In 1925, three leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — Elder Melvin J. Ballard, Elder Rey L. Pratt and Elder Rulon S. Wells — embarked on a 34-day journey, by land and sea, from Salt Lake City to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Of the trip, President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the grandson of Elder Melvin J. Ballard, said: “My grandfather went out into the streets of Argentina. They did not have a great harvest. They did not see the people flock into the Church by any means.”
Instead, they found an apartment to rent and went to work.
On Christmas Day of 1925, in the park of Tres de Febrero in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Elder Melvin J. Ballard dedicated South America for the preaching of the gospel.
“Bless the presidents, governors and the leading officials of these South American countries, that they may kindly receive us and give us permission to open the doors of salvation to the people of these lands,” he prayed.
Early in the mission, Elder Wells became ill and had to return to Salt Lake City. Elder Ballard and Elder Pratt remained, walking the streets of Buenos Aires passing out handbills about the Restoration of the gospel; their efforts resulted in a single conversion.
Then on July 4, 1926, as Elder Ballard was preparing to return to Utah, he spoke about the future of the Church in South America. From his office in Salt Lake City, President Ballard read his grandfather’s prophecy: “The work of the Lord will grow slowly for a time here just as an oak grows slowly from an acorn. It will not shoot up in a day as does the sunflower that grows quickly and then dies. But thousands will join the Church here. It will be divided into more than one mission and will be one of the strongest in the Church. … The South American Mission will be a power in the Church.”
During a recent visit to South America, President Russell M. Nelson spoke of the early missionaries, who “didn’t feel very successful. In fact they finished their visit here feeling rather down that they didn’t get much done.” And President Nelson spoke of the Church today in South America. “It is not just numbers, it is strength, it is power, it is faith,” said President Nelson.
A power and a strength
Indeed, more than nine decades since that inspired prophecy, South America is a power in the Church. Latter-day Saint membership on the continent numbers 4,076,054, with 692 stakes, 4,178 wards, 95 missions and 18 operating temples, according to Church statistics. Since 1970, more than 187,000 missionaries have served in South America.
At the time of the historic dedicatory prayer, President Nelson was 15 months old.
“The Church is relatively young here in South America,” said President Nelson. “Ninety years ago, nothing. … And now … we saw four-generation families.”
One of those families is Eduardo and Jeanet Echevarria Risso. “Our posterity is our most important thing,” said Eduardo Risso. “It is our joy.”
The family, who came into the Church in 1973, has a tradition of missionary work. “We are so proud of our children,” said Risso, noting their first goal for their posterity was Church activity.