His ‘mission’ lasted for decades

While in his early teens, Jorge Rojas wanted to learn English so much that he left home in Chihuahua, Mexico, and went to live in the nearby Mormon colonies. There, at Colonia Juarez, he not only learned to speak English, but also learned about the restored gospel.

Having a warm demeanor, Elder Rojas, 50, is a prime example of his nation's genteel willingness to be hospitable. He is equally willing to serve, and has served steadily since his baptism 31 years ago.Elder Rojas was sustained to the Second Quorum of the Seventy in April general conference, the third General Authority to be called from Mexico.

"The greatest thing for me in my life has to be the ability to have the guidance of the Spirit," reflected Elder Rojas. "My greatest concern is to always be worthy to have that guidance. If I do, then I'll do what the Lord wants me to do. If I don't, then I'll do what Jorge wants to do."

Elder Rojas was introduced to the Church when he went to the colonies at about age 13. Because there was no facility for boarding, he stayed with the Willard and Bertha Shupe family, to whom he now refers as "my American parents."

One acquaintance from the colonies was Marcela "Chela" Burgos, a little girl who used to come over after he'd finished milking the Shupes' cow, and get a few quarts of milk. She was a person who later would become very important in his life.

Soon after he arrived, the Shupes invited him to attend Church services "because they are in English, and you'll learn English faster."

He attended, but his background as a Protestant at first precluded his interest in the Church. But over the next three years he made many close friends and came to fully accept the doctrine that was the driving force behind the colony.

"I was very proud, I guess," he related. "I believed everything they taught me and I took seminary. My friends were Mormon and I loved them very much, but I was too proud to accept that I was going to change to another church."

After he graduated from Juarez Academy, he left the colonies and returned to Chihuahua, still unbaptized. However, he missed all his friends in the colonies, but more particularly, he missed the Church.

"I just couldn't go on believing everything the members believed and not be a member," he said.

He was taught the lessons and baptized Oct. 3, 1959, by Elder Louis Peck, now a member of the Twin Falls (Idaho) 3rd Ward. Elder Rojas' mother; his twin sister, Olivia; and their older brother, Rodolfo; and younger brother, Servando, are also members. Servando has served as a mission president.

Brother Peck remembered 19-year-old Jorge as "very quick" and eager to learn the gospel. He was a leader, even then. On one occasion when the youth from Chihuahua traveled to Saltillo for a three-day youth conference, Jorge wangled the mission president's permission to take part in an old Mexican custom, and serenade the young women. The permission was given on the condition that Elder Peck accompany them.

"So they went out under the dorm windows serenading. He was one of the leaders in that," recalled Brother Peck.

In Chihuahua, he attended the University of Chihuahua during the day, and the Normal (teachers) College at night. He earned simultaneous degrees in physical education and education.

After his graduation, the nearly 6-foot tall young man was called on a mission, but didn't serve in the way he expected. Instead, he won a scholarship to receive further education at the University of New Mexico. His mission president, Ara O. Call, told him to accept the scholarship and fill the mission after he completed his schooling.

But while he was at Las Cruces in 1963, he received a phone call from Kenyon Wagner, the first principal at the new Church-owned Benemerito College in Mexico City, asking him to be a faculty member.

"I said, `Brother Wagner, I am sorry, but after I finish here I go on a mission.'

"He said, Well, I'll call you back.' Thirty minutes later, Pres. Call telephoned and said,Jorge, your mission is Benemerito.' I took that as an official Church assignment, and served a mission there for 13 years."

He was an English teacher, basketball coach and physical education teacher. One of his students was Chela Burgos – the little girl who used to come for milk at the Shupe farm in the colonies. Chela, though, was no longer a little girl.

"After I finished high school, I went to Benemerito," she reflected. "He was my teacher. He was very strict."

She became the captain of the girls' basketball team and eventually graduated as class valedictorian.

After Chela graduated, she and her former teacher were married, their courtship having begun after he had invited her to go to a Russian circus that was in town.

He continued teaching at Benemerito until called to go to Chile and head the Church school there for a period of time, a second mission.

"We learned to love Chile," he said. "The members there are very friendly."

They were in Chile from 1971-72. Close friends during this experience and since are Richard and Ivy Brimhall, "who were great examples to all of us."

The Rojas family returned to Mexico City in 1972 after the school in Chile was closed. Brother Rojas became manager of the first Presiding Bishopric Area Office and was soon called as a stake leader.

He served as counselor to Pres. Guillermo Torres of the Mexico City North Stake. Pres. Torres' other counselor was Horacio A. Tenorio, now also of the Seventy and a member of the Mexico Area presidency.

"Guilllermo Torres has been the greatest influence I have had in the Church," said Elder Rojas. "I respect him very much and consider him my best friend, my best teacher in the Church. I owe him a lot – he's a very humble, spiritual man. He taught me to love the Book of Mormon. So I am very much indebted to him; I love him very much."

Guillermo Torres, now president of the Mexico Merida Mission, said Church members in Mexico are very happy with Elder Rojas' call as a General Authority.

He described Elder Rojas as "a very special person called to do a great work for Mexico and for the Church. He is totally committed and very organized," said the mission president. "He is close to the Lord, and he is one who likes to roll up his sleeves and get to work."

He said that where Elder Rojas and Elder Tenorio once assisted him in stake work, "it is now with great pleasure that I say to them that I am at your service."

Serving in stake leadership in Mexico City in the 1970s was a big challenge for these leaders because such a large city, with just two stakes, covers a lot of ground.

"To us then," explained Elder Rojas, "the Church was really just programs. We didn't realize that the priesthood was the main thing. There were very few Mexican missionaries. We kind of expected the Americans to come and teach us. We were just learning our role as teachers. Brother Harold Brown, former president of the Mexico City Temple, was the first stake president, the strong leader we all loved and respected. He laid the groundwork for much of what has happened in Mexico."

Elder Rojas was called as stake president in 1974, then as regional representative in 1976. In 1981, Elder Rojas was called as president of the Mexico Guadalajara Mission. It was a difficult area, "but we had the best group of missionaries in the Church."

Here, he felt impressed to emphasize the Book of Mormon. He encouraged missionaries, members and investigators to read and study the scriptures. "We had wonderful results. The Book of Mormon was the base of everything we did.

"I see the Book of Mormon as a book written by a great-great-grandfather of ours. Not to his children or to his grandchildren, but to his great-great-grandchildren, and that's us."

After his mission, Brother Rojas returned to work in the Presiding Bishopric Area Office, and was called again as a regional representative, a responsibility he held until his recent calling. At the time of his current call, he owned a company that translates technical manuals.

Today, with a membership that will reach a million within a few years, Mexico is beginning to recognize and respect the Church, said Elder Rojas.

Certainly, he continued, many challenges exist. But these challenges are being met, and priesthood leadership continually grows stronger.

"Of course, as we grow stronger, the opposition also grows stronger. But nothing can stop the growth of the Church in Mexico. No one can stop the stone from rolling down the mountain."

(Additional information)

Elder Jorge A. Rojas

  • Family: Born in Delicias, Chihuahua, Mexico on Sept. 27, 1940, to Rodolfo and Hilaria Ornelas Rojas. Married Marcela Burgos Perez in the Arizona Temple on Aug. 22, 1969. Parents of five children, Jorge, 20, serving in the Michigan Lansing Mission; Marcela, 17; Guillermo, 16; Ivy, 13; and Samuel, 10.
  • Education: Dual bachelors degrees in education and physical education from University of Chihuahua and Chihuahua Normal College. Graduate studies at the University of New Mexico.
  • Employment: Teacher, coach at Church's Benemerito de las Americas College in Mexico City; director of Deseret School in Chile; first manager of Presiding Bishopric Area Office in Mexico City; currently owner of business translating technical manuals in Chihuahua.
  • Church service: Ward clerk, stake president's counselor, president of Mexico City Mexico Camarones Stake, 1974-76, president of Guadalajara Mission, 1981-84, regional representative, 1976-81, 1984-91.