For Latter-day Saints in Argentina and across the South American continent, the Ballard family and the Christmas season are sacredly linked.
Almost a century ago, on Christmas Day in 1925, Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited a park in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and dedicated all of South America for the preaching of the gospel.
During his labors in Argentina, the Apostle envisioned a day “when [South America] will be a power in the Church.”
Today, Elder Ballard’s prophecy is realized anew each time a Peruvian or Brazilian steps into the waters of baptism or worships inside one of the many temples that dot the continent.
On Saturday, Dec. 12, Latter-day Saints in Argentina and beyond once again gathered to hear the prophetic words of another latter-day Apostle named Ballard — President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Melvin J. Ballard’s grandson.
Speaking via Zoom from Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, President Ballard shared Christmas greetings and practical counsel with participants of the Latter-day Saints South America Seminar 2020.
He was joined at the virtual gathering by Elder Mark A. Bragg, a General Authority Seventy who recently served in the South America South Area Presidency.
President Ballard acknowledged the past year has been a rough year for many. It continues to be so.
“But if you have the gospel deep in your heart, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Whatever happens, you can withstand it. Why? Because you are a son or a daughter of God and He loves you. He will watch over you. Things may be hard, but you know who you are — and that gives you the courage to try and do the right things for the right reasons.”
President Ballard is no stranger to Argentina and nations of South America. He has frequently visited the continent on ecclesiastical assignments. The 92-year-old said he hopes he can enjoy at least one more trip to the region when the COVID-19 pandemic has been resolved.
He spoke of his grandfather’s historic service in Argentina at a time when there were few Spanish-language teaching materials. The Book of Mormon had yet to be formally translated, so he and his associates learned to be resourceful in sharing the gospel. They were fueled by their obedience and faith.
“My grandfather started the work of the Lord in South America through that humble dedicatory prayer that he pronounced at the direction of the president of the Church,” said President Ballard.
As prophesied by Elder Ballard decades ago, the Church in South America has become “like a mighty oak” whose roots run deep and sure.
President Ballard encouraged his audience Saturday to share his grandfather’s prophetic experiences with their loved ones as part of their Christmas observances. “Tell them what a wonderful blessing it is that President Heber J. Grant — the president of the Church — sent one of his Apostles to Argentina to dedicate all the lands of South America.”
For Elder Melvin J. Ballard, traveling from Salt Lake City to Buenos Aires “was no easy task.” The Apostle boarded trains and ships to make his way to Argentina. The trip required several weeks, but his gospel-driven sacrifices bless South America to this day.
During the Christmas season, President Ballard often reads the New Testament account of Thomas, one of Christ’s original Apostles. Thomas was not present when the resurrected Jesus initially appeared to His disciples. Thomas, of course, doubted their miraculous account of His visit. He could not accept that the Lord had actually risen from the dead.
Eight days later, they were again visited by Jesus Christ. The Lord invited Thomas to feel the nail prints in His hands and the mark on His side — “and be not faithless, but believing.” (John 20:27).
Lessons of belief that Thomas learned that day apply to all the Savior’s followers today, said President Ballard. “We believe that Jesus is the Christ. … You don’t have to be an Apostle to absolutely know.”
The Apostle encouraged his virtual listeners to fortify their belief in Christ by living His commandments, partaking of the sacrament every Sunday and sharing the Book of Mormon with friends and loved ones.
The visitation of the Lord and His Father to young Joseph Smith, he added, opened up the last dispensation, ushering in the Restoration of the gospel. “What a treasure it is, brothers and sisters, to know that Jesus Christ, in the presence of our Heavenly Father, appeared to a boy 200 years ago.”
President Ballard also testified of the Savior and His atoning sacrifice. He pronounced a blessing upon Saturday’s participants, “that the power of Jesus Christ will penetrate your hearts, minds and homes in such a way that you will find the joy and peace and happiness that comes from those who believe.”
Never pass an opportunity to repent, President Ballard said.
“Strive to live the teachings of Jesus,” he said. “And when you make a mistake, which you will, be quick to repent and stay on the covenant path that President Russell M. Nelson talks about. … It is the path back to the presence of the Father and the Son.”
In his remarks Saturday, Elder Bragg spoke of his gratitude for the South American Latter-day Saints.
Their “great foundation” of growth, he said, continues to be built across the continent.
“As you are serving and loving and reaching out, one by one, you will bless all of South America, and you will be instruments in the Lord’s hand to fulfill the prophecy that was so beautifully articulated by Elder Melvin J. Ballard.”