Central America is the narrow stretch of land between North and South America, including Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize. Although this region has been characterized by political instability and economic difficulty, it experienced significant Church growth during the second half of the twentieth century. The first missionaries to Central America reached Guatemala in 1947, and five years later Elder Spencer W. Kimball of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles organized the Central America Mission with headquarters in Guatemala City, dedicating the nations of Central America for the preaching of the gospel. Missionary work began almost simultaneously in the neighboring countries of El Salvador and Honduras and soon followed in Nicaragua (1953), Panama (1965), and Belize (1980). By 1967 the Church had created a stake in Guatemala City, and the first Central American temple was announced for that city the following year. Dedicated in December 1984, the Guatemala City Temple served Saints from all of Central America.
Between 1970 and 1990, Church membership in this region grew from 29,000 to 200,000, surpassing all predictions. In 1990 the First Presidency created the Central America Area from the Mexico-Central America Area. This change allowed Central American Saints to have more contact with Church leaders, particularly general authorities. Headquarters were in Guatemala City, and Elder Ted E. Brewerton of the Seventy served as the area’s first president. Central America reached another milestone at this time when Carlos H. Amado was called as a counselor in the area presidency, becoming the first Guatemalan to serve as a general authority.
Many Central American Saints have joined the Church at great sacrifice, often giving up friends and business opportunities as they accept gospel teachings. Church members typically walk long distances to attend Sunday meetings, and many also suffer from educational, medical, and economic hardships. But Saints from this region have accepted such challenges, serving missions and fulfilling leadership positions. Most of those serving full-time missions in Central America come from these countries, and many have returned home to strengthen their wards and branches. In January 1997 thousands gathered in various locations to meet with President Gordon B. Hinckley during his ten-day tour of Central America. By the beginning of the year 2000, the region had 454,944 members with 89 stakes and 12 missions.
Hart, John L. “Central America: Work Is Booming As Members Eagerly Share Their Testimonies with Friends.” Church News, 16 February 1991, 8.
1999-2000 Church Almanac. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1998. 12, 163.
From Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan, eds., Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 195-196. Used with the permission of the Deseret Book Company. Copies prohibited by law.