A thread of families acting in faith runs through the history of the Church in this prolific South American country.
The power of their faith is shown by the fact that the Church has grown faster in Chile than in any other South American nation. The membership in Chile, about 400,000, is second only to Brazil at about 550,000.Such is the strength of the Church in Chile that the First Presidency has announced the creation of the Chile Area, effective Aug. 15, in the 40th year of the modern opening of missionary work in this land.
The first stitch in the tapestry of faith in Chile began with the calling of Elder Parley P. Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Rufus Allen in February 1851, just four years after the arrival of the Pioneers in the Great Salt Lake Valley.
Elder Pratt took his wife Phoebe, and the three arrived in Valparaiso, Chile, Nov. 8, 1851. Three weeks later, on Nov. 30, Sister Pratt gave birth to a baby they named Omner. The infant lived until Jan. 7 and was buried in a private cemetery. Hedged by a civil war and an inability to communicate with the people, the missionaries departed on March 5, 1852. Although theirs was long considered an unsuccessful mission, the early Chilean experience has had considerable impact on the Church.
Upon his return to the United States, Elder Pratt was absorbed in learning and teaching Spanish. He passed this interest on to his descendants, and several became powerful missionaries and mission presidents in Mexico. Converts from those times have remarked on how well the Pratts spoke Spanish.
Elder Allen, who marched with the Mormon Battalion, later became the leader of the Southern Indian Mission in 1854, preceding Jacob Hamblin. A number of his descendants served missions in Chile.
The effort of these early missionaries is appreciated by the membership in Chile. At a ceremony in 1990, a memorial plaque was placed at the grave of Omner Pratt. Elder Waldo Pratt Call, then of the Seventy and a descendant of Elder Pratt, presided at the ceremony. Romelio Narvaez, a regional representative, commented, "The little grave left on a lonely hill in Valparaiso in 1852 has been as a dormant seed planted by an apostle of the Lord to bear fruit in the flowering of the gospel a century later."
The next stitch of faith in Chile came a century later in 1952 when the William Fotheringham family moved to Santiago. An executive of the Eastman Kodak company, Brother Fotheringham began corresponding with President David O. McKay, who visited in 1953. By 1956, the first missionaries had arrived in Chile, Elders Joseph C. Bentley and Verle M. Allred. Brother Fotheringham was called as president of the Nunoa Branch in Santiago.
Among the early contacts of the missionaries was Perla Garcia. Sister Garcia remembers vividly the first visit of Elders Allred and Bentley to their home in Santiago. "We had lived but a short time in Santiago," she said. "It was my custom to rise early in the morning and lock the gate. At the gate, I saw two young men in hats coming. I greeted them and they responded, `Would you like to know more about being close to God?'
Yes,' and the pair came into our home. I began to ask them questions that seemed to be without answers. When they answered those questions, I felt something very special inside and said to them,You think and believe as I do. I feel very happy; I have received many answers that I have never been able to receive before. I believe that you have the truth.'
"As they left that day, I felt the beginnings of an affinity and special feeling for the missionaries.
"Later, one of them asked if they could come and speak with my husband to see if he also would gain the certainty of the gospel that I felt. I told them he was not interested in religion but I gave them a time when he would be in the home. I didn't say anything to my husband, and the missionaries arrived exactly at the appointed hour. I introduced them to him, and they taught him. A short time later, I could feel by his excited conversation, his smiles and joy that he, too, had been converted."
His conversion resulted in his baptism Nov. 2, 1956, the first in Chile. Three others, including his wife, Perla, were baptized at the same service. (After years of faithful service in the Church, Brother Garcia died in 1994.)
After the baptismal service of Nov. 2, 1956, others that included entire families continued and the Church grew. In 1959, Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve presided at the creation of the Andes Mission, which included Peru and Chile. During that visit, he witnessed a "thrilling service" in Santiago in which he saw "45 new members baptized into the Church."
In the late 1960s, Perla Zunilda Garcia, daughter of Ricardo and Perla Garcia, became the first sister missionary from Chile. In 1966, she left home to study at Brigham Young University. After two years she returned to the family home, then in Osorno. She arrived to attend a district conference held in nearby Puerto Montt, which was attended by Pres. Robert Burton. He asked her for an interview. In the interview, he told her that he felt strongly that she should serve a mission.
"Never before had I even thought of such a possibility," she said. "However, I had been invited by my priesthood leader. I prayed about it, and felt that I should go. This interview was held in January, and by June 1968 I left to serve a mission in Uruguay."
Families continued to come into the Church. In 1976, noted returned missionary Steven J. Iverson, "one striking feature of the baptism pattern is that the great majority are complete families. Fifty-four complete families accounted for most of the 344 baptisms recorded in July 1976."
A great blessing for families came in the 1980s with the announcement, construction and dedication of the Santiago Chile Temple.
Elder Gene R. Cook of the Seventy, then executive administrator of Chile, said that despite serious economic difficulties and high unemployment, the members in Chile overpaid their part for constructing the temple.
"A young husband and wife had gone without work for two or three months," he said. "They seemed unable to find anything. However, they made a sizeable contribution to the temple fund in spite of their difficult financial situation. Two months later he received a job that paid very well. They said, `How our faith was rewarded!'
"Lastly, a number of stake presidents, high councilors and members of bishoprics gave their own wedding rings to set an example for all. I questioned one of them. He said:
" `Elder Cook, does a ring matter? My wife and I are really married without a ring, and before many months we will be married for time and all eternity. We hope the Lord will accept this humble offering."
At the temple groundbreaking ceremony May 30, 1981, thousands of families huddled beneath umbrellas for two or more hours in the pouring winter rain.
As the ceremony began, President Spencer W. Kimball looked out over the members, whose hair and clothing were soaked. Children were clinging to skirts for shelter. He offered to shorten his address, but the people wanted to hear all the speech.
"This is a stormy day," he said. "But all days will not be stormy. Some days will be bright, shiny and beautiful. Those days we will look forward to - a marriage day. The day will come when you can have all the blessings of the temple. . . . Millions will be grateful that you have prepared this for them."
The temple was dedicated Sept. 15-17, 1983, by President Gordon B. Hinckley, then second counselor in the First Presidency.
One such bright day came recently when the grandson of Ricardo and Perla Garcia, Igor Bravo Garcia and Marcela Jimenez Valiente were married for time and eternity in the Santiago Temple.
Speaking of the blessings the gospel has brought, Igor's mother, Perla Zunilda Garcia de Bravo, commented: "My life has been as a gift. I was born in a home with marvelous parents, with the gospel. Now, my husband, Juan, and I have a home founded on the gospel. I have a testimony, and I have been very blessed."
Igor, a returned missionary, observed:
"In our families, the most important inheritance that we have are the gospel traditions of serving a mission and being sealed in the temple for time and eternity.
"We feel grateful to our families for their fidelity and perseverance. Through their valiant examples, they have allowed us to form links in the grand, eternal chain of the children of God."