Multilingual churches of Utah, Spanish-language growth in LDS community

Story and photos By BRIANNA WINN

It’s a snowy, dreary mid-January Sunday in Springville, Utah. A group of Hispanics is gathering outside the Kolob Stake just off of 1230 South and 500 East, with their families dressed in their suit and ties, fancy dresses, and normal church attire. They are holding copies of the Book of Mormon, translated into Spanish.

They enter a welcoming, snug room full of other members of their faith whilst “Holas” and “Cómo Estás” are instantly spread around the room. The hymns start and everyone can sing along.

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Imagine living in a world where there is a mass amount of viewpoints, and no place to find truth, express your faith or worship your God because of a language barrier.

The Book of Mormon Alma 29 says, “For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have…”

The Mormon religion was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon, sacred and holy text of the church, was originally said to be written in Egyptian, according to the church’s official website. Today, it offers scriptures in over 90 different languages and plans on translating scriptures in 34 more languages.

The LDS church has grown immensely in Spanish-speaking countries and the Spanish-speaking LDS community is growing substantially in the state of Utah.

Church officials say the presence of Mormonism began to first grow in Mexico in 1875. Brigham Young, president of the church at the time, called on six missionaries from Salt Lake to bring Spanish-language materials about the church to Mexico according to LDS.org.

Salvador Gonzalez is a bishop for the LDS church at Kolob 14th Ward in Springville, Utah. Gonzalez moved to the United States from Spain where he joined the church in 1982.

“There are 58 Spanish-speaking wards and branches in the state of Utah,” Gonzalez said in an interview via email.

A ward is a single congregation, containing 300 or more members. A branch is smaller, typically having 200 or more members, according to Mormon.org.

Pew Research Center says the Church has more than 15 million members worldwide. Seven percent of those members belong to the Latino(x) community and the number is only growing.

“The Latino(x) community have a connection with the Book of Mormon and the history,” says Gonzalez. “Hispanics in other countries are connected with the history written in the text. When missionaries go and teach in these countries, the people recognize the history and are drawn towards the church. They have a connection within the church.”

Bret Ellsworth, manager of Immigrant Services Welfare Department of the Church, said in a telephone interview “The Hispanic community has been coming to the church, and to Utah in particular, in record numbers. The Hispanic growth rate is growing quite rapidly, he said for example, in West Valley the Latino population is up to 28%.”

According to LDS.org, Spanish is the second largest language group in the church. By the year 2020, it is presumed that Spanish will be the largest language group.

Ellsworth works with immigrants every day, especially Latinos. “The Immigrant Services program reaches out to Hispanics and helps them by giving them free and reliable resources and information he says, and by ensuring they’re not taken advantage of in any way.”

Missionary work has had a great impact on the increase in the Hispanic community. The Mormon News Room says missionaries serve in pairs, teaching the gospel and baptizing believers in the name of Jesus Christ. They travel to many different Spanish-speaking countries.

Gonzalez says, “Missionaries travel to over 21 different Spanish-speaking countries.”

The Missionary Training Center, or MTC, is a training center to prepare missionaries before they go on their mission. This is where they learn Spanish language if needed or required.

After serving a Spanish-speaking mission in the country of Ecuador in 1994, Bryon Buchmiller didn’t want to give up his association with the Spanish-speaking community. “Serving my mission in Ecuador was an incredible experience, he says. “Everything about it was great, from the language to the people, to baptizing new members. I would love to go back.”

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Buchmiller says he tries to keep up with his Spanish language, although it is hard. He tries to attend a Spanish-speaking ward every once in a while, to keep up on his Spanish and speak with the other members.

He said being immersed into the culture and being around the natives was really the easiest way to pick up the language and continually improve at it.

“Sometimes when I drive, I try to speak Spanish to rekindle my memory, Buchmiller says, “since it’s been so long since my mission, I don’t get to speak it every day.”

The article on LDS.org, How Can I Better My Mission Language, is a useful resource for returned missionaries looking to improve on their language skills or keep up with their learned language.

“There are more Spanish-speaking people being converted than English-speaking people in the church,” Gonzalez says.

Today, all LDS scriptures are available in Spanish.

Spanish-language is becoming one of the prominent languages in the church next to English. There is a staggering amount of Latinos(x) being baptized causing Spanish-speakers to take up a huge chunk of the church’s worldwide membership, according to Mormon.org.

Cultural diversity has long been a part of the American experience. The way the church is growing, Mormonism continues to lean heavily towards diversity, specifically in the Latino(x) community.

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints located on 1230 South and 500 East in Springville Utah.

Kolob Stake in Springville is just one of the many Stakes in Utah that offer a welcoming religious place to the Hispanic community. Find a Meeting House or Ward is a helpful resource that shows where different wards/branches are, including Spanish-speaking wards and branches.

Now, Hispanic families all over the state of Utah can worship and read scriptures in their own native language.