By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
Almost nine decades have passed since Elder Melvin J. Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gathered with a small group in a park in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and dedicated South America for the preaching of the gospel.
The year was 1925. Only a handful of members from Europe could be counted in all of South America. Yet after eight months there, Elder Ballard—an ordained prophet and seer—envisioned a prolific future for the Church across the entire continent:
“The work [in South America] will go forth slowly for a time just as the oak grows slowly from an acorn. It will not shoot up in a day as does the sunflower that grows quickly and thus dies. Thousands will join here. It will be divided into more than one mission and will be one of the strongest in the Church. The work here is the smallest that it will ever be. The day will come when the Lamanites here in South America will get the chance. The South American Mission will become a power in the Church.”
The ongoing fulfillment of Elder Melvin J. Ballard’s prophecy remains one of the miracles of the restored Church. Today there are some 4.5 million members living in South America. Fourteen temples operate on all ends of the continent—from Caracas to Buenos Aires—and several more are being built.
And as prophesied, there are scores of missions and stakes in the nations of South America.
“The day of the sons and daughters of Lehi is blossoming,” said Elder M. Russell Ballard, a grandson of Elder Melvin J. Ballard. “They will become even more prominent in the world as we watch what the Lord is doing with that seed.”
The younger Elder Ballard has been a frequent visitor to Argentina and to all of South America. He recently returned for a February 13–24 visit to the South America South Area.
He was joined on his trip by his wife, Sister Barbara Ballard, along with Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Melanie Rasband.
While in southern South America, Elder Ballard and Elder Rasband presided at a variety of gatherings, including priesthood leadership conferences, stake conferences, missionary meetings, a seminar for mission presidents and their wives, a young single adult devotional, and a meeting with local Area Seventies.
They were joined at several functions by the South America South Area Presidency: Elder Walter F. González, Elder Jorge F. Zeballos, and Elder Francisco J. Viñas and their wives, Sister Zulma González, Sister Carmen Zeballos, and Sister Cristina Viñas.
Joined with local leaders and their wives, and at the direction of the First Presidency, Elder Ballard dedicated the land of Argentina and promised a blessing on the country. Although there may have been an Apostle’s earlier dedication, there is no record of such in the Church. Elder Ballard said, “It was a great honor for me to dedicate and record a blessing for Argentina, a very special place for all of the Ballard family.”
It has been 89 years since Elder Melvin J. Ballard labored in Argentina; however, the Ballard family name remains respected and loved across the continent, said Elder Rasband.
“To see that grandfather/grandson connection was very moving,” he added. “I was able to watch the eyes of the people as they paid close attention to whatever Elder Ballard said. It was a wonderful connection.”
Much has changed since Melvin J. Ballard visited Argentina. His travels from Salt Lake City to Buenos Aires demanded more than 30 days on a ship. Now an Apostle can fly from Church headquarters to Argentina in less than a day.
“The one advantage they had was time to study, write, and ponder,” said Elder Ballard. “We get [to South America] so fast that we don’t have time to do anything but work.”
“I’m not sure who has the best deal,” he added with a smile.
The blessings of today’s advancements extend beyond speedy travel. When Elder Melvin J. Ballard was in Argentina he met with small groups of people in rented halls. During the recent South American trip, Elder Ballard and the other General Authorities were able to deliver their messages to tens of thousands of members gathered across Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay.
The Brethren “met” with some 15,000 young single adults gathered in 250 broadcast locations, thanks to modern technology and the Church satellite system. Another area-wide meeting for priesthood holders reached an audience of 24,000 men scattered across four countries.
Despite the diversity of their varied congregations, Elder Ballard and the other General Authorities focused on a singular message: hastening the work of salvation.
“The point of our training was to help bond the Church leadership—particularly the stake and ward councils and priesthood quorums—to the full-time missionaries,” said Elder Ballard.
The day of rank-and-file members not accepting ownership of missionary work is over, he added. “We did all we could to help build up the members to help the full-time missionaries find, teach, and baptize many more of God’s children.”
Elder Rasband said Elder Ballard was very focused on the topic of hastening the work.
“This is the focus of the Church and the focus of the prophet,” he added. “We were there to add an exclamation point to it.”v
The Apostle also taught in the various meetings about the importance of strengthening individual families, wards, and branches by touching the lives of the members, one by one. “The greatest protection that anyone can have for the days ahead is a witness and a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Elder González said the visiting brethren boosted both the spirits of the members and the work itself. “The emphasis given by Elder Ballard to hasten the work of salvation [through increased missionary work] was a blessing to motivate everyone to work together in our efforts to baptize, retain, and reactivate.”
While in Argentina, Elder Ballard and Elder Rasband visited the Buenos Aires Argentina Temple and the construction site of the future Cordoba Argentina Temple. Elder Ballard and Elder Zeballos also met with Cordoba Catholic Bishop Pedro Javier Torres at his residence.
“He is a good friend and was very cordial with us,” said Elder Ballard.
This recent visit to Chile and Argentina reaffirmed that the prophecy of Elder Melvin J. Ballard is being fulfilled through all of South America.