Missionaries at Mexico City visitors’ center thriving despite COVID-19 disruptions

Operations at the Mexico City Temple Visitors’ Center temporarily ceased a day before the infamously foreboding ides of March.

On March 14, the beloved facility — some called it the “junior companion” of the neighboring Mexico City Mexico Temple — was closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The abrupt change was felt immediately.

For one, the visitors’ center doors were temporarily shut to the thousands of people who walk each week through its peaceful, gospel-anchored galleries and exhibitions. 

The Mexico City Mexico Temple anchors a sprawling campus in Mexican capital that includes the neighboring Mexico City Mexico Temple Visitors' Center. The temple began limited operations on Aug. 24, 2020, following months of closure.
The Mexico City Mexico Temple anchors a sprawling campus in Mexican capital that includes the neighboring Mexico City Mexico Temple Visitors’ Center. The temple began limited operations on Aug. 24, 2020, following months of closure. Credit: Ravell Call, Deseret News

And, sadly, more than half of the sister missionaries and senior couples assigned to welcome and accompany visitors at the center had to return to their home countries — including those from the United States and Central and South America.

The pandemic marked an unwelcome farewell for all whose assignments at the center were cut unexpectedly short.

“The Mexico City Temple Visitors’ Center, for me, is an extension of the temple where people can feel peace,” said Sister Tania Vieira, a Paraguayan missionary who served at the center earlier this year.

Every corner of the center “testifies of Jesus Christ,” added Sister Erika Garcia, a Nicaraguan native who returned to her homeland when the pandemic reached the Americas.

Elder Terry F. Calton, who directs the Mexico City Temple Visitors’ Center, knows first-hand the power found inside any of the Church’s dedicated visitors’ centers. The convert still remembers feeling the Spirit for the first time while visiting the Los Angeles Temple Visitors’ Center decades ago.

A view of displays at the Mexico City Temple Visitors’ Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Mexico's rich Latter-day Saint history is celebrated at the visitor's center.
A view of displays at the Mexico City Temple Visitors’ Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Mexico’s rich Latter-day Saint history is celebrated at the visitor’s center. Credit: Ravell Call, Deseret News

“And I know that if the walls of the Mexico City visitors’ center could talk,” he said, “they would tell plenty of other conversion stories.”

But despite the pandemic-caused uncertainty and disappointment, the Mexico City Temple Visitors’ Center — and its diminished yet dedicated team of missionaries — have persevered, adapted and thrived.

The facility remains closed to in-person patrons. But the sister missionaries continue to teach “visitors” the lessons of the Restoration and Mexico’s rich Latter-day Saint history via live virtual tours.

Meanwhile, the online teaching center operating inside the visitors’ center keeps the 14 missionaries currently serving at the facility plenty busy. Each day, they field calls from Spanish-speaking visitors from all over the world who have discovered a Church website and are anxious to learn more about the Church.

The Mexico City visitors’ center missionaries “have dug-in, flourished and done all they have been asked to do,” said Elder Calton’s wife and missionary companion, Sister Renita Calton.

The Mexico City Mexico Temple began its Phase 1 reopening on Monday, Aug. 24. The Calton’s expect the neighboring visitors’ center to open its doors, in modified fashion, a week later.

A computer shows a choir of missionaries assigned to the Mexico City Mexico Temple Visitors' Center sing at the conclusion of a virtual tour of the center. Center directors hope to resume limited public tours of the facility by early September, 2020.
A computer shows a choir of missionaries assigned to the Mexico City Mexico Temple Visitors’ Center sing at the conclusion of a virtual tour of the center. Center directors hope to resume limited public tours of the facility by early September, 2020. Credit: Jason Swensen

“There will be limited hours, by appointment, … and we will have sanitizing [measures] in place with people wearing masks,” said Elder Calton. “We will give priority to new converts and people who are being taught by the missionaries.” 

Appointments for missionary-led virtual tours can be arranged by visiting the Mexico City Mexico Temple Visitors’ Center Facebook page.

Despite such restrictions, the missionaries agree it will be a joyful day when people are once again touring the visitors’ center. “We will all be so happy,” said Sister Calton.

They are also grateful for eternal lessons learned every day at the Mexico City Temple Visitors’ Center during a year like no other.

“We know there is a pandemic happening outside, but the Lord knows what we need inside this center,” Sister Guadalupe Montoya of Monterrey, Mexico, told a Church News reporter after hosting a virtual tour. “I’ve learned how to teach online — something I didn’t know before.”