exercise their faith, grow in testimony and share the gospel."
Elder Jerald L. Taylor
Family: Born March 22, 1937, in Colonia Dublan, Mexico, to Loren Le Roy and Lillian Hatch Taylor. Married Sharon Elizabeth Willis in the Manti Temple July 5, 1963. Children: Sharolyn Jones, Colonia Dublan; Jerald Lynn Taylor Jr., Los Angeles, Calif.; Lillian "Becca" Salois, Portland, Ore.; Loren Willis Taylor, BYU student; Justin LeRoy, missionary in Argentina; Kevin Hugh, high school student.
Education: Attended Juarez Stake Academy, graduate of BYU in animal husbandry.
Employment: Rancher, orchardist, associate of Paquime fruit packing company.
Church service: Missionary in the Argentine Mission, 1958-60; Former bishop, president of the Colonia Juarez Stake, 1979-86; president of the Chile Santiago South Mission, 1986-89, regional representative and area authority.