From Lon Pearson: My first experiences in Mexico City were in 1957 when I was a high-school exchange student. To attend Sunday meetings, I first traveled across town to the American Branch which met at the mansion in Las Lomas de Chapultepec. It was also the Mission Home. (It was torn down in 1960 to make room for a more efficient church headquarters). Soon, however, I located the middle-class Roma Branch, where they had a good Mutual and dances. Moreover, I could walk there easily from my home, even though the morning of the great 1957 earthquake I had to make several detours.
I was called to return to Mexico as a missionary two years later. I met and even stayed in the home of [Church pioneer] Isaias Juarez. He was very old then, was either the Branch President of the tiny San Pedro Martir Branch or was on the High Council. [As the District President of the Mexican Mission during the Revolution, President Juarez and his counselors were left in charge of the Church in Mexico when Mission President Rey L. Pratt of the Seventy had to leave for his safety (GEMS Mexico History Part 9; he was called as Bishop in 1961--Part 14).]
On our trip to the mission we had flown from Los Angeles to Mexico City with Rey L. Pratt's brother, Harold W. Pratt, who had been the Mission President from 1934 to 1938, and we were with him several other times during the next two and a half years.
Besides the San Pedro Martir Branch, in 1959 there were five other branches in Mexico City: Hermita, Tlalpan, Industrial, Moctezuma, and Roma. The oldest, the Hermita building had been confiscated by the revolution, so that the Church had to account for all the furniture to the government on its inventory.
The Mexican Mission was probably the only mission in the Church to have a High Council. (This may have been a concession because of the Three Conventions.) One of the twelve who served under the Mission President was Jose Davila, a tourist guide from Puebla, who knew more about Mexican ruins than any Mormon in Mexico at that time. A powerful speaker, he was very influential in the Church. The High Council members traveled around each month to visit branches, to speak, and to meet with the President Harvey H. Taylor, who had been called in January 1958 to replace Claudius W. Bowman. President Bowman had died in a tragic automobile accident in the fog between Orizaba and Puebla.
I had many spiritual experiences during my mission, but the most impressive was seeing the sudden growth and spiritual changes in Guadalajara. The missionaries had been sent there first in 1955, but had encountered great difficulties teaching the gospel. The city was devoutly Catholic and closed to outside influences. The greatest success to attract investigators came when a few new young men converts and the missionaries started playing basketball, inviting young men in the city to come join them. (June 23, 1994, interview with the Stake President of one of the three Guadalajara Stakes, Leonardo Reyes. He was one of the first converts in the Guadalajara in 1955 and served a mission from 1957-59, when I first knew him).
Just before I was called to serve in Guadalajara, I had enjoyed the wonderful experience of going to the Yucatan and opening Campeche to missionary work. In both Campeche and Merida the missionaries were experiencing one-hundred baptisms a year. But then after a few months in Campeche I received the challenge of being transferred to the hardest spot and the most northern city in the mission, Guadalajara, arriving on a bus the frosty morning of December 16, 1959. There were four elders and two sister missionaries ("Lady Missionaries" or "LMs" as we called them then) serving in the city as well as the Branch President who did microfilming for the Church and Isaias Lozano, brother of the current Mexican Temple President. Yet attendance at church was seldom higher than ten people, including all of the above. The missionaries tracted nearly daily, but the first investigators that my companion and I had come to Church from tracting was not until March 16, three months later.
We had no maids (although other areas had them for a time), there were no families to eat with, and no refrigerators in the apartments. That meant that the elders had to shop each day and cook each meal. I found the task often fell to me to cook, because I had gone to cook school at Fort Ord. The week that two of our companions were away at the Mission home on transfers, I cooked up a dinner large enough for six. Just as the two of us began eating, our golden investigator, Iniguez Rodriguez, a lawyer, walked in and found Elder Benjamin Parra and me with two plates each, both heaped full of food. His mouth dropped in shock.
Two nights later Brother Rodriguez returned to tell us that he couldn't join the church because of past complicated problems. The three of us knelt in prayer and the Lord told us through inspiration to all three fast 36 hours. We did (one of the longest and hardest days of my life), and by the morning of the third day, when we met, Brother Rodriguez had the answer and was inspired as to solve those seemingly insurmountable problems. He was baptized and he immediately influenced many other people for good.
Trying to find more time for proselyting, my companion and I contracted with a tiny restaurant that had delicious food. They agreed to furnish the four elders three meals a day for sixty-four cents (eight pesos) a person per day. That was inexpensive even in those days. However, after I left, eight of the twelve elders working in the city of Guadalajara during the rest of 1960 developed hepatitis [yellow jaundice]. Each elder had to stay in bed a month. We later assumed that the infection came from eating in that restaurant. So it turned out that little time was really saved.
Guadalajara was divided into two branches about two years after that. Our special convert, Iniguez Rodriguez, was called as the branch president of the new branch.
By 1994 there were three stakes in the city, but the Church was still relatively unknown to the Mexicans. It took me two weeks to find a Church member or a building, asking everyone I knew at the University of Guadalajara, making phone calls, walking the streets and asking anyone I came in contact with where the Mormon Churches were located. After asking hundreds of people, I finally was directed to a stake center about two miles from where I lived. Just as in Puerto Rico and a number of other Hispanic areas, the Church often does not have listings in the phone directory and, moreover, millions of natives are still unfamiliar with the Church.