125 years of converts in Mexico

Million-member mark approaching

HERMOSILLO, MEXICO — One hundred twenty-five years ago, the first converts in Mexico were baptized near this city, a solemn event that, as the decades passed, was followed by dozens, then hundreds, and now thousands of other baptismal services.

The first missionaries made their arduous journey to Mexico by horseback, a journey in which two of the party narrowly escaped with their lives. (See related account on page 10.) Tens of thousands of others have since served missions in all parts of Mexico. Membership that began when the first convert, Jose Epifiano Jesus, was baptized near this city on May 20, 1877, is approaching the million-member mark.

Now this nation has more than 925,000 members who live in 191 stakes and 39 districts, with 1,826 local wards or branches. Mexico also has 19 missions.

If current growth trends continue, the Church will reach a million members in Mexico before the end of 2004.

Most recently contributing to the strength and maturity of the membership was the dedication of 11 temples in a period of three years, bringing to 12 the total of temples in this nation. The temples have provided local access for those without means to travel, and resulted in increased commitment among the members. Mexico is also strong in local leadership and has provided mission presidents for Spanish-speaking missions throughout Latin America.

This story of success is the story of generations of dedicated members who attended Church meetings faithfully despite difficult economic circumstances. It is the story of those who built meetinghouses by hand labor, and it is the story of those who traveled by buses and trains over vast distances to a temple. In each branch and ward are such members — many in their 80s and 90s — deeply gratified by the progress of the Church. Their examples anchor the faith of the generations which follow. The generation after the pioneer leaders, generally speaking, serves in current leadership. In the next generation are young people serving missions or newly married in the temple in their city, rearing the latest generation to be "true to the faith that our parents have cherished" (Hymns, No. 254).

In Hermosillo where the first baptisms occurred, members form a microcosm of the history of the Church's development in Mexico. As in other cities in this second-most populous country of Church membership, the Church history of Hermosillo is filled with accounts of faith overcoming adversity, of individuals who devoted their lives to carrying on in the gospel, and of progress flowering over time. Among these faithful members are Abel Montoya Gutierrez, patriarch of the Hermosillo stake, and his wife, Maclovia Monroy de Montoya, members of the Hermosillo 1st Ward, Hermosillo Mexico Stake.

Longtime members, they came to Caborca, a community in northern Sonora, in January of 1961, where he was called as branch president the first Sunday they attended. He was charged with building a meetinghouse during his seven-year tenure, which branch members completed. It was in a period when members did the work and the Church provided the materials. Much of the branch's new building was made of concrete; during one period, he recalled, a cement pour began at 5 a.m. and continued all that day, all that night and was completed the next day at 8 p.m. The work was hard, but those were grand days when all were united toward the goal. The Relief Society brought food, and men worked 40 hours without sleep. When the pour was completed, he continued, he and others slept all day and all night.

The Montoyas moved to Hermosillo in 1973 where he was called as district president.

"We began to work for a stake," he said. "We wanted to have a stake in Hermosillo."

He recalled a youth conference at which 600 youth from all over the region attended. "Now they are leaders," he said. "Many served missions. Many have been sealed in the temple."

Among these youth were the eight children of Brother and Sister Montoya. A son has served as stake president, four were married in the temple, and others have served in various capacities.

"The Church grew little by little," he said. "First we had one branch, then two, then we had a stake and now we have two. The first members here are very happy to know that we have a temple."

After a stake was created in 1976, Brother Montoya was called as patriarch and has since given some 500 blessings.

Pioneer members such as the Montoyas have made tremendous contributions in Hermosillo, said President Miguel Enrique Puga Becerra, a convert of 1973 and institute director in Hermosillo. He has served as president of the Hermosillo stake for about eight years, and has seen some 62 young members of his stake who have returned from missions. "All of them have been married in the temple," he said. "One of the blessings of the temple is that young people who return from their missions can be sealed in the temple."

Members in Hermosillo regard their temple as beautiful as any temple in California or Utah, and say that it has considerably raised the profile of the Church in the community.

"The Church is growing here," President Puga said. "It is stronger. One of my assignments as stake president is to be director of public affairs in the city. We have very good relations with the governor of the state and the city. The Church has a presence in the government and the members are trying to be involved."

The young people are well-prepared to assume positions of leadership. "Institute also helps prepare them," he emphasized. "In the institute, they learn the principles of the gospel."

Hermosillo, in English, means "very beautiful." It might well be applied to describe the faith of members, not just in this city, but throughout Mexico.

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