Almost eight decades have passed since Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve stood before a small Sabbath gathering of Church members in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and offered prophetic words about the future of the Church in South America and, by extension, all of Latin America.
The apostle's prophecy is now familiar to hundreds of thousands of Church members who have lived or served in Argentina, Mexico, Brazil or their many neighboring countries. After envisioning a period of slow growth, Elder Ballard promised:
"Thousands will join here . . . .The day will come when the Lamanites here in South America will get the chance. The South American Mission will become a power in the Church."
Elder Ballard's prophecy continues to be realized. Latin America is home to millions of Church members. That singular South American Mission of Elder Melvin J. Ballard's day has branched into scores across the continent.
Further evidence that the Church was "becoming a power" in South America became clear at the 151st Annual General Conference, 25 years ago. Angel Abrea — a native Argentinean and a Church convert — became the first Latin American General Authority when he was called April 4, 1981, to the First Quorum of the Seventy.
In his Saturday afternoon address at that general conference, Elder Abrea spoke of accepting the historic call issued by President Spencer W. Kimball. "A feeling and a word immediately filled me. The feeling, gratitude; the word, gracias — thank you."
Elder Abrea then extended thanks to the two sister missionaries who knocked on his door in Argentina and introduced the gospel; to his loving wife, Sister Maria Chiaparino Abrea, and his family; to his Church leaders and teachers; and to the many who had played a role in the ongoing realization of Elder Ballard's 55-year-old prophecy.
"Thank you to the hundreds of missionaries who have made possible the development of the Church in the countries of South America." Named an emeritus General Authority in 2003, Elder Abrea has seen more than a dozen faithful Latin American men sustained as General Authorities in subsequent general conferences. — Jason Swensen