BUENOS AIRES — Located just a few steps from the Buenos Aires Argentina Temple is a monument that celebrates the beginning of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here and throughout the South American continent.
Carved on the face of a flat black stone are the words uttered by LDS Apostle Melvin J. Ballard a short time after he dedicated South America for missionary work on Christmas Day in 1925 in a Buenos Aires park.
"The work will go forth slowly just as the oak grows from an acorn," he said. "(But) the South American Mission will become a power in the Church."
That prophecy has been fulfilled to a remarkable degree. Today, millions of South Americans claim Church membership and temples dot the continent in almost every nation.
Argentines are humbled by their nation's prominent place in Latter-day Saint history. But they are quick to add they are just as enthused for their future. Such excitement was felt Sunday as tens of thousands participated in the rededication of the Buenos Aires temple, which had been closed for three years for renovation.
"The Spirit can be felt throughout the country," said Carlos Fernandez, a convert to the Church who will serve as president of the temple. "There is so much enthusiasm to return to the house of God."
Jan. 17, 1986, will always been considered a sacred date for members here. That was when President Thomas S. Monson, a counselor in the First Presidency at the time, dedicated the nation's first temple. The edifice served the members well for decades. But in 2009 the doors were closed to allow for a major renovation that included adding two new wings to the original building.
That closure meant that many here have gone three years without worshipping inside a temple.
Sunday's rededication marked another key moment of Church history here.
"We have seen the people rededicate their own lives to this temple," said Beatrize Fernandez, who will work with her husband, Carlos, in the temple. "We know of many sacrifices that have been made."
President Henry B. Eying, first counselor in the First Presidency, presided over the rededication and delivered the dedicatory prayer. Joining him was Elder M. Russell Ballard (a grandson of Melvin J. Ballard) and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Also participating were Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy and executive director of the Church's Temple Department, and Elders Mervyn B. Arnold, Jorge F. Zeballos and Francisco J. Vinas of the Seventy and members of the Church's South America South Area presidency.
Scores of Argentine Latter-day Saints attended one of the three rededicatory sessions at the temple. Thousands more viewed the ceremonies in meetinghouses throughout the country via closed circuit broadcasts.
They enjoyed sunny blue skies, a welcome break following several days of rain.
"This is an exciting day, an amazing day, an emotional day," said Buenos Aires resident Claudio Salerno. "The Saints here have been longing for this day for three years. Now, it is here."
The work of building temples continues in this country of some 400,000 members. Construction is under way for Argentina's second temple, the Cordoba Argentina Temple.