With the creation of the Puerto Varas stake March 9, Chile joined the elite group of nations with 100 stakes.
So great was the excitement among the local members that the meetinghouse where the stake was created was filled to capacity. Some 300 additional members stood along the walls or hallways to witness the historic event.Chile's 100th stake was created in south Chile, about 25 years after the first stake in this South American nation was organized in 1972.
Only four nations have 100 or more stakes: the United States, with 1,241, Brazil with 154, Mexico with 152, and now Chile with 100. The next nation likely to reach 100 stakes is Peru, which currently has 77 stakes.
Elder F. Melvin Hammond of the Seventy and president of the new Chile Area divided the Puerto Montt Chile Stake to create the Puerto Varas Chile Stake. He was accompanied by Elder Hector Verdugo, area authority.
These stakes are in an area colonized by German settlers about a century and a half ago, and local residents honor their pioneer ancestors. A descendant of the German pioneers who arrived here in 1849, Gerardo Wilhelm Kretschmar, was called as president of the new Puerto Varas stake. Previously president of the Puerto Montt stake, he was succeeded by Fernandez Perez del Valle.
"This is an historic event for the Church in Chile, and a blessing for the Saints," said Elder Hammond. "Today is a day of celebration, where we congratulate those who received new callings of stake leadership, but tomorrow is a new day, a day of challenges."
In his address at the stake conference, Elder Hammond spoke to parents in the congregation and told them they are pioneers with great accomplishments in the Church. But, he said, "Your children will grow up and eventually take your places. They will have even greater faith, and exercise more strength in this community. They will serve missions and be married in the House of the Lord.
"You will be filled with joy as you see your children keeping the commandments of the Lord. You are men and women of great faith, but you will see your children progress even more."
To the youth, Elder Hammond spoke of three things their leaders wished for them. First, that each youth would attend seminary and institute. Second, that each young man would serve a mission because it is a commandment. (He said that young women are not bound by the same commandment, but if they desire to serve and do fill a mission, they will be blessed.) Third, that each young person will be worthy and attend the temple.
"Some miles from us is a house, a white house with a statue of an angel on top, a house where eternal ordinances are performed," he said. "Each young person ought to prepare his or her life for the day when he or she can enter this house and receive the blessings that we call endowments and sealings. It is difficult to reach because it is very far from here, but it is very worthwhile."
In the temple, he said, awaits "spirituality we cannot describe."
The day of the creation of the new stake was particularly an emotional experience for new, young leaders called to further the work of the gospel in one of the Lord's southernmost vineyards. They received traditional hugs of congratulation, and shed tears of happiness while testifying of the truths of the gospel. They also promised to carry forth yet more rapidly the good news of the gospel.
Rapid growth is almost a cliche in this nation where membership has grown to 431,000 since the first missionaries arrived about 41 years ago. The first stake in Chile was created Nov. 19, 1972, in Santiago. By 1982, when the Puerto Montt stake was created, Chile had 24 stakes. In the next decade, the number of stakes in Chile grew to 67, to which was added 33 stakes in four years.
The southern part of Chile is valued for its mountainous beauty, with clear rivers, green vegetation, ocean gulfs, volcanic ranges and skies free of pollution. The residents of Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt also treasure a rich heritage of pioneering. Museums in Puerto Montt, Osorno, Temuco, and Valdivia display relics from the past. Many descendants of the German pioneers have joined the Church and feel a kinship with descendants of the Mormon pioneers.
The Church first came to southern Chile in 1960 following a destructive earthquake that took a great toll on human life and buildings. As medical supplies and personnel arrived from the United States to provide relief, Pres. J. Vernon Sharp of the Andes Mission sent missionaries to interpret for relief workers and assist in the relief effort. When the Church was introduced four years later on Nov. 20, 1964, Chilean Mission Pres. Carl J. Beecroft received a warm welcome from the mayor of Puerto Montt, according to the journal of Helen Beecroft, the president's wife.
"The volcanoes that we saw are indescribable, covered completely with snow. . . ," wrote Sister Beecroft. "It is very cold and difficult to hold a pencil to write. Pres. Beecroft returned very excited after receiving a warm welcome from the mayor."
The local newspaper announced their arrival: a delegation which hoped to start a branch and build a meetinghouse in the community.
The first missionaries to serve in Puerto Montt were Elder Noel J. Roundy and Alan B. Winder, who organized the first branch Dec. 3, 1964. Eight years later a stake was created.
The sacrifice and faith of the early Mormon pioneers in their journey to the promised land is well understood by Latter-day Saints in this part of Chile, who also honor the memories of their pioneer forebears. They often repeat a saying of their forebears: "We will be honest and industrious Chileans so that more will follow." The fruits of this saying are declared in the lives of their descendants, many of whom are members of the Church. These descendants are pioneering the way, being honest and hard working, so that more will follow them into the gospel.