CONCEPCION, Chile — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been officially organized for 188 years — exactly double the age of President Russell M. Nelson.
From a room overlooking the newly dedicated Concepcion Chile Temple, President Nelson spoke about the “young Church,” which has only spanned about two lifetimes.
“We are witnesses to a process of restoration,” he said. “If you think the Church has been fully restored, you are just seeing the beginning. There is much more to come.”
Nowhere is that more evident than in Concepcion, Chile, where President Nelson dedicated the new temple on Oct. 28 — the second in the country and the Church's 160th worldwide. As such, the Concepcion Chile Temple is an indication of the deepening and strengthening of the Church throughout South America — and the world.
The dedication marked the fifth and final stop of President Nelson’s South America ministry tour, which began Oct. 19 and included stops in Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay before concluding in Chile.
“We feel very grateful,” said President Nelson. “The people are so loving and so anxious to serve the Lord and to serve each other. … It really is a sacred feeling you have among them.”
Prayer of gratitude
Located near the Biobio River along the Pacific Coast in central Chile, the Concepcion Chile Temple will serve some 122,000 Church members living in southern Chile and southwest Argentina.
There is much gratitude for the new temple, said Vivian Maldonado of the Independencia Ward, Talcahuano Chile North Stake. She remembers when President Thomas S. Monson announced, during the October 2009 general conference, that a temple would be built in Concepcion. Gathered with other members in her stake center, she felt a surge of excitement. When the session ended, however, the members did not get up or leave the chapel. Instead, they knelt and offered a prayer of gratitude, said Maldonado.
“It was a very special moment for us. We never thought we would have a temple here in Concepcion,” she said.
Millions of members
President Nelson, who has now visited Chile 11 times, first traveled to the country as a cardiac surgeon. He returned as an Apostle, and Sunday marked his first time in Chile as president of the Church.
When President Nelson was born in 1924, there were no members of the Church in South America. During his lifetime, however, Church membership in South America has exploded, now surpassing 4 million members and 18 temples.
The dedication of a temple is an important conclusion to the tour, said President Nelson’s wife, Sister Wendy Nelson.
“He has seen the faith of the people,” she said. “He has seen the love of the people for the Lord. Now he has seen the love of the people for the temple. That means everything to my husband to see that.”
The joy of the gospel
Located between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, the name Chile originates from an Araucanian word meaning “where the land ends.” Chile’s fertile ground — with an average width of just 100 miles — stretches up the west side of South America.
In 1960, when missionaries arrived in Talcahuano, Chile, the Church was not yet organized in the area. They prayed and were directed to Alberto Altamirano’s home. Alberto’s parents, Jose and Luz, listened to the message. They believed the missionaries to be men of God.
The missionaries carried a picture of the Savior. Soon Alberto’s mother — followed a few months later by his father — entered the waters of baptism in the laguna of San Pedro Lake.
Jose Altamirano became the first branch president, and then district president, in Talcahuano. When the Talcahuano stake was created in 1977, he became the first stake president.
Seeing the new temple in Concepción would make his parents very happy, said Altamirano of the Talcahuano Chile North Stake. “They worked so hard at the beginning of the Church here. (A temple) here is the culmination of all their work.”
Like Altamirano, Nuriz Rosario Cuevas Mardones was a small child when missionaries knocked on the family’s door during the winter of 1958. Her parents had just lost two children and were seeking information about the afterlife. “They were angry with God for what had happened to them,” said Mardones, of the Concepcion Chile Stake.
The missionaries taught the family about the plan of salvation and invited them to attend church meetings. But when the family arrived at the rented house where they held meetings, they heard laughter and singing and assumed they were in the wrong place.
They could not deny the joy they found in Latter-day Saints. The family was baptized later that year.
“That is why I am really emotional and thinking about the temple, because I am thinking about them, too,” said Mardones, mindful of her parents.
Elder Gary E. Stevenson, the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who accompanied President Nelson on the South America ministry tour, said he was impressed with Chile because in addition to a strong foundation of pioneer members who worked to build the Church in Concepcion, there is also an impressive rising generation.
President Nelson addressed 1,500 youth Saturday night during the Concepcion Chile Temple youth devotional, noting that temples stand as a “symbol of our faith.” The devotional was broadcast to the 28,000 youth in the temple district.
Hundreds gathered the following morning on the temple grounds, located at 1525 Pedro de Valdivia in Concepcion, Chile, for one of three dedicatory sessions and a cornerstone ceremony. Historically held to mark the setting of the foundation stone of the temple, the ceremony today is a way to honor Jesus Christ, “the cornerstone of the Church,” said President Nelson.
After adding mortar to the stone, President Nelson invited other Church leaders and two children — Agustin Escobar, 5, and Lilieth Rojas, 5 — to do the same.
Vania Petit, Lilieth’s mother, could not see her child or the prophet through the cornerstone crowd. But then she saw her child’s image in the viewfinder of a video camera. “I started crying,” she said. “The most important thing to me is family. That is why the temple is so important to me, because it is about family.”
A magnificent temple
Months after the temple was announced for Concepcion, a magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck Chile, triggering a tsunami and generating a blackout that impacted 93 percent of the country’s population.
Luis E. Fuentes, local temple committee chair, said the new temple exceeds building standards in Chile and is constructed on a floating foundation. Inside the temple, for example, a 10-magnitude earthquake would feel more like a 2-magnitude earthquake, he said.
On the eve of the dedication, President Nelson met with Chilean community and political leaders, who called the new temple a symbol of the larger impact of the Church in their country — where there are 584,654 members, 77 stakes, 10 missions and now the two temples. The Santiago Chile Temple was dedicated on Sept. 15, 1983.
President Nelson said it is his calling to reach out to those members in Chile and South America and across the world.
“This is a global ministry. We are prophets for the whole world, all of God’s children, not just the members of the Church,” he said.
With more than 200 countries in the world, the five President Nelson and Elder Stevenson visited on this tour in South America seems like a “small drop in the bucket.”
Still, President Nelson said he will embark on another ministry tour soon.
“We will get around, but we will still miss more than we will touch,” said President Nelson. “But we will try. We won’t give up just because it is a big job.”