In 1965, after Elder Spencer W. Kimball dedicated Ecuador for the preaching of the gospel, he visited the city of Otavalo, home for the Otavalans (or Otavalo Indians). He desired that the gospel be taken to these descendents of Lehi. The city is located about fifty miles north of the capital city of Quito, in a valley that is green year-round with eucalyptus and pine trees. Nearby are the volcanoes of Cotacachi and Imbabura (referred to has "Holy Mountain.") Elder Robert E. Wells lived in Quito, Ecuador in the late 1960s. He recalled: "As I'd walk up into the nearby mountains," I really felt that the prophets of old had walked through there. It's very much a blessed an a privileged area."
The Otavalans wear traditional dress. The women can be recognized by their long, dark velvet wrap-around skirts, hand-embroidered white blouses, and rows of golden beads around their necks. As both men and women travel to other parts of the country, the retain their native dress. "The Otavalans are mostly agrarians, and subsist mainly on corn, squash, beans and potatoes. They are talented artisans, well-respected throughout Ecuador and all South America for their beautiful handiwork. Their delicate, hand-made tapestries are among the most sought-after of any indigenous group in the country." The people speak Quechua, although most also speak Spanish. ("A Land of Prophecy: In the Andes, 'Lehi's Children Grow Strong in Gospel", Church News February 17, 1990)
In 1966, a branch of the Church was organized in Otavalo. Rafael Tabango Pastillo was one of the first Otavalans to accept the gospel. He lived on a small plot of ground just outside of the city. Although he could not read well, he nevertheless prayed to know if the Book of Mormon was true. Brother Tabango said that in a dream, the prophet Moroni read a portion of the book to him, and he knew in his heart that it was true and that he should be baptized. Brother Tabango was the first Otavalan ordained an elder in Otavalo. (See "Pioneering in the Andes." Ensign, January, 1997).
Rafael Tabango was called as a counselor in the branch presidency and later presided over a new branch organized in the city. In 1977, he served as the president of a district in Otavalo. When the new district was created, President Tabango said: "Now I want to read to you from the Articles of Faith. I have never been to school, and my father had never been to school." He read the Articles of Faith in Spanish and then translated them into Quechua. Elder A. Theodore Tuttle, who was at this meeting later commented: "With faithful leaders like President Tabango, who had received training in the gospel, and who were bilingual, the message of the Restoration could really and finally be taken to the Lamanite people of Ecuador." ("Tip your Panama Hat, This is Ecuador." Church News, February 14, 1981).
A stake was created in Otavalo, in December 1981 -- the first all-indigenous stake in South America. Luis Alfonso Morales C. was called as the first president. Rafael Tabango was called as the first stake patriarch.
Elder Charles Didier commented about the Otavalans: "Because they've preserved most of their customs, identity, clothing, food and so on over the centuries, the Otavalans have come out as a special people. They have a real desire to serve the Lord, and have a natural inclination to look to their Father in Heaven from birth." Elder Wells added: "What stands out the most from my visits there, is the Otavalans' absolute humility and spirituality. They are a very childlike and meek people, and radiate such joy in the gospel." (Church News, February 17, 1990).
Juan Munoz Otavalo, second counselor in the Otavalo stake presidency in 1990, said: "We feel very grateful that our ancestors knew that in these last days we would listen to their words - what they said is now being fulfilled. The Book of Mormon is a great blessing; it teaches many things we will have to overcome, because the challenges our ancestors had are much the same as the ones we face today." (Ibid.)
Otavalan Church members refer to themselves as "Lamanites" and refer to other members of mixed European and Indian descent as "Latinos." In 1992, about 25 percent of Otavalo stake's members were Latinos. A Spanish-speaking branch existed in the stake since few of them spoke Quechua. About 25-30 percent of the stake does not speak Spanish. At a stake conference in the early 1990s, President Jose Alberto Picuasi opened his talk in Spanish saying, "I want to tell you that I love you -- all of you." The remainder of the conference talks were in Quechua, with a little Spanish sprinkled in here and there. ("Ecuador." Ensign, June 1992)