Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population: 26,815,000; Members, 144,089; Stakes, 26; Wards, 182; Branches, 90; Missions, 4; Districts, 9; Temples, 1; percent LDS, .5, or one in 186; South America North Area.
On the Caribbean coast of South America, Venezuela is a federal republic where the people speak Spanish and Indian languages.
As early as 1966, a group of members, mostly foreigners working in Venezuela, held Church meetings in the home of Carl C. Wilcox in Caracas. A branch of 45 members was organized by Elder Marion G. Romney of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on 2 November 1966 with Carl C. Wilcox as president. Costa Rica Mission President Ted E. Brewerton sent four missionaries, Floyd Baum, Neil Gruwell, David Bell and Fred Podlesny, to Venezuela to begin missionary work. Baum, Bell, Steve Jensen and Stephen Edmunds began work in Maracaibo on 7 July 1967.
Fred Podlesny and David Bell baptized the first convert, Hernan Sepulveda, on 12 February 1967. Though initial converts were few, the Colombia-Venezuela Mission was created in 1968. The first district conference was held on 15 October 1968 with 28 missionaries then serving in Caracas and Maracaibo.
When the Venezuela Mission was created on 1 July 1971, membership had reached 1,259. Under the leadership of President Clark D. Webb, the mission began to average 40 converts per month. The Church Educational System started in Venezuela in 1972 under the direction of Alejandro Portal Campos.In January 1975, President Spencer W. Kimball became the first Church president to visit Venezuela. In 1977, about 4,000 members were organized in 23 branches and five districts. Successive mission presidents emphasized building programs and leadership preparation. The Caracas Venezuela Stake, Venezuela’s first, was created on 15 May 1977, followed by the creation of the Maracaibo Venezuela Mission in 1979. Membership that year was 5,000. President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Caracas Venezuela Temple on 20 August 2000.
Local Church leaders urged members to keep their focus on Christ and His teachings during the summer of 2003, a time of turbulent and volatile political divisiveness which caused much suffering due to fuel and food shortages. Despite political troubles, “We are baptizing more than ever,” said Elder Claudio R.M. Costa, president of the South America North Area.
Membership in 2002 reached 113,652. In 2005, membership reached 134,597.
Sources: Venezuela Caracas Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Church Educational System, La Historia de la Iglesia en Venezuela 1966 a 1986, 1986; Donald Q. Cannon and Richard O. Cowan, Unto Every Nation: Gospel Light Reaches Every Land, 2003; “Venezuela,” Ensign, February 1977; “Perseverance Pays,” Church News, 10 November 1979; “Rapid Pace Across South America,” Church News, 23 August 1997; Jason Swensen, “Venezuelan Saints Rejoicing at New Caracas Temple,” Church News 26 August 2000; Jason Swensen, “Church Leaders Work to Buoy Members’ Spirits,” Church News 25 January 2003.