Local histories preserve faith, legacy

Scriptural admonition to remember members’ manner of life, works

Local Church history should be preserved to help longtime members retain their identity, and to introduce new members to their spiritual legacy, said Nestor Curbelo, historian of the South America South Area.

Brother Curbelo, who recently delivered a significant number of artifacts and histories to the Family and Church History Department, said that local histories preserve for later generations the faith, service and the way of life of Church members, according to scriptural mandate.

Church history brings with it a sense of unity to members, he said.

"When members maintain an identity as a Latter-day Saint, that identity rises above cultural and national differences — they have a common history," he said. History should be used to promote the faith of members, said Brother Curbelo, an institute director and former stake president.

Local histories include contributions of mission presidents, General Authorities who have visited, and local pioneers and their lives of faith. As the sacrifice, devotion of the pioneer members are learned by new members, they will understand the value of the gift of early members, said Brother Curbelo.

When a local history is collected, it should be published and distributed among the members. The sources and artifacts, including histories, should be given to a Church repository for preservation, such as the Family and Church History Department, or the BYU archives, he said.

Brother Curbelo has written books in Spanish containing histories including anecdotes, photos and early sources about Church history in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. He uses proceeds from the sales of the books to fund additional research. The many photos and oral histories of pioneer members make the books especially informative.

Among the anecdotes is the account of the first baptisms in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. The histories note that Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, accompanied by Elders Rey L. Pratt and Rulon S. Wells of the First Council of the Seventy, arrived in the Port of Buenos Aires Dec. 6, 1925, at about 7 a.m. following a pleasant voyage from North America. They were welcomed at the dock by Wilhelm Friedrichs, Emil Hoppe, their wives and various friends who had an interest in the restored gospel.

A meeting was held the following day at the home of Ernst Biebersdorf. One of his daughters, Maria, remembered in a 1997 interview that her parents had resolved after the first World War to come to Argentina, where circumstances were better than in Germany. They had been in Argentina for two years when Emil Hoppe and Wilhelm Friedrichs gave them a copy of the Book of Mormon.

"My father read the book of Mormon and felt that this was the true Church and was later baptized," she said. "When I was a child, I knew Elder Ballard as a kind person. I received a blessing from Elder Wells."

On Saturday, Dec. 12, in Rio del Plata, Elder Ballard baptized Ernst Biebersdorf. Also baptized were his sister Anna Kullick, her husband, Jakob Kullick, and their daughter, Herta; and Elisa Plassman. They were all confirmed the next day at the first sacrament meeting held in South America.

Two weeks later, on Christmas day, Elder Ballard dedicated the land of South America for the preaching of the gospel.

In Uruguay, the first converts were Avelino Juan Rodriguez and his wife, Maria Esther Rizzo de Rodriguez. Frederick S. Williams, a former missionary in Argentina who had been set apart in 1948 to preside over the new Uruguayan Mission, met Brother Rodriguez at a store. The young man wanted to know more about the Williams family because they seemed so close and amiable. He was invited to a meeting at the mission home for the explanation. He and his wife later accepted the gospel and were willing to be the first converts of their nation.

They were baptized Nov. 14, "a historic day for the Uruguayan Mission. . . . The ordinance was completed in the Carrasco Arroyo at a point not far from the mouth of the river," noted the history. "It was a beautiful summer day, ideal for baptisms."

The group "enjoyed a marvelous spiritual experience as several testimonies were born that day."

Frederick S. Williams made the first missionary visit to Paraguay in 1939 when he traveled through Asuncion en route to visit the native Indians in Formosa, Argentina.

He described Asuncion as a city a century behind. Only one public building had been constructed in a hundred years as leaders had funneled their resources into military defense rather than development. Yet, "never in my life had I seen people more happy and satisfied," he said. "I was enamored with the Guarani people and I wondered how long it would be before they could receive the gospel."

His question was answered through a young former Argentine missionary, Samuel J. Skousen, a U.S. Air Force pilot. The missionary-minded young man, stationed in Brazil, met Carlos Alberto Rodriguez and his fiancee, Mafalda Figueira. The young couple began attending Church. They were married in 1946 and reassigned to Asuncion. Brother Skousen was also transferred to the same location, and when all attended a conference in Argentina, the then-Mission President W. Ernest Young wrote the First Presidency asking permission to baptize the couple.

Permission was received and Brother Rodriguez was baptized by Brother Skousen on Aug. 21, 1948. Sister Rodriguez, who was expecting, was baptized after the birth of the baby the following January. The first missionaries arrived in Paraguay in 1950 and the Church was soon established.

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