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Elder Ronald A. Rasband, left, delivers keynote speech on religious freedom at a religious symposium in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The event was attended by delegates from across Latin America.

Latter-day Saints across South America can draw great strength from a rich regional Church history of devotion and remarkable growth. But the continent’s “golden years” are not relegated to history books. South America’s best years are yet to come.

That was the hopeful message delivered by Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during his recent assignment (Nov. 9 – Nov. 20) to the South America South Area.

Elder Rasband and Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy visited each of the area’s four nations (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) and ministered to tens of thousands of members in person or via a series of live, interactive gatherings broadcast via social media.

The visiting Brethren also met with prominent government and religious leaders in each nation, fortifying friendships that have been built over decades. Elder Rasband also delivered a keynote address on religious freedom at a religion symposium in Argentina attended by religious and governmental leaders from across Latin America.

“It was as busy a trip as I've had in a long time,” said Elder Rasband, who supervises the South America South Area with Elder Christensen. “We were able to connect with a lot of people and get deep into the area.”

Elder Christensen said each of the many gatherings with members and local leaders offered Elder Rasband opportunities to extend President Thomas S. Monson’s love and gratitude for the South American people.

“That had a unifying effect among the people,” he said. “It was amazing to watch.”

Elder Christensen was accompanied by his wife, Sister Debbie Christensen. They were also joined at various stops in their tour by members of the South America South Area Presidency — Elder José A. Teixeira, Elder Allan F. Packer and Elder Mark A. Bragg, General Authority Seventies, and their wives.

A bright future for a Church stronghold

Elder Rasband and Elder Christensen agree that the highlight of their recent visit was being among the local Latter-day Saints. The Brethren met with missionaries and members in a variety of events including missionary meetings, stake conferences and Priesthood Leadership Conferences.

They also participated in separate, area-wide broadcasts for youth, young single adults and a training meeting for stake and ward councils. Tens of thousands of members in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay “connected” with the Brethren in the three broadcasts in person and via social media.

Members across the area are tech-savvy and enjoy utilizing social media, said Elder Rasband.

“The people were thirsty and anxious to interact with us,” he added. “We were able to project ourselves in a live manner to these three different audiences. It was an amazing experience.”

The live broadcasts were interactive, allowing members from across the area to ask questions of the General Authorities and local participants. In each meeting, they counseled together and discussed ways that members can find happiness, serve one another and, most importantly, strengthen their relationship with the Savior.

Elder Rasband often reminded the members that their best days are ahead.

In the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion, for example, he referenced President Ezra Taft Benson’s 1979 dedicatory prayer of Paraguay. President Benson prophesied that “hundreds of thousands” would join the Church in Paraguay. That has not yet happened — so the Paraguayan members remain active participants in the fulfillment of that prophecy. That vision is still being fulfilled. They can realize President Benson's prophecy by living the commandments and sharing the gospel with others.

Increasing faith across the area

In Buenos Aires, Elder Rasband presided over the annual review of the South America South Area.

He and Elder Christensen focused on the Area Plan designed to help Latter-day Saints draw closer to their Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Every member in the area has a copy of the plan that focuses on three action items: First, emphasizing family history work and temple worship. Second, becoming spiritually and temporally self-reliant. And third, finding joy in keeping the Sabbath Day holy.

Following a Nov. 16 devotional for area Church employees, the Brethren and the Area Presidency visited the Parque Tres de Febrero & Bonpland in Buenos Aires where, on Christmas Day in 1925, Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated all of South America for the preaching of the gospel. A plaque near the temple grounds commemorates Elder Ballard’s dedicatory prayer and the beginnings of the Church in South America. Since that time, each country has been dedicated. The last one, Argentina, was dedicated by Elder Ballard’s grandson, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, on Feb. 21, 2014.

Elder Rasband and Elder Christensen observed several “relics” from that memorable day in 1925 — including the glass cups used in a sacrament service held that day.

Building friendships

Elder Rasband and Elder Christensen had opportunities to visit with key civic and religious leaders across the region.

Highlights included meetings with Uruguayan Vice President Raul F. Sendic; Paraguayan Senator Emilia Alfaro and her husband, former Paraguayan president Federico Franco; Asuncion Archbishop Edmundo Valenzuela; and Argentina’s Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra.

Each visit was marked by warmth and signaled the Church’s long-established friendships in South America. Such meetings also helped build understanding of how the Church operates throughout the world. In the visit with Foreign Minister Malcorra, for example, Elder Rasband spoke about the key role of the Relief Society.

“She wanted to know all about the Relief Society. We told her it was the largest women’s organization in the world and that it was currently focusing on the refugee issue.”

Elder Rasband’s keynote address at a Nov. 9 inter-religious symposium, in Buenos Aires, advocated religious liberties, tolerance and the fundamental right of freedom of conscience. The speech was “well received” and enjoyed positive press coverage.

jswensen@deseretnews.com @JNSwensen

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