Elder Parley P. Pratt’s mission to Chile highlighted a few things that needed to happen in order to successfully establish missions in Spanish-speaking countries.
Oh, beloved brethren! Let us always remember the teachings of the prophets, let us always remember the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ which he brought us in the meridian of time. Let us remember also his exhortations to our people here in the Americas, which are recorded in the Book of Mormon; let us keep watch so that these great treasures which have been left to us will not be buried as they were during the time of the great apostasy. Strive to preserve them, to cultivate them, to convert our families into strong units in Zion.
This is part 3 of a history series in connection with the Mexican Mission Hymns project.
Among the things needed was that, first and foremost, Church literature (most importantly, the Book of Mormon) had to be available in Spanish. Second, religious freedom had to be established in the country to allow the missionaries and converts to operate freely. Third, political stability and a positive relationship with the United States of America (as the native country of most missionaries at the time) were helpful. Decades would pass between his initial efforts in Chile and the first mission to Mexico, but during that time, developments took place that prepared the way for missionaries to see success in Mexico.
Translating the Book of Mormon
As mentioned above, having Church literature available in Spanish (most especially the Book of Mormon) was a key need that Elder Pratt encountered in Chile. In his return speech, he stated that:
Hereafter, when I sit down to study that language until I am prepared to translate the Book of Mormon . . . and then unlock the door of [the] gospel by the ordinances officially conferred [upon] them and administered among them, and place elders in their own tongue with [the] fullness of [the] gospel in hand. . . . When this preparation is commenced, with [the] book in their hands, in their own hands, I consider the key turned as Joseph turned it in our English.
Pratt was unable to complete that translation before his death in 1857, but the way was prepared for a translation.
Melitón González Trejo was an officer in the Spanish military who was well-educated and well-off. At some point in his career, he “heard a fellow officer make a remark about a group of ‘Saints’ in the Rocky Mountains who were led there by a prophet of God.” He became “filled with an urgent desire to see these people” and sought appointment in the Philippines (then a Spanish territory) to move him closer to the United States. While there, he became quite focused on his military appointment, but fell ill and had a dream, “a dream which satisfied him completely and which he always considered exceedingly sacred.” This dream seems to have reaffirmed that he would find answers to his spiritual questions and struggles by meeting the Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, so he made arrangements to travel there and arrived in 1875.
Around this same time, President Brigham Young selected two men that he had heard spoke Spanish to translate the Book of Mormon into that language. Daniel W. Jones and Henry Brizzee both had a basic working knowledge of Spanish from their involvement in the Mexican-American War. Their grasp of the language was too rudimentary for them to feel confident in their ability to translate the Book of Mormon. Fortunately, Brizzee encountered Trejo shortly after the latter arrived in Salt Lake City. Brizzee informed President Young about Trejo and arrangements were made to teach Trejo (who could read but not speak English) the Gospel and baptize him as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Soon, Trejo was recruited to assist in the translation of the Book of Mormon into Spanish. Historian LaMond Tullis explained the miracle of the whole situation:
Trejo was a Spanish Bible reader, and with his working knowledge of written English he would have no more than acceptable trouble taking the Book of Mormon’s sometimes complex prose into the intricate verb conjugations and pronoun forms of scriptural Spanish.
Absent Trejo’s appearance on the scene, or someone like him–educated, Spanish as a first language, a Bible reader with religious commitment–the Book of Mormon would not have been translated by 1875, and perhaps not until very much later. Brizzee and Jones were convinced that Trejo’s presence was a miracle.
Working together, Trejo and Jones were able to translate key sections and publish them as Trozos Selectos del Libro de Mormon (Selected Passages from the Book of Mormon), which consisted of only about 100 pages. This translation was taken by the first Latter-day Saint missionaries in Mexico. Trejo continued working at translating and a full translation of the Book of Mormon was published in 1886.
Political Developments and Religious Freedom
Mexico’s history throughout much of the 19th century was marked by political infighting and instability. The country effectively declared independence from Spain on 16 September 1810 and that independence was recognized by the Treaty of Córdoba on 24 August 1821. Military coups d’état, foreign invasions, ideological conflict between Conservatives and Liberals, and economic stagnation led to instability for the next several decades, with a variety of leaders taking control in the country (most notably Antonio López de Santa Anna, who served off and on as president from 1833 to 1855). Throughout much of the 19th century, Mexico was officially a Catholic country, but the Liberals sought to curtail the Catholic church’s influence in Mexico, an effort in which they were opposed by the Conservatives. Liberal factions controlled the country during the mid-1850s and tried to implement reforms, but opposition led to a civil war followed by a Conservative-backed invasion by France that put Maximilian Hapsburg on the throne as emperor. France withdrew its support in 1867, however, leading to the Liberal victory and re-establishment of the republic under Benito Pablo Juárez García.
Benito Juárez is one of the most beloved leaders in Mexican history. As a Zapotec, he was the first indigenous president of Mexico, and the first indigenous head of state in the postcolonial Americas. His leadership was connected to La Reforma, a series of Liberal reforms that sought separation of church and state, equality before the law, and economic development. Much of this had been enacted in the 1857 Constitution and which would remain in force throughout the remainder of the 19th century. In July, 1859 President Juárez decreed outright nationalization of all church property, curtailing the power of the Catholic church. Juárez tenaciously held to power until his death in 1872, but the efforts of La Reforma allowed for religious liberty to begin to develop in Mexico, which in turn would allow the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be established in the country.
Largely because of this, Church leaders have honored Juárez. For example, in 1972, Elder Franklin D. Richards said that:
The name of our great [Church-owned] school, ‘Benemérito de las Americas,’ as you know, is the title given to that great patriot and president of Mexico, Benito Juarez. One of the Mormon colonies in Chihuahua is named Colonia Juarez, and one of the main streets here in Mexico City is named Juarez … honoring that great patriot and to inspire their own people to great effort and accomplishment. … He it was who said, ‘Respecto al derecho ajeno es las pas’ (respect for the right of others brings peace). As we live by that great precept, this world will be a better place.
Benito Juárez was honored by leaders of the Church long after he was alive, in part because of his role in establishing religious freedom in Mexico.
Not long following President Juárez’s death, a military leader named Porfirio Díaz (a hero of the Cinco de Mayo battle that resisted French occupation) rebelled and successfully established himself as president of Mexico in 1876. He would go on to lead Mexico for 35 years. His legacy was mixed. On the one hand, he established stability for a longer period than Mexico had experienced since independence, supporting economic stability and growth, significant foreign investment, an expansion of the railroad network and telecommunications in Mexico, and investments in the arts and sciences. These aspects of the Porfiriato (as his time as president is called) were important in allowing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to establish a foothold in Mexico during his presidency. On the other hand, however, his reign was marked by exploitation by foreign powers, economic inequality and political repression that caused intense suffering, which in turn lead to resentment that exploded into the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century. As Elder Moses Thatcher put it: “President Porfiero Díaz with an iron hand did bring peace and prosperity and industrial improvement to the country and soon thereafter the colonization of our people in the State of Chihuahua, Mexico.”
 Guillermo Torres (President of the Mexico City North Stake), Official Report of the First Mexico and Central America Area General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in the National Auditorium, Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, Mexico, August 25, 26, 27, 1972 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1973), 18.
 Parley P. Pratt, October 31, 1852, “Lost Sermons: Report of His Mission to Chile”, transcribed by LaJean Purcell Carruth, history.churchofjesuschrist.org, https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/content/museum/lost-sermons-parley-p-pratt-october-1852?lang=eng
 K.E. Duke, “Meliton Gonzalez Trejo: Translator of the Book of Mormon into Spanish,” Improvement Era, Oct. 1956, 714.
 Duke, “Meliton Gonzalez Trejo,” 714.
 F. LaMond Tullis, Grass Roots in Mexico: Stories of Pioneering Latter-day Saints (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2021), 3-4.
 Franklin D. Richards Official Report of the First Mexico and Central America Area General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in the National Auditorium, Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, Mexico, August 25, 26, 27, 1972 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1973), 22.
 Cited by Harold B. Lee in Official report of the first Mexico and Central America area general conference: held in the National Auditorium Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, Mexico, August 25, 26, 27, 1972 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1973), 119, https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets/c7dd18e4-a7b6-4203-a56c-680315da9a54/0/130 (accessed: September 7, 2022)