Growing up in the 90’s it was easy to look at the numbers of Latter-Day Saints in Mexico and assume that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had been in the area and prospering for a long time. The road from the first missionaries sent to Mexico to where the church is now in Mexico, is an amazing story with many miracles along the way.
First Latter-Day Saint Missionaries in Mexico
The first recorded of missionaries in Mexico was in 1874. President Brigham Young called Daniel W. Jones and Henry Brizzee on a mission to Mexico. In 1875 Jones and others entered Mexico through El Paso. The missionaries had a twofold purpose: to preach the gospel and to look for possible colonization sites. In 1879 Church leaders assigned Elder Moses Thatcher of the Quorum of the Twelve to open a mission in Mexico. In Mexico City on January 25, 1880, Moses Thatcher dedicated the land for the preaching of the gospel.
Latter-Day Saint Colonies in Mexico
In the United States in 1874 the Saints were under persecution for their practice of polygamy, and they were looking for a safe place to be unharmed by the government. A group of Saint left Utah and settled in Northern Mexico, very close to the boarded of the United States. These Saints created colonies of members outside of the United States, in case the problems with the United States government became unbearable the members had a place to go.
The Mexican colonies provided a place of safety for many Saints. Over 3,000 pioneers made their way to Mexico to start anew. The areas of Mexico where these faithful families settled came with very hard conditions. With primitive conditions, lack of water, epidemics and many other problems the Saints struggled to get things going in Mexico. Their hard work and dedication paid off and within a few years they had eight colonies established in Mexico.
In 1885, Colonias Diaz, Juarez, and Pacheco were in Chihuahua
1888, Colonia Dublan.
1894, Colonias Garcia, Chichupa.
1892, Colonia Oaxaca in Sonora Mexico.
1899, Colonia Morelos
There were three apostles instumental in setting up these new colonies in Mexico: Moses Thatcher, George Teasdale, and Erastus Snow. Elder Thatcher told the Saints that they were a people of destiny with a promising future.
The Mexican colonies began to thrive. Many of the people spoke of what a blessing it was to grow up in the colonies. The hardships built a strong, resilient people.
Latter-Day Saint Schools in Mexico
In the late 1800’s the Church had begun to establish schools around the country and the world. Beginning with the Brigham Young Academy in Provo, Utah, the Church had established about thirty high school academies throughout the world. In the Mexican Colonies The Church started the school named: The Juarez Stake Academy in Colonia Juarez. This school is still open and running today. It is the last of the churches high schools to survive, it was established in 1897.
With the school up and running, the town prospering the Saints of the Colonies were in a pretty good spot, but this would change again. In 1910 The Mexican Revolution had broke out and it was not safe for the families to live there anymore. Although the colonies to be ”neutral” in the war, ultimately it did not matter, and it was not safe for the families, and they had to leave their homes and colonies. Most of the people went to Texas, hoping to wait out the troubles, but it was many years before it was safe for the Colonies to start again.
After the troubles of war had subsided only about a “third of the original colonists returned to begin anew. They were only able to reestablish five of the original eight colonies. Isolation, transportation difficulties, and the lack of schools eventually caused all but two of the colonies to be abandoned. By the mid-twentieth century, only Colonia Juárez and Colonia Dublán remained as viable agricultural communities, and these two continued as strong centers of Latter-day Saint activity.”
Even with small numbers returning from the Mexican War, the Latter-Day Saint colonies began to thrive again. The colonies schools were very important to the communities, but in the 1980’s the Church announced that it was closing the church run elementary schools in Mexico. The Saints of the colonies were willing to assume the large financial responsibility to keep the elementary schools in Colonia Dublan and Colonia Juarez. Some Saints from different parts of Mexico moved their families to the colonies to give their children the opportunity for better education.
Although, The Church stopped financially supporting the elementary schools of the colonies, they still supported the secondary level school, called Juarez Stake Academy. Over time they changed the name to Academia Juarez. Something awesome about the Church schools: the curriculum taught in these schools was also incorporated with the Mexican government education system!
Academia Juarez is one of the original academies established by the Church during the nineteenth that still serves it’s original function. This school is directly related to how more temples came to be in the country of Mexico.
There have been many wonderful people that graduated from The Academia Juarez school! In the 1997 celebration they said they taught hundred of missionaries, three area Seventies, thirteen regional representatives, more than eighty mission presidents and eight temple presidents.
President Hinckley’s Visit To The Mexican Colonies
In 1997 there were three huge celebrations in the Colonies: the founding the the first stake in Mexico, the founding of the colonies and 100 years of the Colonia Juarez Academy. The Colonia Juarez Academy celebration was the celebration that changed everything.
President Hinckley went down to the Latter-Day Saint Colonies Mexico for these three important celebrations. It was on his third trip, to the area, he received the revelation that changed how temples are built.
President Hinckley said he was very impressed with the Saints of the colonies. He was impressed with the missionary force that have come from this area and the Colonia Juarez School.
President Hinckley’s Temple Revelation
It appears that President Hinckley was very pensive and prayerful during his visit to the Colonies. He was trying to solve the problem on how to get temples to more people, especially in smaller areas, like the Colonies in Mexico.
During these trips to the Colonies President Hinckley stayed at the home of Marion Romney.
Marion Romney said this about President Hinckley demeanor during the third trip: “Before going in the house,” President Hinckley “spent an hour outside walking around looking out over the valley. He remarked on how much the people of the colonies had contributed to the growth of the Church throughout the world—especially in Mexico,” President Romney remembered.
President Hinckley said this at the Celebration of the Academia, to the Saints of the Colonies:
“This is the greatest era in the history of the Church and in the world for temple building. I would like to see the time come when all of our people throughout the world could get to a temple without too much inconvenience. I think you are about as far away as anybody, and I don’t quite know what to do about you. There aren’t enough of you to justify a temple. Now, if you’d multiply the membership here and get about twenty thousand members of the Church here, or thirty thousand, we’d build a beautiful temple. That’s a challenge for you. You may decide it is easier to keep going to Mesa.”
The problem of getting the temples to more people was obviously weighing on the prophet more and more as he spent more time in the colonies. He mentioned the idea many times during his three trips to the colonies, it seemed like he couldn’t get it off of his mind.
When all the festivities were over and President Hinckley was on his way home to the airport with President Romney this is was President Romney recalled:
‘Immediately following the meeting, President Romney had the privilege of driving the prophet back to the airport in El Paso. “On the way into Mexico, President Hinckley was sitting beside me in the front seat and was quite talkative,” President Romney noted. “However, on the way back he sat in the back seat and seemed to be resting and meditating. He commented several times on how impressed he was with the people at the fireside, the musical numbers presented, and the sweet spirit that was there. He also commented on the graduating class.”’
These are President Hinckley’s words about the revelation he received in answer to his prayers:
“As we were riding to El Paso, I reflected on what we could do to help these people in the Church colonies in Mexico. They’ve been so very faithful over the years. They’ve kept the faith. They’ve gone on missions in large numbers. These stakes have produced very many mission presidents who served faithfully and well. They’ve been the very epitome of faithfulness. And yet they’ve had to travel all the way to Mesa, Arizona, to go to a temple. . . . I thought of these things and what could be done. The concept of . . . smaller temples came into my mind. I concluded we didn’t need the laundry. We didn’t need to rent temple clothing. We didn’t need eating facilities. These have been added for the convenience of the people but are not necessary [for the temple ordinances].” President Hinckley noted that a smaller temple could be built more quickly and yet include all the essential facilities needed for temple ordinances. After boarding the airplane, he recalled, “I took a piece of paper” and “sketched out the [floor] plan, and turned it over to the architects to refine it.” He concluded, “The concept is beautiful. It’s a very workable concept.”
At a regional conference at Chihuahua City on March 13, 1998, President Hinckley also spoke of his experience following the visit to Colonia Juárez, “There came to my mind an idea I’d never thought of before. It was inspired of the Lord to build a temple there, a small one, very small, six thousand square feet with facilities.” The President emphasized that “every faithful member needs access to the house of the Lord. The gospel is not complete without the ordinances of the temple.”Later, in the temple’s dedicatory prayer, the prophet specifically used the word “revelation” to describe the source of the small temples concept. “It was here in northern Mexico, that Thou didst reveal the idea and the plan of a smaller temple, complete in every necessary detail, but suited in size to the needs and circumstances of the Church membership in this area of Thy vineyard. That revelation came of a desire and a prayer to help Thy people of these colonies who have been true and loyal during the century and more that they have lived here. They are deserving of this sacred edifice in which to labor for themselves and their forebears.”
Small Temple Announcement
President Hinckley was at the Colonies celebrations in June, only a week later he called President Romney and informed him of plans to build a temple in the colonies! In the October general conference session, only four months later President Hinckley announced the building of three small temples in Monticello Utah, Anchorage Alaska and in Colonia Juarez Mexico! The members all over the world were elated with the news!
President Samuel Cluff of the Chihuahua Mexico Mission said this of the new temple announcement:
“I was grateful to the Lord for answering our faith and prayers and was totally amazed that it happened so soon,” reflected President Cluff, “because we thought we had to baptize thousands of people before it could happen. I was very excited because I love the colonies and the people who live there. I am so grateful for the wonderful upbringing which I received in that sacred place.”
Temple Dot The Earth
The ability for every member to have access to a Temple of the Lord weighed on President Hinckley’s mind for years. He pondered and prayed seeking revelation on how to help people that live in small areas have better access to Temples of the Lord. Heavenly Father reveled the “small Temple” idea to the prophet at the right time for all the pieces to fall into place.