HOW THE SANDINISTAS CAME TO RECOGNIZE THE CHURCH IN NICARAGUA By Gardner H. Russell
The man across the aisle from me was reading a book. I asked him about his line of work. He ignored the question, continued reading. A few minutes later I tried again. This time he slowly put aside the book, looked at me. "I am Dr. Alejandro Martinez Cuenca and work with the Ministers of the Sandinista government". I identified myself as a member of the Mormon Church and a General Authority. He commented on the beautiful building--the Temple--which he had seen during his visit to Guatemala, and asked how Nicaragua might have such a building. I briefly explained the purpose of the Temple and informed him that to qualify for a Temple there would need to be, other things being equal 50,000 members of the Church, but that it might be possible to consider a Temple once 30,000 Nicaraguans were members. "How many members of your church are there in Nicaragua?", he asked. I replied that there were approximately 3,000. We talked for awhile. He then extended an invitation for me to visit Nicaragua.
Following my report to the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve at October General Conference, I received authorization to travel to Managua, Nicaragua, which I did, arriving there in the afternoon of October 28th. Accompanying me was Elder Carlos Amado, Regional Representative, and Isaac Ferguson of Welfare Services joined us later. As we disembarked at the Managua airport, we were met by Alvaro Martinez Gonzalez of the Foreign Office, taken to a V.I.P. lounge while our entry papers were processed.
The following morning Alvaro took us to the office of Dr. Martinez Cuenca and we visited the offices of Otoniel Arguello, Minister for Water Resources, and FACS (Augusto Cesa Sandinista Foundation). The impression came that Arguello might someday become a member of the Lord's Church. At 5:00 p.m. Elder Amado, President Gustavo Ortega of the only stake in Nicaragua, and I were ushered into a well-appointed office, then after a short wait, into a second office. Finally we entered the office of Minister Rene Nunez, Secretary to the governing Ministers. He stood before a large desk, the Star of Lenin on his jacket. He did not acknowledge our presence or invite us to sit down, so I began the conversation. "Honorable Senor Ministro, we appreciate your seeing us..but you have a problem." He frowned "What problem?" "Well, I replied, "President Brigham Young of our Church once said that if a man is 26 years of age and not married, he is a danger to the community,and our escort Alvaro is 28 years old and single." The Minister laughed with some relish and it was obvious Alvaro was not one of his favorites.
He asked what we wanted. I handed him a copy of a list of requests which we had purposely pencilled on a yellow pad the night before, instead of a formal document. "Mr. Russell, if we return the chapels to you, would you come to officially accept their return?" "No, Mr. Minister. The chapels belong to our Nicaraguan members. They are not a matter for the main church. Our Stake President Gustavo Ortega would be happy to represent the Nicaraguan church members. You should know, however, that a total of 85 Nicaraguan members have fought in the Sandinista armed forces, and six have been killed" "Is this true?" "Yes, Mr. Minister, here is the list which can be verified. Incidentally, of the six soldiers killed, none was active in the Church." And, I handed him the following list:
Barrio Killed Discharged Still Serving -------------------------------------------------- Barrio 1 2 8 Barrio 2 6 6 Barrio 4 3 6 15 Masaya 1 2 4 Granada 6 2 Matagalpa 2 1 4 Leon 2 2 Chinandega 6 Rosarios 2 -------------------------------------------------- TOTALS 6 25 49
"Mr. Russell we will plan to return two chapels soon. What else?" "Senor Ministro, we need permission for a Mission Home." "Like a Casa de Seminaristas?", he asked and I replied, "More or less." And for our missionaries to receive visas to work in Nicaragua." He nodded approval. "Only the mechanics need to be worked out". I mentioned that the Honorable Minister could verify with the leaders of East Germany that our beliefs include obeying the laws of the land, and that we had a Temple there.
Before the end of the year, two chapels had been returned to us and the first Nicaraguan missionaries were called. Since Mexicans were welcome in Nicaragua, the Brethren approved sending 20 missionary leaders selected from the missions in Mexico, to serve with the first 20 Nicas. Later, Guatemalan missionaries also served and the elders received full two-year visas. President Adolfo Avalos directed the missionary work in Nicaragua from his Guatemala Mission Office, through one of his Counselors, the CES representative in Nicaragua.