Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 6,996,000; Members, 74,802; Stakes, 10; Wards, 62; Branches, 84; Missions, 2; Districts, 11; Temples, 1; percent LDS, 1, or one in 94; South America South Area.
Residents of the Republic of Paraguay in central South America speak Spanish, Guarani and Portuguese. They are 98 percent Roman Catholic.
Argentine Mission president Frederick S. Williams and his traveling companion, Edgar B. Mitchell, were the first Latter-day Saints known to visit Paraguay, spending a few days in the capital city of Asuncion in November 1939. Williams hoped that someday the gospel would be extended to Paraguay, which was fulfilled some 10 years later while he was serving as president of the Uruguayan Mission.
The door to Paraguay was opened by Samuel J. Skousen, a former Argentine missionary, who in 1946 arrived in Asuncion to work for the U.S. government. While stationed earlier in Brazil, Skousen had met Paraguayan Carlos Alberto Rodriguez and his wife Mafalda, who returned to Paraguay about the same time Skousen arrived there. When his friends asked for baptism, permission was requested from the First Presidency, and in August 1948, Brother Rodriguez was baptized by Skousen, who a month earlier had been set apart as president of the Asuncion Branch.
President Williams visited Skousen and other Latter-day Saints in February 1949, shortly before Skousen left Paraguay for another assignment, and met with several government leaders. Later that year, the First Presidency granted permission to send missionaries to Paraguay, which resulted in Williams and his wife and missionary Wilford M. Farnsworth traveling to Asuncion in January 1950. There they met with Paraguayan officials to seek authorization to begin missionary work in the capital city.
Williams was delighted when permanent permission was granted not just to work in Asuncion but in the whole country. He left Elder Farnsworth in Paraguay, where he was soon joined by missionaries Keith J. Morris, Norval C. Jesperson and Daryl L. Anderson.
Missionary work proceeded slowly, with the next baptism not taking place for another year, when Clara G. de Krisch was baptized in January 1951. Paraguay remained under the jurisdiction of the Uruguayan Mission for more than a quarter century, with the efforts of the relatively few missionaries sent there confined entirely to Asuncion. At one point in the early 1950s, consideration was even given to closing the work. Two new branches were created in Asuncion in 1955, but 15 years later there were only 714 Church members in the city.
Beginning in the early 1970s, new attention was given to Paraguay, with the mission president in Montevideo sending missionaries to open the cities of Fernando de la Mora, Coronel Oviedo, Paraguari, San Lorenzo, Villarrica and Pedro Juan Caballero. By the end of 1975, there were 10 branches in the country and approximately 1,700 members. With such renewed evidence of Church growth, the First Presidency created the Paraguay Asuncion Mission in July 1977, and 19 months later the first stake was organized.
As missionary work was extended to additional cities and towns, the elders came in contact with some of Paraguay’s rural Indian peoples. A notable success came in 1980 when Walter Flores, a Nivacle Indian who had joined the Church in Asuncion, prepared the way for missionaries to baptize some 200 members of his tribe who had recently established an agricultural colony in Mistolar, the branch there growing to 400 by 1990.
The pace of missionary work has quickened in recent years, with new areas being opened and Church membership increasing from about 12,000 members in 1990 to over 20,000 in 1995, and more than 50,000 in 2001. With more Latter-day Saints living in many wards, branches, stakes and districts, the construction of a temple was announced in April 2000, to be built on the site where the country’s first LDS meetinghouse was constructed in 1964. The Asuncion Paraguay Temple was dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley in May 2002. With its dedication, every Spanish-speaking country in South America now had an operating temple.
In 2003, membership reached 55,813. In 2005, membership reached 61,308.
Sources: “Paraguay” in Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 2004; Frederick S. and Frederick G. Williams, From Acorn to Oak Tree: A Personal History of the Establishment and First Quarter Century Development of the South American Missions (1987); Nestor Curbelo, Historia de los Santos de los ?timos Dias en Paraguay : Relatos de Pioneros (2003); Gordon Irving, “Paraguay: A Preliminary Background Paper” (Historical Department, 1976); “Branch thrives in jungle,” Church News, 27 November 1983; Nestor Curbelo, “Chulupi colony, Mistolar, thrives deep in interior,” Church News, 2 June 1990; Nestor Curbelo, “‘Heart’ of South America opening to gospel,” Church News, 27 May 1995; “‘May This Temple Stand As a Crowning Jewel to Thy Work in This Nation,'” Church News, 25 May 2002