From missionary to Apostle: Building the Church in northern Argentina

Elder Christofferson to dedicate temple in Salta, where he served as a young missionary in the mid-1960s

From full-time missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the mid-1960s to a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles today, Elder D. Todd Christofferson had made major contributions in helping build and grow the Church in northern Argentina — particularly in the city and province of Salta.

As a missionary in the Argentina North Mission, he helped figuratively build the Church by teaching and converting, and he helped literally build the Church’s first meetinghouse in Salta as missionaries often assisted in construction projects then with new meetinghouses.

His “building” efforts take on a new, deeper and eternal nature when Elder Christofferson dedicates the new Salta Argentina Temple on Sunday, June 16.

Two missionaries in Argentina in 1965.
Full-time missionaries Elder D. Todd Christofferson, left, and Elder Glen Willardson are photographed in Salta, Argentina, in 1965. | Provided by Elder D. Todd Christofferson

Arriving in Argentina

As a young man, Elder Christofferson began his missionary service by traveling from his home in New Jersey to the old Salt Lake Mission Home — located where the Conference Center sits today. He was set apart by Elder Antoine R. Ivins of the First Council of the Seventy, with nearly a week of basic missionary training followed by three months of language training in Provo, Utah, at the old Language Training Mission.

Then it was off to Argentina for two years, with his group leaving Utah to collect visas at the consulate in New York City and then continue a series of flights to Miami, Florida; Panama City, Panama; Lima, Peru; Antofagasta and Santiago, Chile; Mendoza, Argentina; and at last to Córdoba, the mission’s headquarters.

“We were dead tired at that point,” Elder Christofferson recalled during a Church News interview on his Argentina arrival. “And they wanted to feed us great Argentine beef, but we were not in a condition to appreciate it.”

That was December 1964, just two weeks before Christmas would be celebrated with fireworks in the warm, south-of-the-Equator weather.

The relatively new Argentina North Mission covered about half of the country, with Elder Christofferson serving in the provinces of Tucumán, Salta, Corrientes, Córdoba and Santa Fe. He remembers needing six months before feeling comfortable with the Spanish language and the Argentine culture. “But people were so friendly and welcoming, particularly members of the Church, that I felt at home and happy to be where I was.”

His mission was a time where he deepened and continued to confirm his testimony while working and being anxiously engaged, he said, with studying the Book of Mormon in Spanish opening new understandings and insights.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, right, as a missionary.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, right, as a full-time missionary serving in Villa María, Córdoba, Argentina, in 1966. | Provided by Elder D. Todd Christofferson

‘A wonderful association’

Elder Christofferson started his mission under the leadership of President Ronald V. Stone and his wife, Sister Patricia Stone. Seven months later, a leadership change brought in President Richard G. Scott and Sister Jeanene Scott.

Elder Christofferson still remembers first meeting the new mission president, who would later be called as a Church General Authority Seventy in 1977 and as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1988. It was a path Elder Christofferson would follow.

President Scott arrived in Corrientes to conduct one-on-one interviews with the eight missionaries on the porch of the house they used as a chapel at the time.

“I look back on that, and I think, ‘Who would have ever guessed’ — certainly not I — ‘that there were two future Apostles sitting down together, meeting for the first time?’” Elder Christofferson mused. “One the president, one a missionary, the beginning of a lifetime, almost, of association, a wonderful association and friendship.”

He added: “Those were wonderful experiences, just drinking in the Spirit, learning from each other. The association with each other, the instruction from the mission president, his wife, and just to have a closer association with them, with Elder and Sister Scott, were fortifying, spiritually and otherwise.”

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 2009.
The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 2009. Elder Richard G. Scott is back row at left; Elder D. Todd Christofferson is back row second from the right. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

That wonderful association continued after their mission service, as both resided in the Washington D.C. Stake for several years before Elder Scott’s call as a general authority. It resumed with Elder Christofferson’s serving as a General Authority Seventy beginning in 1993, although the two had only a few assignments together when he was in the Seventy.

Both served as Apostles together after Elder Christofferson’s call in 2008. “It is a sweet thing just to look over, see your former mission president sitting in the quorum,” he said of Elder Scott, “and I hope he felt the same. I think he did.”

On Sept. 22, 2015, Elder Christofferson accompanied then-Elder Russell M. Nelson to Elder Scott’s home to give the dying leader a final blessing. “I assumed Elder Nelson would give him the blessing, but he asked me to do it because of that relationship, I am sure. And then he passed away a few hours later.”

Elder D. Todd Christofferson visits with Elder Richard G. Scott.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, left front, visits with Elder Richard G. Scott as both members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles pause after a general conference session. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Returning to Argentina

Nearly four decades following his missionary service in Argentina and after his marriage, education, family career and call as a General Authority Seventy, Elder Christofferson finally returned to Argentina, accompanying then-Elder Nelson to a multistake conference in Buenos Aires, the nation’s capital.

His first participation in temple-milestone events in Argentina came in 2012, when he and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles accompanied President Henry B. Eyring, then the first counselor in the First Presidency, for the rededication of the Buenos Aires Argentina Temple.

General Authorities at the Buenos Aires Argentina Temple rededication in 2012.
General authorities who participated in the 2012 rededication of the Buenos Aires Argentina Temple included, from left, Elder William R. Walker, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, President Henry B. Eyring, Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Mervyn B. Arnold. | Jason Swensen

Two temple dedications have followed since — the first in 2015, when he accompanied then-President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor of the First Presidency, to dedicate the Córdoba Argentina Temple, location just a stone’s throw from the old Argentina North Mission home and office, where Elder Christofferson had lived and served. The current Argentina Córdoba Mission home and office sit on the same site today.

“I was thrilled to see that the temple president was a man who had been a young man in Santa Fe [province in Argentina] when I was a missionary there,” he said. “He was a teenager, and he had gone out with us from time to time on missionary splits to visit and teach, and now he was there as the temple president. That was quite a reunion.”

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Elder D. Todd Christofferson during the cornerstone ceremony of the Cordoba Argentina Temple in 2015.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, far left, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson, far right, enjoy a light-hearted moment during the cornerstone ceremony of the Córdoba Argentina Temple in 2015. | Church News archives

And the second comes this weekend, the June 16 dedication of the Salta Argentina Temple in the second city of Elder Christofferson’s mission service. When he was there, Salta was home to a branch, with no Church-constructed building being used. He later in his mission attended the dedication of the first chapel in Salta.

And now, nearly 60 years later, he’ll preside at the temple dedication, with Elder Christofferson humbled by the responsibility of pronouncing the dedicatory prayer.

As he speaks of Salta and his mission, memories come flooding back — being one of eight missionaries helping move a member’s adobe home brick by brick to the back of the property on a preparation day, becoming a capable teacher and a fluent Spanish speaker, and meeting converts he helped teach as a missionary who years later expressed heartfelt gratitude.

The Salta Argentina Temple.
The Salta Argentina Temple. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“Now, I think of coming back these years later, having been at the dedication of the first chapel, now to be there for the dedication of the temple,” he said. “I wish I had greater faith and foresight to have seen that moment back in those days, but what a wonderful thing to live long enough to see that transition and the progress of the Lord’s kingdom, all day-to-day invisible to us.”

He added: “It just says to me, again, it is the Lord’s work. He is making it happen. He is doing the work, for the most part. We get to help around the edges.”

Self-counsel from Apostle to missionary

If he could go back in time, what would Elder Christofferson the Apostle of today tell Elder Christofferson the young full-time missionary serving in northern Argentina in the mid-1960s?

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, right, as a full-time missionary in Córdova, Argentina, in 1966.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, right, as a full-time missionary in Córdoba, Argentina, in 1966. | Provided by Elder D. Todd Christofferson

One thing I would say is: ‘Don’t ever be discouraged. You don’t see things unfolding that are unfolding. You don’t see what the Lord is putting in place. And the people, the key people and the key moments that are happening — you are not cognizant of all of that going on in the moment,’” said Elder Christofferson.

“I would say to myself, ‘Have the faith that the Lord is doing His work and can do His work, and that your part of it can be helpful, and more will come of what you are doing than you perhaps imagine, or certainly more than you can see right now.’”

Elder Christofferson added to his self-counsel: “Enjoy this privilege, this work. It will have satisfaction well beyond anything you can imagine, in big ways and small ways. … Enjoy that, have satisfaction in it, but have the faith to have a broader view that what is a little branch today will be a ward and then a stake and that there will be a temple here.

“Things are going to happen even while you are still alive, let alone what comes afterwards. So enjoy it. Have faith and enjoy it.”

Elder D. Todd Christofferson and his wife, Sister Kathy Christofferson, arrive for the 2015 dedication of the Cordoba Argentina Temple.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson and his wife, Sister Kathy Christofferson, arrive for the 2015 dedication of the Córdoba Argentina Temple. | Church News archives
Related Stories
Church News podcast episode 191: Elder Christofferson reflects on his own mission to Argentina and on returning to South America to dedicate the Salta Argentina Temple
Church News Almanac: Salta Argentina Temple
Church of Jesus Christ opens Salta Argentina Temple to media, public tours
Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed