Additional Resource

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Panama

The first members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to arrive in Panama came in 1940 as soldiers and families to the military bases established by the United States.

As these Latter-day Saints gathered to have their Sunday meetings, they desired to establish a branch of the Church in the country. In response to this, Otto Hunsaker, who had just been sent to the canal area by his employer, wrote twice to the First Presidency in 1941 requesting them to authorize the creation of a branch. As a result, Elder Antoine R. Ivins, a general authority of the Church, was authorized to organize the first branch on 18 May 1941. In the first meeting, held in the home of the Kingdon family in Fort Clayton, 20 members were present. On that day, Hunsaker was called, sustained and set apart as branch president with Earl Kingdon and Wilbur Webb as counselors. The majority of members of the branch were Americans who served on the base.

One year later, on 18 May 1942, more than 100 members met to celebrate the first anniversary of the branch, but there still weren’t any Panamanian members. By then, the meetings were being held in the Jewish Synagogue USO Center Chapel in Balboa by special permission of Rabbi Nathan Witkin. Rabbi Witkin invited the Church members to share the building on Sundays, while the synagogue used the building on Saturdays. He said he did this because Brigham Young had similarly provided to the first Jews that arrived in Utah a place for their meetings and for a cemetery.

This first branch of the Church in Panama was part of the Mexico Mission until the Central America Mission was organized in 1952. The first missionaries were Carl Guthier and William Parker, who arrived to the country in August of 1953.

Some of the soldiers, including Ladd Black and Eran A. Call, who later became a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, in 1953 taught some people from the San Blas Isles who were employed at the military base. The first Panamanian baptized was Jose D. Guzman, on 11 April 1954. The soldiers also taught Igaunigdipipi, one of the native leaders of the islands, who authorized his people to join the Church. The first of them to be baptized was Igaunigdipipi’s son-in-law Jose Coleman on 18 April 1954. Coleman was interviewed for his baptism by President David O. McKay, who stopped in Panama on 13 February of that year while returning from a trip to three continents.

On 5 January 1958, Elder Hugh B. Brown, as assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, dedicated the first chapel in the country, which was constructed in Balboa. In 1961, Elder Marion G. Romney, a member of the First Presidency — the highest governing body of the Church — gave a copy of the Book of Mormon to the president of the republic, Roberto F. Chiari. During Chiari’s administration in 1965, the Church was officially and legally recognized, after which missionary work was initiated in the country.

In 1965, the mission president of the Central America Mission, Ted E. Brewerton, visited the island of San Blas and formally started the missionary work in that part of the country. Many of the natives found similarities between the teachings of the Book of Mormon and their own traditions and joined the Church. The first meetinghouse on the island was completed in April of 1970 in Ustupo. The first stake in the country was organized on 11 November 1979, presided over by Nelson Altamirano.

Since then, young missionaries have knocked on doors and opened the way in the country for the establishment of the Church.

The Panama Mission was organized on 1 July 1989 and was first presided over by Pedro Abularach of Guatemala. By then, there were approximately 10,400 members already in the country. With the growth of the Church came an increase in the construction of chapels, including those in Ustupo in 1970, Bella Vista in 1976, Cárdenas in 1979, Chorrera in 1981 and many others that were built afterwards.

Today the Church has eight stakes, six districts and more than 40,000 members that assemble in 69 chapels in Panama.

The fruits of the faith of the Latter-day Saints in Panama were shown with the announcement of the construction of the Panama City temple on 23 September 2002 by President Gordon B. Hinckley — the worldwide leader of the Church at that time.

Elder Spencer V. Jones — a general authority of the Church — presided and offered the dedicatory prayer for the groundbreaking ceremony on 20 October 2005. This marked the beginning of the building of the Panama City Panama Temple.

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