Larry Richman, LDS Missionary in the Guatemala-El Salvador Mission (1974-1976)
I served as a full-time proselyting missionary in the Guatemala-El Salvador Mission (Spanish and Cakchiquel) from August 1974 to August 1976.
By 2015, there were 6 missions in Guatemala and 3 missions in El Salvador that covered the same area as the original Guatemala-El Salvador Mission. Read more about the history of the mission below.
I had a rather unusual mission.
- Language. I learned Spanish at the Language Training Mission (LTM) and used Spanish for four months of my mission in Ahuachapán in El Salvador and in Retaluleau on the coast in Guatemala. Then, I was called to learn Cakchiquel (one of over 50 Mayan languages native to Guatemala). I spent the rest of my mission teaching the Cakchiquel Indians in the highland mountains of Guatemala, although we still spoke Spanish among the Latin people who also lived in these towns. It was unusual for outsiders to speak Cakchiquel, and it led to an acceptance and cultural understanding beyond what most missionaries experience.
- Earthquake. In February 1976, Guatemala was hit with an intense earthquake that killed 25,000 people. In my town of Comalapa, 3,200 people died of a population of 18,900. We spent the next several months helping people tear down their broken homes and begin to rebuild.
- Death of a companion. While helping people tear down their broken homes, Elder Choc (one of my previous companions) was killed when a wall fell prematurely and crushed him. I was one of two elders who went to tell his father. I helped prepare his body for burial and I spoke at his funeral.
- Translation. At the end of my mission, I was asked to help translate the missionary discussions into Cakchiquel. I later helped translate the Book of Mormon, the temple ceremonies, and many other Church resources. That later led to my career working for the Church.
- Mission Home in Salt Lake City, Utah (August 3–7, 1974)
- Language Training Mission, Provo, Utah (August 7–October 3, 1974)
- Ahuachapán (October 3–December 27, 1974)
- Retalhuleu (December 27–February 4, 1975)
- Patzicía (February 4–October 10, 1975)
- Comalapa (October 10–February 4, 1976)
- Patzicía earthquake camp (February 4–March 31, 1976)
- Comalapa (March 31–May 26, 1976)
- Sololá (May 26–July 7,1976)
- Patzicía translation office (July 7–August 3, 1976)
History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Guatemala
Missionaries arrived in Guatemala in 1947. Assisted by John F. O’Donnal, a Church member living in the country as an agricultural adviser to the United States government, they met with Guatemalan officials and began to organize the Church. The first official meeting was held in a rented building on August 22, 1948, with 66 people in attendance. Later that year, John F. O’Donnal baptized the first convert in Guatemala, his wife, Carmen. Read a short history of the Guatemala-El Salvador Mission.
By 1956, three small congregations with a membership of about 250 had been established. Membership grew to 10,000 by 1966, and 18 years later, when the Guatemala City Temple was dedicated in 1984, membership had risen to 40,000. By 1998 membership had quadrupled again to 164,000. In 2015, LDS members had reached 255,505 with 6 missions, 421 congregations, two temples, and a Missionary Training Center.
- I was called to serve in the Guatemala-El Salvador Mission.
- The name of the mission was changed to the Guatemala Guatemala City Mission by October 1974.
- The El Salvador San Salvador Mission was organized July 1, 1976.
- By 2015, there were 6 missions in Guatemala and 3 missions in El Salvador, where there was a single Guatemala-El Salvador Mission when I was called in 1974.
In 1974, just prior to my arrival in Guatemala, Elder Daniel O. Noorlander lead a group of members and missionaries to compile a book titled The Maya: Sons and Daughters of the Royal House of Israel (see alternate version part 1 and part 2.) It contains stories and testimonies of Cakchiquel Indians and those who labored among them. It tells of early missionary efforts among the Cakchiquel Indians in the towns of Patzicía and Patzún.
My mission president up until the last month of my mission was Robert B. Arnold. He was only 33 when he was called as a mission president. (He was 58 when he died of a heart attack at his home while shoveling snow.)
“May 4, 1976: Elder Richman, I have learned to love and appreciate you very much. I’m grateful for your service and loyalty. Best wishes always, President & Sister Arnold Family”
John Forres O’Donnal was my mission president for the last month of my mission. See the history of Guatemala above. See the article in the Church News (page 1 and page 2). He was born April 1, 1917 and died June 30, 2010. See quotes on this site from the book Pioneer in Guatemala: The Personal History of John Forres O’Donnal, Shumway Family History Services, Yorba Linda, CA.
Download a document prepared by Craig Nelson of Biographies of Guatemala-El Salvador Mission Presidents, including the parent mission (The Central American Mission) and descendent missions—Guatemala City, El Salvador, and Guatemala Guatemala City South missions from 1950–present
Download the document The Guatemala-El Salvador Mission: Adventures in Time 1971–1973, by J. Craig Nelson and Gaylen Scott Shirley.